The Palestine-Israel conflict has been a fact of life for so long that it's easy for those of us in America to let it fade into the background as a seemingly permanent, often violent ideological schism that has always and will always be there. But that's a dangerous mindset, one that requires that we ignore the people forced to go about their lives as that battle rages around them.
Since 2012, the Witness Palestine Film Festival has sought to examine the conflict from a human rights perspective, screening films that center the point of view of everyday citizens in the region and illustrate the realities on the ground in both Israel and occupied Palestinian territories.
Beginning Monday, October 8, the annual festival will present a series of lectures, film screenings, and events over the course of the coming month. This year's lineup centers on the theme of "sumud," the Arabic word for "steadfastness," reflecting the perseverance of the Palestinian people.
"Palestinians have lived under oppression for about a hundred years," says Jim Tiefenthal, Co-Producer of the festival. "Thus 'sumud' is a fitting way to honor those who have remained true to their cause for so long."
Tiefenthal says that while he hopes people are entertained by the films being screened, he also hopes that Witness Palestine events will open their eyes to think more critically about the issues and our own government's actions in the region. "The US government has long been an uneven broker of a just peace," he says. "The current administration is squeezing Palestinians in favor of the Israeli government, when it moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, dropped funding to the UN agency that runs schools for Palestinian refugees, and withdrew aid to hospitals serving Palestinian patients."
The centerpiece of the festival is a keynote lecture, "Justice in the US and Palestine," which will be delivered by attorney and activist Noura Erakat and human-rights lawyer Danielle Ponder on Sunday, October 14, 2 p.m. at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word. Admission to that event is free.
Each program at the festival will be followed by a panel discussion. A full schedule of events and ticket information can be found at witnesspalestinerochester.org.
The first screening will be "Constructing the Terrorist Threat," a video lecture by professor and media commentator Deepa Kumar that takes a deep look into terrorism and Islamophobia. Aided by a plethora of clips and archival images, Kumar outlines the social processes have been working to create the automatic association between Muslim people and terrorism, a practice that has been used by governments looking to cultivate fear and justify their own anti-democratic agendas. (Monday, October 8, 6:30 p.m., St. John Fisher College)
"Naila and the Uprising" is a stirring documentary that combines striking animation with archival footage to tell the story of activist Naila Ayesh and the crucial role Palestinian women played in the First Intifada, the uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip beginning in the late-80's. (Sunday, October 21, 2 p.m., Little Theatre)
Directed by Elika Rezaee and Marjorie Wright, the often inspiring documentary "Jews Step Forward" highlights the voices of 24 voices within the American Jewish community who choose to speak out against the injustice faced by the Palestinian people. (Monday, October 22, 6:45 p.m., Little Theatre)
Other films being screened throughout the festival include "The Stones Cry Out" on October 28, examining the plight of Christian Palestinians, as well as the documentary "Veterans for Peace in Palestine" on October 29. Preceding each feature film will be the toe-tapping and eye-opening music video "I Was Living Here," from local rock band The Mighty High and Dry.