In a 2004 documentary about the American media's failures in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one interviewee neatly sums up American misconceptions about Middle Eastern politics with half of a sentence: "For most Americans who don't understand the history of the conflict ..." Although the speaker was remarking specifically about American TV news reporting on skirmishes between gun-wielding Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinian youths, commentary about the difference between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites could easily follow that lead-in, as could discussion about the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon just last year.
The documentary is one in a series of films screening at Boise State as part of this semester's Middle Eastern Film Series, hosted by assistant professor Dr. Marcy Newman, who returned to the Department of English at Boise State this semester after two-years living and teaching in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon.
Heading into its sixth week, the series has so far included documentaries examining Hollywood's history of vilifying Arabs and Arab culture, life in a post-9/11 America for Arab and Muslim immigrants in the United States, Al-Jazeera's coverage of the second Iraq war, and Occupation 101, which features interviews with scholars, historians and aid workers. Yet to show on the docket are not only documentaries, but also Gillo Pontecorvo's controversial 1966 film The Battle of Algiers (a fictionalized account of Algeria's fight against France for independence that was screened by Pentagon officials in 2004 because of its relevance to the present-day Iraqi insurgency) and West Beirut, the award-winning story about three teenagers during the Lebanese Civil War.
Ultimately, Newman hopes that the series is an introduction that spurns people to action.
"I'd like people to unlearn whatever ideas they have about the region," says Newman. "I want these films to make people question things enough to want to learn more about the subject and ultimately act, to stop the U.S. from giving $3 billion to Israel to bomb and torture its neighbors."
After each screening, Newman moderates a discussion relying on her formidable academic and experiential knowledge of current Middle Eastern struggles. A vocal advocate for ending Israeli apartheid through boycott, divestment and sanctions, Newman serves as Idaho District Two's legislative coordinator for the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation of Palestine, is a senior fellow at the Initiative for Middle East Policy Dialogue Occupation and was the co-founder of the Nahr El Bared Relief Campaign to assist Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. And while the selection of films reflects Newman's support of Palestinian resistance (such as the insightful yet harshly critical analysis of media provided in Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land), the lineup encompasses films such as next week's My Country, My Country, a documentary that follows an Iraqi physician as he runs for election in 2005 on a platform for democracy but against American occupation. The final film, Arabs and Terrorism, is an apt culmination of the series, asking experts and people on the street in the United States, Europe and the Middle East who they think terrorists are and what terrorism is.
And while Boise may seem far removed from an illegal Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip, United States financial support is key, which ultimately affects local pockets.
"I think there are better ways for the United States to engage in the rest of the world," says Newman. "We have issues right here in Idaho and that money could go a long way to help serve local needs."
Boise State's Middle Eastern Film Series shows Wednesdays, 6-8 p.m., FREE in the Forum at Boise State. No film Oct. 10 or Nov. 21.