This article was last modified on July 18, 2011.


Empire Strikes First: Julian Schnabel

Interested in the endless Israel-Palestine debate, but sick of the politics involved? A new film might be just for you: “Miral”, from Academy Award-nominated director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”). While politics are always an issue when talking about Palestine, that is not the focus here — this is the true story of a girl, Miral, who grows up in the years preceding the 1993 Oslo Agreement. I spoke with Schnabel, who happens to be Jewish, about this film and had a fascinating look at his motivations and point of view.

Schnabel says the film “questioned and threatened a lot of views and preconceptions that people had”, because it “presented Palestinian people as human beings”. This is truly what makes the film unique and beautiful. While Palestinian terrorists certainly exist, thousands more Palestinians exist with no hatred for anyone. And that is the world where this story unfolds, exposing a side of Palestine we rarely see.

Perhaps most interesting, “Miral” has entered the international debate. Schnabel says he “showed it at the United Nations to the General Assembly with 1600 people in attendance” and “they saw the film at the White House, a couple of weeks before Obama gave his speech about the 1967 borders.” Did it influence his position on the Middle East? Maybe, maybe not, but what an interesting proposition.

While Schnabel is clearly sympathetic to the Palestinian people based on this film and on the fact his girlfriend is a Palestinian journalist, his position is more of an appeal to basic human rights. “I think anyone who kills a child is a murderer,” he says, “whether it is a Palestinian child or an Israeli child.” The terrorists are no more justified in their actions than the Israel Defense Forces are when they kill indiscriminately.

Schnabel is full of optimism, saying that in the wake of the Arab Spring “something is going to have to happen” and “the Israelis will have to deal with the Palestinians in a different way.” He points to history’s lesson that peace is always on the horizon. “Sweden and Denmark were warring for hundreds of years. Now you can drive from one to the other without a passport.”

The biggest problem, according to Schnabel, is that “people think they have to identify with their tribe. So right or wrong, if they feel the tribe is being attacked, they defend the tribe.” Pro-Israel groups ignore Israeli violence and pro-Palestine people rationalize the terrorist response. But the answer is not exclusively with one side or the other. Right now, the failure to negotiate “is holding society hostage.” Perhaps in some small way, Julian Schnabel can help make people change their minds.

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or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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