You might think that a 2017 documentary about an event that took place in the 1980s would be old news, but consider the recent accusations against Ilhan Omar. It’s not easy even in the US to criticize Israel without being called anti-Semitic and that’s what makes “Naila and the Uprising” (Tuesday, March 26 at 9:00 p.m.) so important. “Naila” is one of the films in the PBS series, “Women, War & Peace II.”
Anti-Semitism does exist in the US. The dozens of Jewish graves that were vandalized in Massachusetts earlier this month (Sunday, 17 March 2019) should be proof enough. Semitic actually refers to “of, relating to, or constituting a subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic language family that includes Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and Amharic” according to Merriam-Webster. The “Semites” are members “of any of a number of peoples of “an ancient southwestern Asia including the Akkadians, Phoenicians, Hebrews, and Arabs.” So anti-Semitic should also mean anti-Arab, but too often is used to only include the Hebrews and exclude the Arabs.
That means that Arabs and Arab Americans are left out of many necessary conversations. They are not considered African American even if their roots are from Northern Africa. They are often considered “white” by the US Census and with the failure of the inclusion of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) for the next Census, they will still be counted as white even though anti-Arab hostilities are also very real.
Peabody-winning director Julia Bacha’s documentary draws on another documentary: “Amal, Inam, Naila” by Iikka Vehkalahti, for archival footage and fills in some of the gaps with 2D animation. The documentary begins as an eight-year-old Naila returns home to the ancestral home reduced to rubble. Naila matures and finds herself a second-class citizen in her own country.
Yet this isn’t what makes Naila’s story so gut-wrenching. Naila meets and marries another Palestinian, Jamal. Together they are activists and when Naila is pregnant, she is jailed and treated harshly, she miscarries. The animation mitigates some of the horror, but that hasn’t stopped her passionate protests against Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.
In an email exchange, Bacha wrote that what’s important to note is that “Palestinian women took the helm of the First Intifada in crucial ways and had an indelible impact, both on the quality of resistance that took place (largely unarmed, strategic and mass-led) and the durability of the uprising.” That’s a central theme to two other documentaries in the “Women, War & Peace II” series (“The Trials of Spring”and “Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs”), women–Christian women in Northern Ireland and Christian and Muslim women in Egypt–were part of the resistance.
Bacha also noted that “nonviolent civil resistance is an age-old and widely employed tactic in the region that gets far too little attention in the mainstream media.” When one thinks of Arabs and Muslims, the terrorist stereotype can be hard to shake.
Ayesh was chosen because, Bacha explained, “As a woman, she bore the brunt of the repressive measures of the occupation, tragically on her own body. And like countless other Palestinian women, she had to juggle the demands of being a mother, wife and daughter while following what was for her an imperative struggle: for her freedom and dignity, and for the freedom and dignity of her community.’
For the PBS television format, the 1 hour 16 minute film was cut down, losing much of Ayesh’s backstory, including her studies in Bulgaria as well as her courtship by Jamal and their wedding. What remains is still a strong story.
Bacha feels this is “just one film in the Just Vision canon that aims to fills in that gap and provide a more holistic and accurate portrayal of reality on the ground in Palestine and Israel.”