A few months ago when shooting a documentary in the Middle East, we met Zeina, a 13-year-old Palestinian living in a Beirut refugee camp. She was traumatized as she watched the Israeli Gaza war on television. It changed her life. She now thinks of revenge and cannot understand the Israeli children who signed their names on bombs, to be used she says, against children like herself. She asks, “why do the Israelis hate us, why do the Arab nations not help, why do they hate us?”
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We set out to answer her question and it led to an investigation of a complicated jigsaw puzzle of elites operating within and in contention with, American strategic objectives. Elites that cloak their economic interests in a fabric of religion and nationalism, pitting peoples against each other in a demon’s brew of racial hatred and fear. From the military-security complex billionaires of Israel, to Arab and Iranian oil and banking sheiks, all the elites of the region, including Palestinian, use the conflict to suppress the struggles of their peoples for rights and economic justice.
But there is something new in the equation – a Palestinian civil rights movement that rejects terrorist tactics and demands one-person one vote, economic and political rights, and an end to apartheid. Can this movement overcome a privileged and divided Palestinian leadership that weakens and demoralizes their resistance?
As the economic crisis deepens in Israel, will ordinary Israelis see beyond the rhetoric of race and religion and focus on their own elite? It’s hard to see signs of it now, especially with the rightward turn of Israeli public opinion. They have a Foreign Minister who openly talks about ethnic cleansing of Israeli Palestinians and support for the attack on Gaza was broad throughout Israeli society.
As another round of most likely fruitless peace negotiations goes on in Washington, I think the real question is, can ordinary Palestinians and Israelis see through the climate of terror and find their common interests? In the long run, if they don’t, they will assure their mutual ruin.