re: [Videolib] Gaza Strip

John Sinno (info@arabfilm.com)
Tue, 23 Aug 2005 10:26:20 -0700

Dear Debra,

I am not surprised that your patron is trying to get "Gaza Strip" out of circulation. This film has been subjected to various forms of censorship in the US. The filmmaker James Longley, who is finishing a brilliant new film about Iraq, has received several death threats for making "Gaza Strip". I am including an e-mail he received recently about "Gaza Strip" (please check below...sorry about the vulgar language). I am also including many "reputable reviews" of this film for your perusal.

John Sinno
Arab Film Distribution
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Here is a sample hate e-mail:

Hello James,

I read that you were born in Oregon. That disgust me more than I can say! I live in the great State of Oregon. It is a shame that it born a traitor like you! I have read about your film of the Gaza strip. How your film show the mean Israeli Army kill innocent children of arabs. I only wish I could tell you this in person to your face. I hate you and all you stand for. You are an idiot of unbelievable scope. You also are a traitor of all that true freedom stands for.
Israel has for many years been on the tip of the spear in our ever growing war with islam. Idiots like you just don't seem to get it. You make me want to vomit in your face! Where is your film of how the arab cowards blow up innocent Israeli children, what about showing how the arab pig kills his own daughter in "honor" killings because she held the hand of a male that wasn't her brother? How about showing a film of how the arab coward murders pregnant mothers and her small children in the name of allah?

Where is your information of these horrors of the arab world?

The arab is a coward that can not stand and fight, all he knows is to brainwash his own children to strap on bombs and blow-up as many children as he can!

I am not writer and my words on this computer do not come easily for me. However I am a warrior who stands ready to fight the idiots of this world like yourself. It does not matter that my own country America can grow traitors like yourself, in spite of all the evil and horror of this world,
Israel and the USA will stay strong and FREE!

F**k you and all the mohammed's you stand for!

Tim Davis
Oregon, USA

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Reviews:

New York Times

Reviewed by: A.O. Scott

"Hard Life in Gaza, Through 13-Year-Old Eyes"

Like most news reports and television images coming out of the Middle East these days, "Gaza Strip," an unsparing new documentary by James Longley, offers little reason for optimism. The film, which opens today at the Anthology Film Archives in the East Village, was shot in the winter and spring of 2001, and it provides a grim, upsetting glimpse at the lives of some of the 1.2 million Palestinians who live in the crowded cities and refugee camps of Gaza.
Mr. Longley makes powerful use of the techniques of cinema vérité. The absence of voice-over narration and talking-head interviews gives his portrait of daily life under duress a riveting immediacy.
Much of "Gaza Strip" follows Mohammed Hejazi, a 13-year-old newspaper vendor. This youth, who left school after the second grade, spends much of his spare time with other boys throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers, even though his best friend was killed by the gunfire that is the inevitable response, and his father, who had spent time in an Israeli prison, once tied his son up to keep him at home.

Mohammed presents a mixture of hardened cynicism and childish innocence that is both heartbreaking and unnerving. He is equally contemptuous of Ariel Sharon, whose election as prime minister takes place early in the film, of Mr. Sharon's predecessor Ehud Barak and of Yasir Arafat, and he fluctuates between weary sorrow and militaristic bravado. ("We want weapons. We don't want food.")

A similar mixture of emotions is expressed by the adults in the film. Sometimes in the same breath, they give voice to longings for peaceful coexistence with Israel, to the wish to be left alone and to the desire to drive the Jews not only out of Gaza but out of the region altogether.
Mr. Longley's camera does not have to look far to find the sources of their rage and despair: Israeli bulldozers demolishing houses and date groves; an absurd traffic jam on the beach after roads have been closed; emergency rooms full of wounded Palestinians, many of them children. It is impossible to see these images and remain unmoved, but the raw intensity of "Gaza Strip" is also a limitation, since it is purchased by the absence of anything (aside from some text at the beginning) that would provide some historical or political context. Given how polarized discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have become, this means that audiences will watch through their own ideological filters. Some will see the film as evidence of the bottomless cruelty of the Israeli occupation. Others will note the absence not only of any Israeli perspective, but also of any discussion of the deadlier forms of Palestinian resistance or the popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the desperate neigh
borhoods of Gaza.

Then again, it is not Mr. Longley's intention to analyze the conflict, and in the best vérité tradition, there are moments in "Gaza Strip" that disclose a wrenching human reality deeper and more basic than any politics. At one point Mohammed muses on death and the afterlife. His words cut against much of what we have heard lately about the Muslim view of martyrdom and paradise.
He imagines receiving a stern interrogation from God - "Why did you throw those rocks?" "Why did you steal?" - after which he will be sent to heaven or hell, he doesn't know which. After some thought, he decides that he would be happiest in the solitude of purgatory. Such is the aspiration of a boy in Gaza.

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The Seattle Times

Reviewed by: John Hartl

"Compelling Palestinian Film Benefits From Narrow Focus"

The stares of lost, desperate Palestinian children dominate this surprisingly personal documentary, which was shot two years ago by James Longley, an Oregon filmmaker who once studied cinematography at a Moscow film school.
The images in "Gaza Strip" are often as beautiful as they are disturbing, suggesting a continuous loop of the final freeze-frame image from Francois Truffaut's 1959 classic, "The 400 Blows," in which a young boy accuses the audience with his eyes when he realizes he is trapped between adult authorities and the ocean.
Not that the sea can't also be a refuge here. As Longley's video camera dwells on a languorous beach scene, one child describes the Mediterranean as "so beautiful that you forget yourself." Still, the waves are part of a border that makes children and older Palestinians feel trapped, surrounded and ultimately suicidal.
Longley visited the Gaza Strip in January 2001, planning to stay for a couple of weeks while he researched a film on the Palestinian intifada. He remained for three months, focusing on an eloquent 13-year-old newspaper vendor, Mohammed Hejazi, who speaks frankly about the murder of his best friend, his contempt for Ariel Sharon, his mistrust of Yasser Arafat ("Arafat is a spy"), and the difference between this life and nonexistence.
"I think being dead would be easier," he says. He also worries that he hasn't been a good Muslim and might not end up in Paradise.

What could have turned into propaganda instead becomes a portrait of one child's understandably pragmatic reactions to extreme circumstances. When Mohammed's unemployed father tells him not to get shot in the back and become paralyzed (he's been throwing rocks at Israeli tanks), he seems less concerned for his son's safety than he is about whether the boy will be able to continue to provide the main support for his destitute family.

Longley makes no attempt to present the Israeli viewpoint, to show Palestinian destructiveness or to provide much in the way of a historical context. He's simply concerned with the cumulative impact of living under such conditions. Narrowing its focus so rigorously, "Gaza Strip" presents a most persuasive vision of hell on Earth.

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Film Threat

Reviewed by: Phil Hall

The Gaza Strip is a fairly tiny place: it is only 28 miles long and four miles wide. It is also fairly crowded: 1.2 million Palestinians live here, and roughly one-third of the population reside in refugee camps. It is also home to 6,000 Israelis who have taken 30% of this area for themselves, complete with 24/7 security protection courtesy of the Israeli Defense Forces.
American filmmaker James Longley visited this area in January 2001 with the original plan of staying two weeks. He remained for three months and the result of his visit was "Gaza Strip," a brutally effective documentary which provides a very rare glimpse into the lives of the ordinary Palestinian people who live under Israeli military occupancy. At a time when the Holy Land is wobbling on the brink of civil war, "Gaza Strip" provides a tragic overview into the daily challenge to stay alive in a war zone.
Told without narration and staying clear of any commentary by Palestinian politicians, "Gaza Strip" begins its focus on a circle of teenage boys lead by a 13-year-old newspaper street vendor named Mohammed. These boys are the new fuel in the on-going intifada: unschooled, angry, living in poverty, responding with crude slingshots hurling broken bricks at Israeli tanks which fire back with live ammunition. Mohammed recalls how a young friend was fatally shot in the head even though he was not involved in an intifada riot (the slain boy was gathering scrap metal from a buffer zone between the Palestinians and Americans).
The film then travels throughout the Gaza Strip, offering sequences which could rival Bunuel or Fellini--with a touch of Costa-Gavras thrown in. A tranquil beach becomes polluted with automobiles, horse-drawn carts and pedestrians following the Israeli blockade of a main road. Helicopters hover in the twilight sky and send rockets into apartment complexes, illuminating the night with brilliant bursts of fiery light while explosions shower the streets with chunks and fragments of destroyed buildings.
Ambulances race furiously through ancient streets, bringing bloody adults and children into packed emergency rooms. An elderly woman, sitting in the drafty entrance of a refugee camp tent, tearfully recalls how the Israeli army bulldozed her house in retaliation for an attack on an illegal Israeli settlement in a neighboring town...an attack which the woman played no part in whatsoever. Victims of toxic gas canisters fired by Israeli troops writhe in convulsive pain on hospital beds, screaming at the top of their lungs while family and medical aides try vainly to restrain them. A child, no more than 10 years old, echoes the sentiments of his elders by happily chiming to the camera: "We want to beat back the Jews and kill them off" (and more than a few adults openly and joyfully share these sentiments with the camera).
As portrayed in this film, the Gaza Strip exists without any sense of Palestinian autonomy of self-government. No signs of the Palestinian Authority are anywhere to be seen, and even the youthful newspaper hawker Mohammed dismisses its leadership with the breathless comment: "Arafat is a spy -- he's taking it up the ass." The only leadership present here is medical: the tireless doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and emergency medical technicians who face an endless skein of patients with an extraordinary variety of gunshot wounds, burns and mutilations from bombs (including, most horrifically, a dead child who innocently retrieved an Israeli bomb left as a booby trap in a pair of boxing gloves).

At no time does "Gaza Strip" present any Israelis; aside from the brief glimpses of military vehicles and the familiar blue-and-white flag fluttering behind barbed wire enclosures, the Israeli people do not exist in this film. Also absent from the film is a bit of balanced history: while Israel took military control of the Gaza Strip in 1967 following the Six-Day War, Egypt actually annexed the territory in 1948 in violation of the United Nations partition of the region and denied the Palestinian people their right to self-determination. No mention of Egypt's illegal occupation of this area is cited in this film.

Nonetheless, "Gaza Strip" deserves merit and attention for bringing the message of the Palestinian people to a camera and microphone. Nearly all of the current news coverage of the Middle East has focused on the military and political combatants in this never-ending conflict. By turning attention on the average people of the Gaza Strip, this film gives a face and voice to the seething population with a tragic and bitter story to tell. "Gaza Strip" is the rare vehicle which gives the Palestinian people (rather than their failed, double-talking leadership) an opportunity to speak freely and openly, and that feat in itself makes this one of the most important documentaries of recent times.

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City Pages

Reviewed by: Peter S. Scholtes

The central figure in this riveting documentary, an illiterate Palestinian paperboy named Mohammed Hejazi, introduces himself to the camera in the early months of 2001. Like most young Gaza residents, he has grown up quickly: At age 13, he is the family's principal breadwinner. He says his father has struggled to find work since Israel closed the borders last year, after the second uprising began. The son admits to defying his parents and sneaking out to chuck stones at Israeli soldiers. He imagines death as a long debate with God over his sins of rock-throwing and stealing. He weeps over his best friend, whom he says was shot dead while nicking copper. Later we watch his cavalier reaction to the news, gleaned from pictures in the paper, that Sharon has been elected prime minister. "Egypt would fuck his father," he tells his pals. "And then Iraq would stand up." It's a tribute to the resilient gaze of director James Longley that you begin to care about this kid, to understand how chao
s and fear have shaped his worldview. I wonder what has happened to him since the cameras shut off.

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The Village Voice
reviewed by: J. Hoberman

Gaza Strip, a feature-length video by American filmmaker James Longley, is a documentary to make the stones weep - as shameful as it is scary. Longley spent three months during the spring of 2001 in Gaza. Ariel Sharon had just won the Israeli election and the second intifada was now a fact of life.
The location is a chunk of misery: 1.2 million Palestinians penned up in a 28-by-four-mile slice of nowhere, further diminished by Israeli security installations and six fortified Jewish settlements. Longley's principal subject is a 13-year-old newsboy, Mohammed Hejazi, who is the main support of his family and whose main recreation is playing chicken with Israeli tanks-a game at which a number of his friends have already been killed. More than once, Longley shows hospital ERs filled with horribly wounded children.
No future here: Gaza Strip is even more painful in the knowledge that current conditions are worse. (Indeed, the tape was press-screened the morning after Israel liquidated Hamas terrorist Sheik Salah Shehada by dropping a bomb on his Gaza City apartment, killing another 14 people-mostly children-in an operation that Sharon moronically boasted was "one of our major successes.") Necessarily up on current events, Mohammed and his fellow newsboys are familiar with Sharon's particular brutishness. They naturally mock and hate Israeli politicians, albeit with scarcely more respect for the Palestinian Authority. "Arafat is a spy-he's taking it up the ass!"

Longley keeps his camera close to his subjects, backing off only to document quotidian atrocities ranging from tanks shelling helpless civilians to the bulldozing of Arab homes to the Israeli army's sickening use of an unidentified form of convulsion-causing gas. Made from the perspective of the
Arab on the street, Gaza Strip includes no footage of Jewish settlers or Israeli soldiers or even Palestinian security forces. (Nor is there any sort of historical context explaining the Arab responsibility for how Gaza got to be what it is.) It would be convenient to dismiss this as propaganda. But does it really matter if someone coached young Mohammed's claim that he wants to be a martyr or his dispassionate anticipation of his own death? "It would be easier," the kid says, and after seeing the wretched conditions that the movie documents, who will argue with him?
Anthology Film Archives, which is screening Gaza Strip for a week, could evoke the full cycle of hatred, futility, and despair by flanking this nearly unbearable movie with monitors showing the atrocious aftermath of contemporary Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians. To watch Gaza Strip is to watch a ticking time bomb.
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Best regards
John Sinno

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Arab Film Distribution
10035 35th Ave. NE,
Seattle, WA 98125.
Voice (206) 322-0882 Ext: 201
Fax (206) 322-4586
email: info@arabfilm.com, Internet www.arabfilm.com
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---------- Original Message ----------

FROM: "Debra Berenbaum" <DBerenbaum@minlib.net>
TO: videolib@library.berkeley.edu
DATE: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 11:07:46 -0400

SUBJECT: [Videolib] Gaza Strip

Has anyone actually watched this Gaza Strip (2002) directed by James
Longley? I've had a patron complain that the facts are distorted and the
film does not present a balanced view of the situation in the area. Looking
for reputable reviews - not finding many.
As always, thanks for your help.
Debra Berenbaum
Wellesley Free Library
dberenbaum@minlib.net
781 235 1610 x220

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