A tree-hugging “peace” film detached from Palestine’s reality

17 April 2014

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Middle East peace is just one business deal away in Under the Same Sun, starring Yossi Marshak (left) and Ali Suliman.

A Palestinian and Jewish Israeli businessman start a solar panel business together — bravely confronting the bullies of the Israel boycott movement, who are the major force holding back the Middle East peace process — even when it tests their most intimate relationships.

The young men’s unprecedented project, with the help of Facebook, gives birth to a grassroots movement that witnesses mass protests in Ramallah and Tel Aviv, putting pressure on the Palestinian and Israeli leadership to finally sign a peace agreement.

Within months of the business’ launch, Israeli settlers are withdrawn from the West Bank, and Palestinians who were pushed off their land are able to go back and have a glimpse of their stolen property, satisfying their decades of longing for what they lost.

This is the preposterous plot of the European Union and UK-funded propaganda film Under the Same Sun, produced by normalization outfit Search for Common Ground, and Tel Aviv-based Lama Films. It is directed by Palestinian filmmaker Sameh Zoabi (Man Without a Cell Phone).

Nizar, the Palestinian protagonist, is played by Ali Suliman, who also starred in Ziad Doueri’s nonsensical Zionist apologist film The Attack (also produced by Lama Films), and Shaul, Nizar’s Israel counterpart, is played by Yossi Marshak.

Under the Same Sun, made in 2012, would be easily forgotten and is already stale, much like the “economic peace” sham it is devoted to selling. It is only being reviewed here because it was selected for both the upcoming Chicago and Houston Palestine Film Festivals’ programs this year. (The Electronic Intifada is a sponsor of the Chicago festival but this review represents my opinion alone.)

Immorality

The website of Search for Common Ground’s Jerusalem office, like the film it produced, manages to avoid a single mention of the Israeli occupation, which comes off as an occasionally pesky yet ultimately benign bureaucracy in Under the Same Sun. The original story idea for the film is credited to British diplomat Karen McLuskie and Search for Common Ground founder John Marks. Marks’ organization and the film it has produced promote normalization between Israel and the Palestinians, in direct contradiction to the Palestinian boycott call.

Under the Same Sun retreads the well-worn ground of bridge-building projects that the self-declared international community has poured massive amounts of funding into for the past twenty years, since the signing of the Oslo accords by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The failure and immorality of this framework — which promotes a false parity between Israel and the Palestinians despite Israel’s ongoing military occupation, colonization, apartheid and the denial of Palestinian refugees’ right of return — is the context of the Palestinian-led international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which has shaken the Israeli establishment to its core since its launch a decade ago.

Even the film’s greenwashing twist seems passé, given the boycott movement’s successful exposure of Israel’s dishonest attempts to rebrand itself as an innovator of green technology while it steals Palestinian natural resources and its colonization destroys the environment.

It is no coincidence that it is a solar panel company that Under the Same Sun’s fictional Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs have risked their reputations and personal relationships for. Not only will business cooperation bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians but “green” private initiatives such as these will provide a better future for the next generations of the imminent two-state solution!

Fake

The film at times features “candid” scenes of Nizar and Shaul convincing their skeptical friends and relatives of the righteousness of their business venture, along with interviews with incredulous fictional journalists, former diplomats and think tank experts who express amazement at how the solar panel project achieved the unthinkable.

This mockumentary style is a choice of necessity since there is no single business project that has delivered on any of the lofty promises made by the “economic peace” paradigm pushed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009, with Salam Fayyad as its Palestinian figurehead. Since there is no feel-good success story in reality, this had to be a work of fiction rather than a documentary.

(Anyone who wants to better understand the sobering reality of “economic peace” on the ground is urged to read the “Neoliberal Palestine” chapter in my colleague Ali Abunimah’s new book The Battle for Justice in Palestine.)

Bald propaganda

But since this is a work of fiction, why not shoot the moon, as did those responsible for this film? Why show Israeli society’s ever-rightwards trajectory, and racist pogroms against African refugees and asylum-seekers, when the Israeli hero can whitewash reality by saying: “Many Israelis talk about wanting to live together but their voices are silenced by the minority who don’t?”

One could address the principles of, and the civil society forces behind the Palestinian-led boycott movement, which rejects business as usual with Israel as a strategy to exact a cost for decades of occupation and colonization. But why not instead portray the movement as a violent one that resorts to vandalism and hooliganism to intimidate people into compliance? That’s what this film does when Nizar finds his car smashed up with a threatening note on the windshield after the Israeli media reports on his partnership with Shaul.

And, most of all, why acknowledge that Palestinian elites have long collaborated with Israeli capitalists, at the expense of their people’s rights, when you can repackage the long-festering problem of economic collaboration and occupation profiteering as a plucky new initiative to the benefit of all, as does Under the Same Sun?

“Integrated commerce between Israel and Palestine was almost non-existent” before the solar panel project, declares a fictional foreign think tank expert in Under the Same Sun. However, the reality on the ground is that Israeli colonial rule has resulted in the destruction of the Palestinian economy which Israel has re-engineered to its benefit, with the collusion of a handful of Palestinian bourgeoisie.

Under the Same Sun’s script is so detached from reality that it takes for granted that a two-state solution is imminent; according to this film, I have doctor appointments that are more remote than the implementation of the two-state solution.

It is also little surprise that bald propaganda in the service of a bankrupt political project such as this results in a poverty of artistry. The style is muddled; sometimes this film is approached as a mockumentary, while at other times not.

Overall it has the whiff of a made-for-TV movie thanks to its expository dialogue, archetypal characters and silly plot with the sunniest of endings. Indeed the only surprising thing about this film is that it is being screened at our venerable and beloved Palestine film festivals in the US.

Maureen Clare Murphy is managing editor of The Electronic Intifada.

Comments

Why are Palestine film festivals presenting works of hasbara? Doing so makes it appear as though they are doing the bidding of Zionists. The Chicago PFF, for example, should end its rule against showing only "new" cinematic works, and, like other PFFs, begin showcasing some of the classic films from the Palestinian and Palestine-solidarity archives, which are powerful reminders of what the refusal to "dialogue" can look like on film.