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The Israel-Palestine conflict is poked and prodded from a women’s perspective in a vital new full length Canadian documentary, Partners for Peace which had its world premiere at the Ottawa’s One World Film Festival on September 26.
Partners for Peace was made on an incredibly rock bottom budget of $50,000, courtesy of the NWI which regularly sends delegations to various world hotspots including Burma and next year the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Jane Gurr, co-producer and writer for Partners for Peace calls her documentary "a labour of love," in terms of participants contributing to an important project with little or no remuneration.
The documentary is comprised of raw footage collected by NWI on the delegation tour of Israel and Palestine, director and producer Ed Kucerak and crew’s interviews with the principle delegates including Jody Williams and Jaclyn Friedman and scenes filmed by videographers in the field to create one seamlessly edited documentary.
In Partners for Peace, we watch an all female delegation of 13 activists receive first hand accounts of various Israeli and Palestinian narratives, courtesy of the Ottawa based Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI).
Officially, the activists were led by two Nobel Peace Laureates, Jody Williams (a 1997 recipient for her role in the international campaign to ban land mines) and Mairead Maguire (a 1976 recipient for her work to end sectarian violence in Northern Ireland). However, Maguire was prevented from entering Israel and deported because of her participation in efforts to bring aid to Gaza, which is cut off by a naval blockade.
Among the featured tour stops in the documentary is the Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel whose spokesperson outlines the economics behind the dizzying expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories of east Jerusalem and the West Bank, beyond Israel’s 1967 borders.
Also, Palestinian doctor, presidential candidate and democracy activist Mustafa Barghouti leads the women down the dreaded environs of Hebron’s Shuhada St. where a small collection of Jewish religious interlopers living above the now closed Arab market are protected by the Israel soldiers.
Finally, the delegation hear members of the Parents Circle Forum relate how Israeli and Palestinian women reconcile their shared loss of loved ones from war and violence between the two peoples.
"Our film is different because of its focus on women activists and their work to highlight injustice and gender inequality, and that this commonality brings Israeli and Palestinian women together for common purpose," says Jane Gurr, co-producer and writer for Partners for Peace.
One highlight in the film is the heated debate among the U.S. based delegates on whether or not to meet residents of a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem.
At first, one of the delegates, Jody Williams, is eager to attend the discussion on the settlement because of an acceptance of a central tenet of peace building -- which is that in a conflict all sides must be heard at the table, regardless of stance or political position. Williams expresses sheer exasperation upon hearing the argument from others, including Palestinians there, that one must respect their world boycott against having anything to do with these gated and guarded communities or their products in the occupied territories.
In the end, Williams relents and reluctantly agrees to skip attending the session on the settlement.
But another delegate, Jaclyn Friedman, decides to partake. The settler women who happily greet Friedman and the other visitors are mostly ex-Americans themselves, looking every bit like suburban moms from anywhere North America until they started speaking.
It becomes readily apparent that no middle ground exists here as the settler women seem oblivious to the rights of the indigenous people in their midst beyond viewing them as a disruptive and menacing presence.
One whines of being "a pariah," to the world after making a decision to move here. Another, a smallish woman wearing a religious head kerchief talks in ideological terms about how Jewish Biblical claims to the land trump any Palestinian ties going way back. All this shocks Friedman who is angry and in tears afterwards.
Jody Williams is not Jewish and so we see her on film struggling in coming to terms with the central contradiction of Israel -- a state founded as a safe refuge from gross and deadly anti-Semitism -- is now oppressing another people, the Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Friedman, the executive director of Women, Action and Media is an American Jew devoted to her faith and people. She is on the trip seeking to gain a better understanding of the complexities of the Israel-Palestine situation. At one point in the documentary she is praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and exclaiming that previous generations of Jewish leaders would find what is happening now with Israel very disappointing.
"When we watched the footage [of the film] we were really drawn to Jaclyn as an American Jew in how she would react. She went through a transformative experience [in the course of the trip]," says Jane Gurr.
Williams is the seasoned grassroots activist when it comes to an issue like Israel-Palestine; while Friedman represents the rest of us, perhaps liberal in our thinking but not totally clued to the details of the Middle East conflict until now.
"We are going after a broad audience, not an audience that is aware of the situation," says director-producer Ed Kucerak.
Partners for Peace is the fifth film made by Kucerak and Gurr who are based in Ottawa. They are currently applying to have their current documentary shown at the upcoming festivals including Toronto's HotDocs and have been chosen as an official selection of the the Washington DC Independent Film Festival, February 19-23, 2014.
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Paul Weinberg is a Toronto-based freelancer writer who has written for IPS since 1996. He is also a regular contributor to local weekly magazine NOW and specializes in Canadian politics, in particular foreign, security and defence policy. Paul is currently writing a book on the RCMP’s spying on academics in Canada during the 1960s.
Photo: Partners for Peace