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?
On Tuesday night Spirit Level film hosted the UK premiere of the first film in The Price of Kings series, about the life and leadership of Yasser Arafat.
For the team, the premiere was the culmination of four years of meticulous research, filming and editing, and tireless promotion and event management.
The event was held at the Haymarket Cineworld, London, where we were joined by around 400 friends, family, press and dignitaries for the screening.
We were incredibly pleased to have Suha Arafat present as our guest of honour for the evening, whose input and support for the film has been of central importance.
After giving a quick interview with BBC Arabic in the cinema foyer, Suha Arafat then made a speech introducing the film, speaking of her love and dedication to her late husband, Yasser Arafat, and his importance as the only Palestinian leader who, thus far, has been able to unite the Palestinian people.
Running behind schedule due to the logistical difficulties of seating 400 people in a short amount of time, the film finally began. It was fantastic to see the film on the big screen and being shown to such a large audience.
Unfortunately, due to the unexpected time constraints, we were not able to go through with our planned Q&A session. We hope to organize an online Q&A session in the future, so stay tuned for more details on this.
On 6 March Nasser al-Kidwa, veteran Palestinian diplomat, nephew of Yasser Arafat and contributor to The Price of Kings, was appointed by the Arab League to accompany the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on his trip to Syria.
The UN envoys were scheduled to visit President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus on 10 March.
However, last week it was announced that the Syrian President would not allow Mr. Al-Kidwa to enter the country. The Huffington Post reported that this action was taken by Syria “presumably to express its opposition to the Arab League's condemnation of Assad”.
The New York Sun reported that the decision by Assad’s government to block Nasser al-Kidwa’s entry to Syria could be based on “ a long history of rollercoaster relations between the Assads and the Arafats”.
Nasser al-Kidwa was a key contributor to The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat, his personal testimony, particularly his description his Uncle’s reaction to the assassination of Yitzak Rabin, served as highly poignant contributions.
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:
The latest from Richard, Price of Kings director, straight from the edit suite
Must confess to feeling a little blue in the run up to the UK release of Film 1, President Arafat.
It seems a shame to move on when we learnt so much over the course of making it - from filming in the West Bank, Jordan, Nablus, Hebron and Jerusalem to unearthing long-lost archive which casts a different light on current affairs.
Yesterday, whilst doing a soundcheck in the cinema for the March 13th premiere in London's West End, we randomly spooled forward and hit the play button. Arafat burst into life on the screen, alone in the gardens of his base in Tunisia, deep in thought, staring into space as he quietly contemplates whether to return to peace negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin after an Israeli extremist settler, Baruch Goldstein, had shot the negotiations to pieces by massacring worshippers at the mosque in Hebron. Not long before-hand Suha watched him "shouting and screaming", she'd "never seen him like this before - furious". It had been hard enough for Arafat to corral the various factions of the PLO to move forward with the 1993 Oslo peace deal in the first place - and now this.
Back inside, in Arafat's living room were his senior advisors, wanting him to break off talks, whilst envoys from Israel sat in the kitchen, hoping desperately that he'd come back to the negotiating table.
In the garden, Arafat looks totally alone, sitting without his customary head-dress or any hint of self-consciousness, exposing his baldness. Weighing up his choices - a return to negotiations jeopardises support from his already doubtful people but having struggled for decades and finally signed a deal with Rabin... What to do? What to sacrifice? Peace or the support of his followers? Can he trust Rabin? Is he really a partner for peace?
We spooled back and found Yitzhak Rabin on screen, veins throbbing at his temples, thundering at the world's press in response to the massacre, "The present government of Israel, will not allow this atrocity to stop the negotiations!" He's beside himself, absolutely furious, wild-eyed at the peace process having been jeopardised.
Watching the two of them together, their words reverberating in the empty cinema you couldn't help thinking on the stark contrast between those times and the current state of affairs.
Fresh from the edit suite in the final preparations on the film on President Arafat...some notes on the agony of editing from Price of Kings director, Richard Symons...
Price of Kings director Richard Symons and Director of Photography Jake Corbett film at Karameh, Jordan
They say it's like killing your baby.
The final stages of editing are a brutal thing. Often the sequence you love the most just doesn't work for the film as a whole, and in the end, the film is king. The most painful of all baby killings is where you have to choose between two good kids to save the film from being just a fraction too long.
With The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat, "The Battle of Karameh", and the hijacking sequence/exploration of terrorism scenes went head to head. Terrorism won, Karameh sacrificed. Agonising. Both showed key elements of President Arafat's leadership but it felt like excising an exploration of terrorism would have been a more gaping omission.
Our interviewees explained Karameh was the key point where President Arafat turned his people from refugees into fighters - consolidating his power. Against the might of the Israeli Army (they'd just decimated their surrounding neighbours in no more than six days), President Arafat convinced his troops to stand firm and fight whilst other factions (George Habash's PFLP) felt it was bordering on suicide.
Perhaps outside of a democracy a suicidal confrontation is the best/only way of consolidating power. Yasser Arafat proved in no uncertain terms he was prepared to stake his own life alongside the lives of his men against a far superior force. Crucially, because he was able to show Karameh as a victory (Israel contests this) - the process fused any Fedayeen doubts and transformed them to loyalty. Arafat could see what they couldn't, so only he could lead them where they didn't think they could go.
After the battle of Karameh, Arafat's high led to hubris, a lack of discipline, and bad-behaviour in Jordan, culminating in what became known as Black September - both the civil war and the fearsome organisation responsible for numerous attacks on civilians. There was a fascinating flow to how events unfolded, and taking this tack would allow us to include in the film his escape from Jordan as witnessed and retold by Munib al Masri (sitting at Yasser Arafat's side as he bullshitted, blustered and charmed his way through roadblocks manned by the Jordanian troops he was escaping from).
It's easy to forget President Arafat was a revolutionary leader, a military man, for most of his time - and it's essential to take this on board, so we couldn't quite kill off our baby sequence and kept it for viewing as a DVD extra.
This blog comes to you from the beautiful setting of Dubai, UAE. We're preparing for Thursday's world premiere of The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat at the Dubai International Film Festival with a hectic week of press engagements.
Aside from being on the eve of the premiere of the first film, we have some other very exiting news: we are absolutely over the moon to introduce Helena Bonham Carter to The Price of Kings. The Alice in Wonderland star will narrate the Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres films. We are so excited to have an artist we respect so much on board as narrator, and we know she will add so much to the first two films.
Carlos the Jackal is one of the most notorious names of the 20th century. Born Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, he is currently serving a life sentence in France for the murder of a PFLP (Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine) double agent and two French policemen, Carlos is back in the news this week with the revelation that he is to stand trial again, this time accused of taking part in a series of Paris bomb attacks in the early ‘80s that killed eleven people.
Carlos had strong links with Price of Kings contributor Bassam Abu Sharif – they first met when the Venezuelan-born insurgent walked in to Sharif’s office asking to join the resistance.
It was unanimously agreed by the Price of Kings team that Sharif gave one of the most captivating interviews of the series so far. Talking with the man who masterminded the Dawson’s Field hijackings, one of the most infamous events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was always going to be an eye opening experience. Indeed, the cameras were still rolling five hours after we sat down.
Aside from his wealth of information about Yasser Arafat, stemming from his prominence in the PFLP and his later role as Arafat’s advisor, Sharif also had many other fascinating stories to share.
While Sharif's stories are entirely incidental to the film we were making on Yasser Arafat, they still make for a beguiling insight in to what has been, for better or worse, an extraordinary life. A number of these stories centered on Sharif’s relationship with Carlos the Jackal. With Carlos once again making headlines around the world, we thought it’d be a great time to share a few snippets.
In this first excerpt, Sharif details his first meeting with Carlos in 1970. Notice how Sharif uses his own nickname for the Venezuelan – ‘Salim’.
The next account plays out like something lifted straight from a Bond film; Carlos was sent to Paris on the orders of the PFLP, where he was left to await his orders in a hotel room. Check out the footage to find out what unfolded next.
Whichever side you take on the man’s politics, it was stories like these ones that made Bassam Abu Sharif such an enthralling interview for the Price of Kings team.
"If you go anywhere in Palestine or in the Occupied Territories I bet that you will find a photograph of President Arafat with at least one member, if not all the members of the family sitting right in the guest room. They put the photo in the guest room because they want to display it to everybody - it's a source of pride. If you find that photo in every home, then Yasser Arafat managed to strike a rather personal connection with almost every Palestinian. That's not a normal way of doing politics - that's not the White House or No. 10."
Dr Husam Zomlot, Fatah Spokesperson in The Price of Kings: Yasser Arafat
Almost all our interviewees spoke of Yasser Arafat's ability to remember the names, faces of almost every person he met and to connect with them in an unusually warm manner. And it wasn't just at home; as a campaigning President, he visited hundreds of countries on diplomatic missions and met hundreds of people.
We'd love for you to send us your snaps with the President. So whether you're Palestinian or not, if you have a photo of you or your family with President Arafat - we'd love to see it and display it in our gallery.
As a taster, we've included some photos of some of our contributors with Arafat. Check them out, and get sending!