Paradise Now. Film is not the issue

Paradise may never come

Israelis and Palestinians can't make peace until they are able to say each other's name

I didn’t expect “Paradise Now” to win an Oscar in the Foreign Language Film category of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


Too much anguish still exists between Palestinians and Israelis to allow anyone to view the conflict between them as anything other than unbridled hatred, or to allow an unemotional discussion about some of the topics the film addresses.


Too much conflict still remains, preventing Israeli and Palestinians to even have a civil dialogue about a subject that touches both their hearts, or to allow them to stray from the tragedy to the talents of Hollywood screenwriting.


Too much hatred blurs what the Oscars are supposed to be all about, the act of portraying the good, the bad and the ugly of the human experience on the big screen. Sometimes that is driven by a dedication to the reality of a topic. Sometimes it is driven by the desire to create a compelling story that often outweighs facts.


And, sometimes, it is driven by politics.


I did expect, and maybe somewhat foolishly, that while we Palestinians and Israelis have failed to achieve a genuine peace, maybe in the more than half century of hate-driven violence we might have preserved our human dignity to at least show each other a minimal amount of respect.


Have we really advanced when some of us, on both sides, still cannot utter the other’s name? We deny each other’s existence hoping that somehow that denial might make the other side and the conflict disappear.


Though we can’t have our dream of a peace, maybe we might still be able to strive for that the dream with some civility, not just civility towards each other but for ourselves.


Clearly, this year’s Academy Awards night demonstrates that this conflict might never end.


I’m not speaking about the content of the film, “Paradise Now.” Whether they are documentaries, dramas or reflections of reality, films are not real. The content can be debated to all extremes.


But what we saw was something even more tragic in our relationship as Palestinians and Israelis.


What's in a name


"Paradise Now" was among five films nominated for an Oscar by the members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It did not win.


And there was a great political debate that saw Israelis and Palestinians lobbying for and against it because of its content and its message. But not everyone focused on the debatable content.


There was a side debate to pressure the Academy to change the name of the country with which the foreign film was identified. On the web page and the official notices of the Academy, "Paradise Now" was listed as coming from “Palestine.”


But in announcing Hany Abu-Assad’s film, actor Will Smith veered from the official description and said the film from a place more acceptable to the critics, “the Palestinian territories.”


I don’t know if that was his choice, or a compromise by the Academy. Even after the Oscar was given to the South African film “Tsotsi,” the Academy continued to list "Paradise Now" as coming from “Palestine” in its literature and on its official web page.


You want to know why Palestinians and Israelis don’t have peace? Because there are enough of us on both sides who are so petty in their hatred that they can’t even say each others’ name.


Those who hate Israel insist on calling it the “Zionist entity.” Those who hate Palestine insist on denying it that name, Palestine.


There are all kinds of logic justifying both sides. But they all lack the one element that might one day lead to a genuine peace. Recognition.


The critics who pushed the Academy to make the name change demand recognition for Israel but deny the same for the Palestinians.


It will feed the growing number of Palestinians who are turning away from peace and who don’t believe Israelis or American Jews really want peace. Maybe all they really want is total victory? Or, maybe an endless war as long as they continue to maintain the upper-hand so they can control it all.


Palestine exists


Let’s call the monolith of concrete hatred what it really is.


Palestine exists and Palestinians exist, too. If you can’t say that, then you can’t claim to want peace.


It’s a hatred that feeds a conflict that continues to take the lives of innocent people, and not just the children of Israel. Yossi Zur, Yossi Mendellevich and Ron Kehrmann are not the only parents who have lost children in this conflict. So have thousands of Palestinians.


The 78th Academy Awards will remind us of how petty both sides can and will be that they had to spend so much time and energy fighting over a word.


The issue is not the content. Suicide bombings are disgusting, immoral acts of human failing. Many Palestinians like me have consistently denounced suicide bombings.


But I don’t think the fight is really over just the content of the film. It wouldn’t matter if the story line were about even greater fanaticism or about the true dream for Palestinian-Israeli peace.


The real issue is that it is about us. One word, “Palestine.” And one meaning, “Palestinians.”


How searing must be the hatred that we can’t even call something by its own name.


If Palestine doesn’t exist, more will argue that maybe Israel doesn’t exist, either.


(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and standup comedian. He is a regular contributor to YnetNews and can be reached at


פרסום ראשון: 03.06.06, 08:02
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