On Martin Luther King Day this year, the film “5 Broken Cameras” was shown during one of the campus “breakout sessions.”
I was very disappointed to see this on the program, as it does not reflect the fundamental themes of MLK Day. The film screening was directly contrary to objectives of dialogue, progress, and non-violent protest, themes upon which the whole day’s program was based.
Showing this film, which circles around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, on MLK Day tries to imply that the Palestinian resistance has been non-violent, and seeks to subtly convey a skewed, one-dimensional, world where Israel is the violent aggressor.
To be clear, the demonstrations held in Bil’in, on which the movie focused, were generally non-violent. This is commendable, and something that I hope becomes more prevalent in Palestinian society.
However, the attempt to claim that this accurately depicts the conflict, or most Palestinian resistance, is absurd. Every day Israel is confronted with violent security threats, indiscriminately aimed at maiming and murdering Israeli civilians. From 2000-2012, there were 39,000 attacks, averaging nine attacks per day. These include stabbings on busses, rockets aimed at civilian centers, suicide bombings, and more.
It is also important to understand that the Palestinian resistance movement is fundamentally different than the African-American Civil Rights Movement. One major difference is that African-Americans never had a goal of destroying America, as many Palestinians do toward Israel.
For example, Hamas, the elected government in Gaza, states in their charter, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” They swear by Israel’s destruction, and it is the main focus of their agenda. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority, who is in a coalition with Hamas, has a long history of honoring suicide bombers and terrorists as heroes.
We commemorate the success of the Civil Rights Movement specifically because of its courage and commitment to use peaceful, non-violent protest and dialogue as a means to achieve its goals despite great challenges and frustration.
The Black Civil Rights Movements did have their violent wings. There were Nat Turner, the Black Panthers, and a few others that were largely on the periphery and faded into the background of history. This is turned on its head in the Palestinian case, where the strategy remains terror, and non-violence is an occasional refreshing change. For example, a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed 77% of Palestinians in favor of Hamas’s rocket attacks.
Furthermore, the Bates student organization ‘Students for Peace & Justice in Palestine’ and the Maine BDS Coalition sponsored the film showing and session. The BDS movement, supported by SPJP, is a program that intrinsically stifles interaction and debate. An example of a prominent BDS project was the American Studies Association’s academic boycott of Israel last year.
President Spencer, along with virtually all of academia, rightly rejected this proposal that attempted to cut off all ties with Israeli academia and institutions. Considering that I, and most of the world, believe that peace in the region must come from understanding, dialogue, and negotiations, this would have been wholly counterproductive.
The breakout session was not a program to debate the conflict, nor was it to address both sides and critically examine the situation. It was set up for a specific political purpose of slandering the state of Israel through the limited context of one-perspective.
Even the New York Times review deemed the film “hardly neutral.” I do not believe this is how progress occurs. It is divisive rather than unifying, and discourages mutual understanding and dialogue, further polarizing the participants and issue.
Finally, I believe that it is an insult to MLK to use his legacy and day in order to pursue a cause directly contrary to what he believed. MLK was a staunch supporter of Israel. In 1968, he reinforced his support, stating, “Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality,” and that “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.”
This program was meant to vilify Israel’s attempt to ensure its citizens’ security, encourage America to stop aiding Israel in its attempt to defend itself and its citizens, and incite hostility toward the state of Israel. As MLK stated then, as is true today, “Israel must exist and has the right to exist, and is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.”
While I passionately disagree with SJSP and the BDS movement, I support their right to their opinion and presence as a group at Bates. If they had shown this film at one of their own meetings, I would have no objection. However, I was deeply disappointed to see that this problematic film was incorporated into a school-sanctioned event despite directly opposing the day’s very objectives.