Salt of This Sea ملح هذا البحر

2 05 2009

I had been looking forward to this film for quite a while, and when the Tribeca Film Festival announced that it was showing it, I bought the tickets weeks in advance.

It didn’t disappoint.

Director and Writer: Annemarie Jacir

Stars: Suheir Hammad (as Soraya)

             Saleh Bakri (as Emad)

             Riyad Ideis (as Marwan)

First Release Date: May 16, 2008 (Cannes Film Festival)


There was much hype about this movie: it was filmed in the Palestinian territories (something not always easy to do), it was directed by award-winning Bethlehem-born Annemarie Jacir, its female star is the famous spoken-word poet Suheir Hammad, and it was going to talk much about the lost land, identity, Israeli-imposed restrictions, Israeli-imposed occupation.

The hype was not all exaggerated. The film was an emotional drain in many ways, but it gave a visual to what Palestinians go through every day in the West Bank, not to mention what it means to be a Palestinian, or a Palestinian-American, or a child of a refugee. It has a French style to it. Long silent scenes, really-focused dragged shots, an emphasis on thoughts and emotions rather than words; a stillness that sits deep instead of moving forward.


The Actors

Suheir, playing the role of Soraya, gave a great performance. She has real charisma and presence in the film. Her eyes: wide, dark, Middle-Eastern and deep, was all I could see in the movie. These eyes captured all the thoughts and feelings that her mouth didn’t utter. At times, however, I could see the real Suheir, the spoken-word poet that I watched diligently on YouTube. In one scene where she argues with Emad, she easily slipped into her poetry mode, her hands flailing in the air, her body bent forward, her neck jerking at every strong, broken word. She was the Brooklynite that she really is.

I also doubted her accent at times. In some lines, she seemed to speak “fos-ha,” the proper Arabic, not the colloquial Palestinian dialect. At other times, I couldn’t understand her attachment to this land. It seemed a little exaggerated, surreal. But I am in no position to cast a judgment on that.

Saleh Barki was the second important half to this movie. He embodied much of what Palestinian men look and act like. He seldom smiles. He seems broken yet strong and dignified at the same time. The first time you see him laugh or show any real happy emotions is nearly half the way through the movie.

In one scene, after Soraya yells at the Israeli girl who now owns the home that her family was evacuated from, Emad goes to Soraya and asks her why she lets them (the Israelis, the Jews) make her “crazy” like that, as if it’s occupation. She responds, “But it is occupation!” But Emad answers, “Not from the inside.”

That, I believe is the heart of this movie: dignity, resilience, and endurance. One line that I heard more than once in the film is, “Keep your head up.”


Meeting Suheir and Annemarie

Suheir Hammad and Annemarie Jacir came to speak to us at the movie theatre after the movie ended. There was a short Q&A session.

A member of the audience said that the airport scene was not exaggerated at all: the searches, the questions “for your own security,” the humiliation. This commentator was a Christian who had gone to Palestine, and because of her last name (she did not mention what it was) the Israeli authority put her through a worse ordeal. Director Jacir said that what we saw in the movie is really sugarcoated. It is a nicer version of what many people go through.

The checkpoints in the film were shot in real checkpoints until the Israeli authorities stopped that. That’s when the crew had to actually build checkpoints.

Another member of the audience asked Jacir about rumors that she was not allowed to enter Israel. Jacir, in fact, was denied entry. It wasn’t because of the film, she said, but due to an Israeli policy. Many Palestinians in the diaspora are not allowed to enter Israel or the Palestinian territories anymore. There is a movement today, she said, called “Right to Enter,” tackling this same problem

As a result, the last scene wasn’t shot in Palestine, but somewhere in Europe. I believe she said Switzerland.

The inspiration of the film, she said, was a mixture of things: news about a robbery in Bethlehem and the argument of characterizing these robbers as criminals or not, her own experience and life, her close relationship with a man (I’m not sure if it’s a grandfather or a friend) who mentally lives in Jaffa where he’s really from, but physically lives in Ramallah. That sense of belonging, of wanting, of being.

One of the problems the movie is facing today is distribution. Although it has been sold out in all of the film festivals they’ve shown in, no carrier in the U.S. is willing to distribute it nationally. It tells you something, doesn’t it?

This film is going to show in 40 different Palestinian villages and towns within the next month and a half.

Suheir said that they all miss Palestine. Most of the cast was from the West Bank.

“We miss the people,” she said calmly, “and really their commitment to nonviolence.”


My Friends’ Responses

I went to see this screening with two girls. One Palestinian-American and one Indian-American.

My Palestinian-American friend vouched for almost everything in the movie. She has been going to Palestine and Israel for the past several years and she knows it to be true almost all the problems: the airport, the scenes in Ramallah, the family, the identity dilemma, the Israeli checkpoints and restrictions.

In one scene, where an Israeli police officer approaches Emad and suspects him of being an illegal Palestinian in Israel, Soraya comes to save him by speaking to him in Spanish, and the officer backs away. My friend cried, “That’s so true! You can speak any language in this land but Arabic and you’d belong.”

The only thing that she said was unrealistic was that Soraya and Emad would’ve been caught in Israel long before they actually were. That, to her, was the fantasy movie-like aspect of the film.

My other friend had only known the Israeli side of this conflict until now. She had come because she loves Suheir Hammad and her poetry. When I talked to her after the film, she spoke with much shock. It was unfathomable to her that a man had not seen the sea for 17 years, that Palestinians have to get permits to go everywhere. She was, at the same time, confused about the history of the conflict. She said she doesn’t really know what happened and the movie doesn’t explain that well. She wanted to go read a book immediately after the film.

“Forgetting all the scores and who did what,” she told me, “This is about human condition, and humanity. And that’s where my loyalty lies.”

I couldn’t agree more.


Some Women News

14 04 2009


My own sense of sarcasm


I’ve read quite a few articles recently relating to women. I decided to get you in the loop with me. Here’s a light list:

1.     Journalist Iqbal Tamimi writes about Gaza’s women soccer team. A light-hearted piece; not your usual bombs and rubbles.

2.     A British girl and a South African girl combine forces to set up a cupcake business in Israel, a trend that is not yet sweeping in the country. I’m a BIG cupcake fan. I hope this spreads to the Arab countries around and enlighten people with some dessert bless.

3.     The long-awaited news from Laila El-Haddad and her ordeal at Cairo Airport and the Rafah Crossing is finally up on the web, in a long and detailed post. One beautifully and eloquently written paragraph captured my attention. Here’s what Laila writes about the Palestinian Authority “passport,”

        “It is a passport that allows no passage. A passport that denied me entry to my own home. This is its purpose: to mark me, brand me, so that I am easily identified and cast aside without questions; it is convenient for those giving the orders. It is a system for the collective identification of those with no identity.

4.     As marriage age gets higher in Israel, matchmakers face new challenges. This is an enjoyable story, hits home in a way. It combines a Middle-Eastern mentality and worried Jewish mothers, with Western more career-driven, and perhaps pickier young thinking. You’ll get a chuckle out of it. If not, you’ll at least find it entertaining.

5.     Rihab Al-Hazin dies in “honor killing” in the West Bank, in what the news characterizes as a rising trend. This is the kind of news that horrifies me, and almost every girl and woman out there.

Academic Freedom and Patriotism

14 04 2009



The question about Israel’s academic freedom is one that would undoubtedly give you diverging answers, depending on whom you ask. The left will tell you that academia is not left enough, and the right will tell you it isn’t right enough.

An article captured my attention on the Jerusalem Post, published last week, on April 6th. It features an interview with Dana Barnett, the founder of Israel Academia Monitor (IAM) that tracks Israel’s professors for anti-Israel speech and teachings.

For those of you who know Campus Watch in the U.S., the IAM is its Israeli counterpart. It puts out documents and speeches that Israeli academics have published/lectured, most of which are major criticisms of Israel. Barnett’s mission is to determine the “anti-Zionists” and more so, those who are “anti-Israel.” The article and the mentality is what’s most discomforting.


Professors Criticizing Israel

Barnett focuses on those professors who call Israel an apartheid force, other professors who called against Israel’s war on Gaza, others who support the Palestinian cause and those professors who are against the “security wall,” because she believes that all those can constitute acts of treason. Lumping all of these together is really problematic.

She says that not all professors who express criticism towards Israel or sympathy with the Palestinians are mentioned. But shouldn’t that be the natural case in a democratic country anyway? She says that she searches for words like “occupation” and “apartheid” in these documents to determine who might be speaking against the Jewish State, although the word “occupation” alone does not make an anti-Israel sentiment. I ask then: why look for it?


About the Palestinians

In one line of the interview, Barnett characterizes the Palestinians as “enemies.” She says, “I realized that they are people – with rights, of course – but not a people. They have no common denominator, other than wanting to see Israel destroyed. And that’s not sufficient for peoplehoold.” Is that making your stomach turn yet?

The statement is contradictory. She acknowledges that the Palestinians are people, but then not really people, with rights, but then their rights should technically be taken away because all of them are bent on destroying Israel.

Do any of us remember Kahane? Can we say that electing Avigdor Lieberman also says something about Israel’s peace intentions with the Palestinians and its treatment of Arab-Israelis? Can we generalize, please?


The Problematic Mentality

Coming from the Middle East, this line of thinking is strikingly similar to that in the Arab and Muslim world. In many Arab countries, speaking against the government and its actions would bring you a lot of trouble. “Treason” and “traitors” are but few examples of name-calling; words that Barnett herself uses.

Barnett says that their goal is to exert pressure on “emotional treason.” I got nervous when I read those words. She does not provide us with a definition of “emotional treason.” It reminds me of the 1950s McCarthyism era in the U.S. when anyone who spoke against the country during the cold war was charged with un-patriotism and in many cases, treason.

“Emotional treason” reminds me of the phrase “fear-mongering.”


My Point

Students should be exposed to all kinds of principles and ideas at universities. It should be up to them to choose what to think. To say that these professors, as small in number as they are now, can change a generations’ mentality is simply giving them too much power and credit. To say that students are mere followers and information-receivers is simply undermining our intelligence and ability to figure it out on our own. I have had professors on the far right and those on the far left. I choose what to think.

The point with academic freedom is freedom itself. You begin to curb that, then you begin to curb an important part of the society. You begin to curb that, then you begin to hurt what Israel does far better than its neighbors.  

I was left with a couple of questions: why doesn’t this organization, in the name of academic freedom, also mention those professors who preach against the Palestinians in general? Why not mention those who speak about the Palestinians, maybe even Arabs and Muslims, as people who do not have the right to exist, who deserve to be expelled, who are animals, plain enemies? Please don’t tell me those professors don’t exist. 

United We Rob

5 04 2009

robbery cartoon

A rather funny piece of news was published on the AFP (Agence France-Presse) last week, on March 29th.

“An Israeli and a group of Palestinians last week set aside their differences in order to carry out an armed bank robbery,” the report said.

Six men, two of which were Palestinians from the West Bank, three Palestinian-Israelis and one Jewish Israeli, barged into a bank in Ramallah and stole nearly $30,000. All of them fled, two were caught and the rest are being looked for. The Jewish Israeli, the report said, was the mastermind of the robbery.

Colonel Adnan al-Damiri from the Palestinian police said that such a coordination makes a “dangerous” new trend in organized crime. Are you laughing yet?

Robbery is undoubtedly a serious crime. This news, however, is both funny and relieving in a way, seeing how some brash Palestinians and Israelis are directing their energy for something in common for a change. If only they redirect their energy for something slightly more productive.  

Imagine the scenes that might have occurred among these robbers. The Jewish Israeli with a stick in his hand, drawing the bank’s blueprint on the Middle Eastern sand, in a dark alleyway, directing the Palestinians here and there, and later, all of them get together and fight over how to split the money. Too fictional? Maybe. 

Palestinians & Israelis Getting Real

29 03 2009


Big Brother Logo

Big Brother

Interesting news surfaced a couple of days ago on the Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, online. Arab-French director, Mohammad Waled, and French-Israeli friend Sophie Norman, have come up with a reality show idea, where 12 young Israelis and Palestinians live together in a French villa, getting their lives and debates on air.

You can read the article here.

The reality show, resembling “Big Brother,” will film 10 episodes, 26-minutes each. The cameras will follow their daily activities, paying close attention to their debates. The director hopes that by the end of it all, this group of 18-year-olds will reach conclusions that their fathers and grandfathers could not reach.

Hopeful, right?

It is quite an intriguing idea. I suspect there will be many debates, heated, perhaps censored ones, as soon as the Israelis and Palestinians get used to each other. The director realizes that it is “symbolic,” but we have yet to see how it turns out. The article does not mention which channels it would be aired on, or if Palestinians will have easy access to watching the show. After all, we want both sides to see this.

The commentators on Yedioth online do not seem that hopeful. Many dismiss it as a marketing and publicity show. Others seem to believe that there could be no conversation with the Arabs. The Lebanese Al-Akbar newspaper has published a piece about this earlier in February. You can read the Arabic version here. I have found an English version here.

Not many people seem to be excited about this. Either way, it is something to watch and learn from. It is something new that deserves a good benefit of the doubt.

A Zionist Attack in Cairo?

25 02 2009

A few days ago, a bomb exploded in the tourist-popular area of Hussein Square, Cairo, Egypt. The bomb killed a French teenager tourist, age 17, wounding 20 others. The reports vary about the numbers killed and wounded. Some say four killed and 18 wounded. The attack was reminiscent of a similar one in Cairo in 2005. The Egyptian authorities have arrested many suspects for questioning but the matter remains unsolved. The suspects detained were all Arabs and Egyptians.

An article on, the Arabic version, provoked many comments. All condemned this terrorist attack, using the usual rhetoric of the Arabic language, pleading to find the criminals and punish them. But here’s the curious thing: some seem to blame Israel for this killing. Their reasoning is that it is in Israel’s interest to have this bomb go off, creating panic, especially during these weeks of Cairo-sponsored talks to lengthen the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel after the Gaza operation. The Arab mentality when it comes to Israel, generally, is that the Jewish country wants to divide to conquer. Others blamed the Egyptian Authorities for their corruptness and the Islamist radicals for their brutality and inhumanity.

A commentator, called “fares misser tany” (I don’t know what that means) criticized the websites that shows these guys how to create bombs. She/he urged everyone to begin a campaign against these websites. The last few words were, and I translate here, “these destructive Zionist websites.” I’m sorry, what? Zionist? What? I don’t get the link. Most of the time, you can’t trace the creators of these websites anyway.

Another commentator wrote this:

هل من المصادفه ان يكون ما جرى يخدم اسرائيل سبق و القت بقنبله على مفاوضات التهدئه ماذا تريد اسرائيل؟؟؟؟؟؟؟

Translation: “Is it a coincidence that what happened serves Israel, bombing the peace talks? What does Israel want?????”

Israel may have an interest in this. I recall the Israeli Consul General in New York, Asaf Shariv, saying that having Ahmedinejad in Iran is the best PR for Israel. I suspect turmoil in Egypt at this point could buy the country some time, delaying the much-unwanted peace talks with a group that is on the terrorists list. But whoever knows a little bit more about Egypt would know about the radical Islamists groups that gained power decades ago, from the days of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Free Officers movement in 1952. If anything, the Muslim Botherhood make a powerful organization in Egypt that has been linked to many of the Jihadis in Afghanistan, and who, to some extent, have received much funding from Saudis. They have always been suppressed by the Egyptian government and military, most of the time to the extremes of torture and genocide. They, too, have an interest in causing turmoil and weakening the government during these times.

The issue is very complicated. Jumping to blame Israel or even the Muslim Brotherhood is too risky and ridiculous at this point. We’ll have to wait for better information. This mentality of putting Israel at the forefront of our problems is ludicrous, however. We have many bad people in our own societies and among our own people too. Don’t jump the gun just yet.

Here’s a BBC video on the aftermath of the incident…

Is It Courageous to Refuse?

17 02 2009

This came out on YouTube during the recent Operation Cast Lead, led by the Israeli Defense Force on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It is a video of a demonstration, in Tel Aviv, titled “The Courage to Refuse,” following news that the IDF might be calling army reservists back to the service to help out in the military operation. A bunch of Israelis protested against going back to the service and against the war in general.



It might be absurd at first to see this. After all, it is your duty as a citizen to defend your country. Many commentators on YouTube said the same thing.

The more I replayed this video, however, the more I began to admire these Israelis, many of which are young. As a “refusenik” mentions, there are consequences to this action: court martial and possible jail time, not to mention societal pressure and accusations of un-patriotism. Yet, they willingly take on this risk. They act on what they believe is right and wrong.

It is courageous to refuse war, wherever it may be. It is courageous to refuse killing, bombing, any human suffering. Sometimes, it takes more guts to refuse than to conform and join. I searched on YouTube and from my notes during Operation Cast Lead for a protest by Muslims against the killing of Israeli civilians. I searched for a protest against Hamas. I found none. Living in an Arab and Muslim country for most of my life, I don’t find that surprising. I know that my Muslim fellows will immediately object to this statement, saying that the civilian killing committed by Hamas doesn’t compare at all to that done by the IDF, and that is true. The facts support this claim and the brutality of the recent military operation is evident for those who want to see it.

A civilian dead is a civilian dead anywhere, nevertheless. If anything, no-one other than victims of killing can understand the pain and suffering of losing someone dear. There should be an opposition to any war; any bomb unleashed by the IDF and any rocket fired by Hamas. All those who kill civilians must be held accountable, no exceptions. That is courageous.  


Note: The phrase “Courage to Refuse” first appeared in Israeli society in 2002, with the “Combatant’s Letter” that was signed by 50 reserve soldiers, refusing to serve beyond the 1967 borders following their duty in Gaza. There are 628 signatures today. You can check this out on the website