US film about indigenous community links to Palestine reinserts “political narrative”

Filmmakers Malek Rasamny and Matt Peterson have begun producing short documentary films about the common struggles between Palestinian refugees and First Nations communities on reservations across the North American continent.

In a recent interview, Rasamny told The Electronic Intifada that the films intend to highlight the “general historical similarities between the Palestinians and the native peoples here [in the US].”

Oftentimes, he added, “the comparison that’s made in the Palestinian case is with South Africa, but I think the native comparison is even more apt — because the issue is primarily about land and taking [it]. And this idea of building a utopian community on someone else’s land and kicking them off the land — the genocidal policy that’s a part of that, inevitably.”

Rasamny, who grew up in Beirut, said that he and Peterson decided to look specifically at communities’ struggles inside First Nations reservations and Palestinian refugee camps — “these zones that are defined by the history, defined by the conflict, defined by the struggle,” Rasamny explained.

Listen to the interview with Rasamny and Peterson via the media player above.


As part of their multimedia project, Rasamny and Peterson have produced a short film, We Love Being Lakota, shot on location in the Black Hills and inside the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“Not only are these native peoples and native territories still there, but they’re still struggling and still politically organized,” Peterson said.

In the short film, an Oglala Lakota organizer — wearing a keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian checkered scarf — talks about her mother, who visited Lebanon and witnessed “the fighting warrior spirit” inside the Palestinian refugee camps.

Another indigenous speaker says that “I personally have always believed that the people over there [Palestinians] are called upon to stand up in the same manner, for the same reasons. It goes beyond a solidarity — in terms of how it’s used in the English language — it’s more like a spiritual connection that our peoples have.”

“Our history as people is very similar, in terms of colonialism and occupation. And then they tried to expel us from our lands, basically separate us out as less-than — we have less human rights,” she adds. Watch We Love Being Lakota below.

“Re-inserting political narrative”

In their position as filmmakers, Rasamny and Peterson said it was important to “re-insert the political narrative” back inside discussions about First Nations communities and Palestinian refugees. Many approaches to “human rights” filmmaking, they said, tend to focus on poverty and suffering while ignoring liberation struggles and political organizing.

In past decades, Rasamny told The Electronic Intifada, Palestinian refugees were “the center of political activism, the locus for revolution and political activism within the Arab world … Now, the refugees and the refugee camps are seen as these objects of poverty, these objects to elicit pity, to elicit charitable donations.”

Peterson said that as they document what it feels and looks like to experience life as native peoples inside reservations or as refugees in camps, “when we’re talking to people, we’re talking to people about their ideas.”

He added that the film’s subjects share “their own analysis of struggle or revolution. What does autonomy mean to them? What does sovereignty mean to them? We’re not talking to them about their so-called poverty, or the supposed difficulty of their living conditions.”

The filmmakers are working on a new documentary that will incorporate interviews with survivors of the Nakba, the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.

Rasamny and Peterson recently produced The Walls of Bethlehem, which documents clashes between Palestinians in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem and invading Israeli soldiers after the Israeli army’s killing of 20-year-old Jihad al-Jafari in nearby Dheisheh refugee camp in February. Watch that short film below.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).