Coming to a Theater near You: Palestinian Propaganda
The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development (JF), a Palestinian-American non-profit organization, screened the film Where Should the Birds Fly on February 14, 2013, at the JF's Palestine Center across from the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Filmed by Gaza Strip native Fida Qishta, who was present for the screening (Qishta appears here with hijab, although she was unveiled at the screening), the movie website describes the film as a "visual documentation of the Goldstone Report" concerning the month-long Israeli military operation Cast Lead against Hamas begun on December 27, 2008. Like its discredited print counterpart, Where Should the Birds Fly is a biased document showing an innocent Palestinian population victimized by an aggressive Israel.
Promotional material available before the film screening sets the tone. The plight of Gaza's residents is part of the "bitter history of man's inhumanity to man," including the "fierce resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto" mounted by Jews in April 1943 facing Nazi extermination. Gaza is the "world's largest prison camp, sealed off on all sides by Israeli and Egyptian walls, barbed wire, and military."
The film ultimately amounts to a series of vignettes of Palestinians wanting to go about their lives who are attacked by Israel for no apparent reason. One portion of the film shows Gaza residents trying to harvest crops in a field along the fortified demarcation line with Israel while under automatic weapons fire from unseen shooters on the Israeli side. Another film segment shows Gaza fishermen sailing out into the Mediterranean. There they meet Israeli patrol boats forcing the fishing vessels back within an Israeli-imposed six-mile territorial water limit with warning shots. Throughout the film, various Gaza residents discuss the death and destruction they have experienced during Israeli air strikes. A Palestinian child wounded by shrapnel in a Gaza hospital and dismembered bodies along a Gaza street make for a graphic visual aid.
Conspicuously absent from Where Should the Birds Fly is almost any sign of Arab militancy. While Israeli F-15s dropping bombs upon Gaza and an Israeli Humvee appear in various film scenes along with the aforementioned Israeli patrol boats, no Palestinian munitions ever appear in the film. Only Palestinian youths throwing rocks and a Molotov cocktail against an armored Israeli bulldozer destroying a house in one scene manifest any Palestinian hostility.
Nor does any reference to Gaza's rulers since 2007, Hamas, appear in the film. This Sunni Islamist organization, listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under American law, is responsible, according to Israel, for over 8,000 indiscriminate rocket attacks fired upon Israel from Gaza (not just by Hamas) since 2005, as well as numerous suicide-bombing attacks against Israelis. With Iranian technical aid, Hamas has even constructed Fajr-5 missiles capable of reaching Israel's second-most populous city, Tel Aviv. Hamas deployed the Fajr-5 for the first time in November 2012 during Hamas attacks leading to yet another Israeli campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Pillar of Defense.
The Hamas Charter, available for reading on the JF website, also goes unmentioned. Various passages therein state that "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it." Hamas's "struggle against the Jews" will last, as a traditionally recognized Islamic hadith relates, "until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!"
The viewing audience at the Palestine Center seemed to be in accord with Qishta and her fellow film producer and discussion participant, Felice Gelman, a like-minded activist who in the past has helped organize attempts "to break the Israeli blockade" of Gaza in conjunction with individuals like Norman Finkelstein and Medea Benjamin. During the question-and-answer period, audience members spoke of the "murderous barbarity" documented in a "very powerful, fantastic film" about "among the worst human rights violations in the history of mankind." Another audience member condemned the "blind support for Israel" in the United States in light of the film.
In response, Gelman spoke of Palestinians in Gaza who "just wanted to live a normal life" as "neighbors" with Israel while a "paranoid" Israel built its "own prison" of unsubstantiated Palestinian phobias. With respect to a continuing Arab-Israeli conflict, Gelman argued that people could get "trapped" in the question of "who did what to whom." For Gelman, the "real question" was "continued isolation of Gaza and occupation."
Amidst her condemnation of Israeli policies, though, Gelman expressed the hope that attitudes toward Israel were at a "tipping point" analogous to changing racial attitudes in the civil rights movement. Having herself participated in the civil rights movement in her youth, Gelman, though, admitted that the analogy was "not completely applicable." Accordingly, Gelman in her comments expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Where Should the Birds Fly thus fits in with JF's previous hosting of speakers such as Khalid Rashidi, Stephen Walt, and John Mearsheimer. The latter in his 2010 JF address referred to Finkelstein and others like Noam Chomsky and the leftist, George Soros-funded Jewish organization J Street as "righteous Jews" concerned with universal human rights, including those of Palestinians. In contrast, Mearsheimer saw individuals such as Charles Krauthammer and Bret Stephens as "new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state."
Where Should the Birds Fly is now helping to shape impressionable minds in special screenings at universities and elsewhere before its general release on DVD. This movie's propaganda should raise concerns among objective observers of the Middle East. Such concerns should include questions about how accurate can be any film produced under the totalitarian control of Palestinian groups like Hamas with a history of distorting media coverage (e.g., Pallywood). The presentation by Qishta and Gelman of friendly farmers and fishermen in Gaza who, like Mr. Rogers, merely want to be good neighbors with an Israel that apparently has nothing better to do than randomly bomb Arabs with a brutality comparable to Nazi Germany should not go without rebuttal.