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John Pilger first made the film ‘Palestine Is Still The Issue’ in 1977. It told how almost a million Palestinians had been forced off their land in 1948, and again in 1967. Twenty five years later, John Pilger returned to the West Bank of Jordan and Gaza, and to Israel, to ask why the Palestinians, whose right of return was affirmed by the United Nations more than half a century ago, are still caught in a terrible limbo – refugees in their own land, controlled by Israel in the longest military occupation in modern times.
“If we are to speak of the great injustice here, nothing has changed,” says Pilger at the start of the film, “What has changed is that the Palestinians have fought back. Stateless and humiliated for so long, they have risen up against Israel’s huge military regime, although they themselves have no army, no tanks, no American planes and gunships or missiles. Some have committed desperate acts of terror, like suicide bombing. But, for Palestinians, the overriding, routine terror, day after day, has been the ruthless control of almost every aspect of their lives, as if they live in an open prison. This film is about the Palestinians and a group of courageous Israelis united in the oldest human struggle, to be free.”
Pilger distills the history of Palestine during the twentieth century into an easily comprehensible struggle for land – the loss of seventy-eight per cent of that belonging to Palestinians when the state of Israel was founded in 1948 and their claim to only the remaining twenty-two per cent, which had for thirty-five years been occupied by Israel.
In a series of extraordinary interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians, he speaks to the families of suicide bombers and their victims. He witnesses the humiliation of Palestinians at myriad checkpoints with a permit system not dissimilar to apartheid South Africa’s infamous pass laws. One Palestinian woman tells of how she was stopped from passing through a checkpoint when she went into labour and had to return home to give birth with her mother-in-law using a razor to cut the umbilical cord. The baby later died. He goes into the refugee camps and meets children who, he says, “no longer dream like other children, or if they do, it is about death.” He is shown round the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Ramallah after a recent Israeli attack where he discovers faeces smeared on walls and floors and a room of children’s paintings vandalised.
Archive footage shows pledges by successive American presidents in support of Israel. Pilger describes the Israeli administration as “America’s deputy sheriff” in the oil-rich Middle East, receiving billions of dollars and the latest weapons: F16 aircraft, bombs, missiles and Apache helicopters. He reveals that Britain also fuels the conflict even though it condemns Israel for its illegal occupation. “During the first fourteen months of the Palestinian uprising, the Blair government approved 230 export licences for weapons and military equipment to Israel… Tony Blair has said, and I quote him, “We are doing everything we can to bring peace and stability to the Middle East.'” As a result, Israel is now the fourth-largest military power in the world.
On a hillside overlooking Jerusalem, Pilger concludes. “The truth is that Israelis will never have peace until they recognise that Palestinians have the same right to the same peace and the same independence that they enjoy,’ he said. ‘Recently, that great voice of freedom, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, asked this: “Have the Jewish people of Israel forgotten their collective punishment, their home demolitions, their humiliations so soon?” Israel’s own dissenting voices have not forgotten and those who speak out in this film honour the best traditions of Jewish humanity… The occupation of Palestine should end now. Then, the solution is clear: two countries, Israel and Palestine, neither dominating nor menacing the other. Is that impossible or is history to witness the consequences of yet another silence?’”
Palestine Is Still The Issue was a Carlton Television production for ITV first broadcast on ITV1, 16 September 2002. Director: Tony Stark. Producer: Chris Martin.
Awards: The Chris Statuette in the War & Peace division, Chris Awards, Columbus International Film & Video Festival, Ohio, 2003; Winner, War & Peace category, Vermont International Film Festival, 2003; Certificate of Merit, Chicago International Television Awards.