Film director Ken Loach brought a message of warning to the Palestinians on his first visit to the occupied territories: if you are divided you will fail.
The 74-year-old filmmaker and veteran social activist arrived in the West Bank to attend a screening of his award-winning drama “The Wind That Shakes The Barley” which depicts the Irish struggle for independence from Britain in the 1920s and the ensuing civil war.
Hundreds of Palestinians packed into Ramallah’s Cultural Palace to watch the film, which won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2006 but was subjected to fierce criticism when it was released in Britain.
The film, which contains some harrowing scenes of brutality, follows the story of two brothers caught up in the fight against the British occupation, but who are eventually ripped apart by bitterly opposing views on the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921.
What really struck a chord with the audience was the fact the conflict had two levels to it: the fight against the occupation, and the internal struggles, which ended up splitting the Republican movement.
“We just thought you might find it interesting,” the softly spoken director told the audience with a wry smile.
“It’s exactly like Hamas and Fatah,” whispered one member of the audience as the film drew to its bloody and tragic conclusion, clearly surprised by the obvious parallels between the splits among the Irish Republicans and those of the Palestinian factions.
Brooding tensions between Hamas and Fatah, both of whom have different views on ending the occupation, have simmered for years but erupted into deadly violence in 2007 when the Islamists forced their secular rivals out of Gaza, effectively splitting the Palestinian territories in half.
“The experience from Ireland is: if you are divided, you will fail,” Loach told the audience, which broke into applause as he stepped onto the stage.
“There is that big struggle between the ultimate prize and what you think you can achieve at that moment.”
An unassuming yet deeply committed social activist, who is known for his bitter-sweet pictures focusing on social reality such as “Kes” (1969) and “Land and Freedom” (1995), Loach has taken a central role in the campaign for a cultural boycott of Israel.
In 2009, Loach withdrew his film “Looking for Eric” from the Melbourne film festival in protest over Israel’s sponsorship of another filmmaker, and several months earlier, he took a similar stance at the Edinburgh film festival.
“We just have to chip away at the boycott and make certain that Israel becomes a pariah — and encourage the boycott of trade,” he said.
“It is not the time to be silent… to write journalism or make films that ignore reality,” said Loach. “It’s the presence of justice that we need to see in this land.”
Asked about his first impression of the Palestinian territories, Loach said it was shock at the towering reality of the vast separation barrier Israel is building across the West Bank.
“Nothing prepares you for the shock of seeing the wall,” he told AFP. “The reality of it is so brutal and harsh and so illegal that it made us feel angry.”
Loach’s remarks appeared to reflect a deep pessimism about the prospect for meaningful change in the Middle East.
“There is a very simple lesson we learned from Ireland: don’t trust the word of the ruling class,” he said to a wave of applause as he described the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty as a “cynical” attempt to keep the British Empire intact.
“What they were determined to do was… to prevent the people from being genuine participants in their own future,” he said.
A similar situation was being played out in the Middle East, where economic and political control was at stake, he said.
“What people face here is an economic reality where the big powers, principally the Americans, want to keep control of the region and they have people who do that for them in Israel. That’s the realpolitik.”
Loach called current attempts to negotiate an end to the occupation as “phoney” and “fraudulent” and said they were unlikely to lead anywhere until the parties agreed to apply international law.
“We are approaching the whole thing in the wrong way. There is clearly no intention by the Israeli government to act legally, and there is no pressure for that from the States,” he told AFP.
“How long can the world ignore the Geneva Convention? At some point, it has to end.”
Ultimately, it would be up to the United Nations, which he believes is the only body that could actually enforce change.
“It’s their job to uphold the law and face down the Americans,” he said.”
January 12, 2011