Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Zero Degrees of Separation

Beware of those in whom the urge to punish is powerful.

Zero Degrees of Separation looks at the Middle East conflict and the Palestinian Occupation, through the eyes of mixed Palestinian and Israeli gay and lesbian couples. Ezra is against the Occupation, yet he’s an Israeli. His partner, Selim, is a Palestinian whose protests against the Occupation landed him in jail at age 15. Ezra is a simple plumber whose courage and cheek take on prophet–like proportions as he travels across the country risking his life to protest the walls, fences and military checkpoints that divide them. Interwoven with their stories is footage of Elle Flanders' grandparents, who were intimately involved in the founding of the state of Israel. Through these home movies, Flanders artfully retraces her grandparents’ travels as they tour a fledgling nation brimming with pioneering joyous youth, immigrants, refugees and endless open vistas of the Holy Land, contrasting the ideals at the birth of the “holy land” with the reality of today’s Israel, a country mired in the rubble of Occupation.

Just saw this on Sundance and if you can, see it. Beyond the usual rhetoric of Zionist/anti-Zionist dialog, it was really interesting to see the way just regular folks were dealing with the madness of the situation.

It may not be earth-shattering to hear their stories, but anything outside of the mainstream bullshit here in Amerika is a breath of fresh air. The fact that they are gay/lesbian adds another layer.

I recall the first time I heard (either through my friend, Don Bustany, or Ha'aretz) about the faction of Israeli soldiers who are protesting the occupation by refusing to serve. They have of course been suppressed by being thrown in prison. That only furthered my thought that I'd bet the average Israeli and Palestinian just wants all the insanity to stop.

I've been witness to beatings, and they surely don't rival the madness of the Israeli occupation, but I remember the way it made me feel watching it. This is where Fanon's (psychiatric) take on colonialism is incisive in the way it critiques the colonizer's psyche, how it becomes "bestialized." But what happens to those who witness?

If it's a Newtonian given that "For every action..." then one has to ask what indeed happens when someone brutalizes. I mean outside of the given emotion - feeling sadistic, being pissed off, seeking vengeance, feeling bad, etc. Is there another dimension to this situation? What happens to witnesses? (again, outside of feeling?)

I'm reminded of the scientific discovery of the act of observation; that scientists discovered, when observing sub-atomic particles -- the very essence of matter, that the very act of observation changed their behavior. Therefore, Newtonian symmetry mandates that something happens to the observer.

The trouble is that once you see it, you can't unsee it. And once you've seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There is no innocence. Either way, you're accountable.
-Arundhati Roy

While I love Roy's quote, the fascinating thing to consider here is that something biologically concrete takes place beyond the socio-political construction - within (Without? Both?) the observer.

Ignorance may indeed be bliss, but in this proposition, is it the only refuge?