At the School of African and Asian Studies (SOAS) last week, it was Israel Apartheid Week on campus and the place was abuzz with Palestinian flags and posters to Free Gaza. The atmosphere was threatening. How does one begin to fight back against the lies and intimidation?
My answer was to persuade this august institution to show a film – The David Project’s The Forgotten Refugees., directed by Michael Grynszpan. This film explores the history, culture, and forced exodus of nearly one million Jews from Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities in the second half of the 20th century. These Jews now comprise half of Israel’s Jewish population. The film raises awareness of an issue which has been tragically ignored in the media, world politics, and educational programmes.
I believe that everybody should see The Forgotten Refugees. It deals with genuine apartheid: Jews (and Christians) were literally inferior beings, subjugated to Islam. They were often segregated in ghettos. In Iran, Morocco and Yemen, they were under intermittent pressure to convert to Islam. They could not ride horses or build houses higher than Muslims, they could not testify against a Muslim, and had to pay protection money for their survival.
It was the Sunday before our screening and it was a sunny afternoon. I happily strolled onto the campus with my friendly dog. I could see in the distance the Israeli counter-demonstration. It looked peaceful, they had their banners and seemed to be engaging well with the pro-Palestinians.
I went over to their side, mingling in with the crowd. The people were thronging amongst the stalls described as Celebrate Palestine. All were draped with keffiyahs and many were wearing anti-Israel slogans. These were the people I wanted in the audience to see the film. I love Middle Eastern culture and happily chatted along with them, asking them if they were interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict. I explained about the film, that it was non-political and gave a new perspective on the region. If they felt it was propaganda, they’d be able to make their views known during the Q&A at the end.
I was conversing with one Middle Eastern man who wanted to come to the film. He was genuinely interested and we spoke for a few minutes. He left and not long afterwards I was chatting with his two little children who liked my dog. They were nice kids. It was then that I heard a scuffle behind. The little girl’s eyes widened in horror. I turned around and saw that their father was involved in the commotion. His friendly eyes were now full of hatred and he was in the throes of a fight. My maternal instinct kicked in and I quickly hurried away with his children to shield them from seeing their father in battle. I had absolutely no idea what this fight was all about. I just knelt down with the children behind the building and wrapped my arms around them.
My film showing was scheduled for last Wednesday. I became increasingly nervous beforehand, wondering who might attend. Would the man in the fight show up? What would the reaction be in this hotbed of anti-Israel feeling?
To obtain a copy of The Forgotten Refugees (UK DVD) contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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Countering violence and lies during Israel Apartheid Week (Jewish News - p 13)
The David Project