As the undeniable architect of the Free Palestine Campaign, Yasser Arafat began his struggle over 60 years ago with a small group of armed resistance fighters.
At the beginning of his struggle, a Free Palestine meant the liberation of the whole of British Mandate Palestine – an area he set out to reclaim. After 6 wars, countless UN resolutions, 2 Intifadas and thousands of deaths on both sides of the conflict, the solution seems no closer to a solution but the area he was willing to accept had shrunk dramatically. By 1993 and the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinian President was willing to accept just 22% of the land he set out to liberate.
From early movements under the umbrella of the PLO to today’s myriad of groups working to free Palestine, there has never been total consensus on the methods or goals, and disagreement is common. Modern groups such as the International Solidarity Movement and the Palestinian Solidary Campaign still debate the best methods to oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine in attempt to gain freedom and democracy for their people. The tools available span from direct action, military solutions, peaceful protest and financial sanctions.
One of the most widespread methods used in the current Free Palestine movement is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions method, otherwise known as the BDS Campaign, which targets any external groups’ involvement with official Israeli partners in arts, trade or academia.
Despite their best efforts, peace is no closer to being achieved, indeed, the Palestine Arafat had negotiated for with Yitzhak Rabin has now, in de facto terms, reduced even more.
Moreover, even though Israeli PM Ariel Sharon disengaged from Gaza in 2004, leaving it under the control of Hamas, campaigners still argue that it’s very far from being a free Palestine due to the surrounding militarised zone and lack of free movement or trade. It begs the question; what would Yasser Arafat have thought of the campaign he began to free his land so long ago, and what is left of Palestine to free?
Suha Arafat, the wife of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat gave Spirit Level Film the first ever set of extended interviews on her husband. In her first trip to London in over 20 years, she attended the premiere of The Price of Kings: Film 1 – Yasser Arafat.
In key interviews with CNN’s Becky Anderson, Sir David Frost, BBC Arabic and The Sunday Times, Suha Arafat disclosed the emotional accounts she gave in the documentary film, The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat, on her relationship with the PLO chief, the birth of their daughter Zahwa Arafat and her life in Gaza.
During her stay in London Suha Arafat told the Spirit Level Film team many stories about her last journey to London with Yasser Arafat including her first meeting with the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. “She came to the Dorchester in a beautiful suit with a matching hat” said Suha. “She was very gracious and polite”
On her last day in London, the team were delighted to receive a visit from the lady herself – here is the picture of Suha Arafat with the whole Spirit Level Film team.
Below are the links for viewing the interviews:
For foreign film crews, filming in Israel and Palestine throws up some unique problems. At every checkpoint you pass through, you have to explain what you plan to film with the equipment you’re carrying, and show a hell of a lot of documentation. Even still, the IDF border patrol have been known to confiscate footage and equipment, or deny you passage.
It’s for this reason, amongst others, that every crew is advised to employ a fixer in Israel and Palestine – someone who’s intimately familiar with the every day problems that are faced by people living and working in place where trouble and violence are never too far away.
On the shoot in Israel and Palestine, there was an Israeli fixer and a Palestinian fixer with the Price of Kings crew. The Palestinian fixer was a man named Hindi Mesleh. He was on hand at all times to make sure the shoot went off smoothly, and the crew could get the interviews and footage they needed.
After seeing the photos of the violence at the Qalandia checkpoint from a couple of weeks ago, I had a chat with Hindi – to check that he was ok, and to get a little bit more info about what’s currently happening on the ground in Israel and Palestine.
Hi Hindi. How are you?
Hi. I’m good. I’ve been super busy with a French director. Today was the last day. 23 hard days.
That’s a long shoot. Being a filmmaker in Israel and Palestine is a pretty unique job. How did you get in to it?
I got a camera as a gift from a friend, and my father had a really old camera when were kids, so I always loved photography. I began to take it more seriously in 2004. It was 3 or 4 years before I began to start making some money out of it. At the same time I was involved with activism. And both of those things don’t make you a living. I was mainly photographing anti-wall protests and the cities as I was going around.
After a while doing this, as well as some tour guiding, I went to film college, as there was no photography schools in the area.
What kind of stuff were you photographing?
Mainly anti-wall protests, and the cities I was going around.
It must be near impossible for any young person growing up in Palestine to not become politicized to some degree.
Yes. With the photography, I got to know some foreign journalists, and began helping them when they were in Palestine. My knowledge of film and photography, as well as my knowledge of the local geography meant word of mouth spread, and I began working with more and more journalists and film crews.
I wanted to ask about the violence that was happening at the Qalandia checkpoint. I saw the photos on the Time website.
Yes, I was there too. But now things are back to normal – settler attacks here and there. But Qalandia is a bad place always. It’s full of traffic, problems can happen at any time.
It certainly looked bad the day of the UN decision.
There was so many emotional people [at the Qalandia checkpoint] who thought it would bring freedom to the state.
Was it Palestinians instigating the violence?
People went to the checkpoint but the Israelis didn’t like it. Clashes started and the IDF used tear gas.
Was the violence contained to the checkpoint?
The violence doesn’t move away from the checkpoint. Usually trouble at Qalandia lasts about a day before it quietens down again.
Do you have to pass through Qalandia often?
Usually not, but when I’m filming I go there every day.
Is there much support for Abbas amongst normal Palestinians? Do people think he can bring independence?
To tell you the truth this is the talk every day. Some people think he is sick of being mistreated by the Israel and the US, and is bringing about change to the good, so a lot of people do support him. But a lot of people think he’s doing this only to save face for himself and Fatah. Especially with the elections happening soon.
Do you think Israel wlll adhere to the decision if the UN acknowledges Palestine’s independence?
I don’t think so, unless real pressure from the EU starts. Until Israel took it seriously and ended its occupation, the decision won’t change anything on the ground. The EU are confused. They don’t want to lose their Arab allies, but they also don’t want to mess with Israel.
There are never any easy decisions on this one, I guess.
I think there is if you only care about human rights. You are either for or against.
Thanks for speaking to me Hindi.
You may also want to check out Hindi's photography at his website.
Hindi with some tea some offered to us by a family of bedouins. Photo © Jo Natasegara for the Price of Kings, 2011
So far, the team has been on five shoots, in five different countries for the first three Price of Kings films. Israel, Malta, Palestine, Jordan, Costa Rica. That’s a lot of air miles. The longest shoot the team went on was a mammoth eighteen-day shoot to Israel and Palestine, out of which the Arafat episode was born.
I’ve never been to Palestine, so my own experience of the place is only what we see on the television – the seemingly endless dispatches from reporters wearing bulletproof vests against a backdrop of a desert bound village. But talking to Jo, the series producer, and she paints a very different picture of one of the most conflict stricken places on earth.
‘We loved Palestine. Everyone is so friendly, so welcoming, and in Ramallah I didn’t feel any sense of conflict. It was a party town. Palestinians know how to party.’
I suppose living with a constant threat of violence hanging in the air changes a person’s outlook on life. Do you let the fear get to you, or do you make the best of what you’ve got? It seems the Palestinians are on to a good thing.Image copyright Alexandria Jackson/Spirit Level Film for The Price of Kings