- Published on Saturday, 09 April 2011 09:29
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sea of unspeakable tragedies that to us, outsiders looking in, have become commonplace. It has come to mean nothing but flashing headlines of destruction and sadness involving sobbing, distraught people, none of whom are distinguishable from another. We change the channel, vaguely disturbed, and forget all about it until the next tragedy comes along, sure to be forgotten in turn as well.
Now, with the advent of Miral, the conflict finally has a face — four of them, in fact. The film tells the closely interwoven stories of four extraordinary Palestinian women and is based on a semi-autobiographical novel by a woman who is an extraordinary Palestinian herself, journalist Rula Jebreal.
The first of these stories is that of Hind Husseini, founder and director of the Dar-El-Tifel girls orphanage/school of Jerusalem. Hind is an outstanding example of the Palestinians who have overcome the harsh circumstances of their continuously deteriorating situation to become beacons of hope. From a well-known family, she used her influence to develop Dar-El-Tifel and along with it the psyche of so many young Palestinian girls who otherwise would not have had a future.
The book opens at her death — mourned by all of Jerusalem — and then rewinds to give us her story: how she became one of the most influential personas of the Holy City and, indeed, of Palestine itself.
The second is Nadia, free spirit whose headstrong willfulness masks a scarred past. She is one of those who, without an identity or a decent education, are unable to control their own destinies. Abused by her stepfather, she runs away from home and becomes a dancer in cafes, a display for men's lustful eyes. She goes from city to city, from man to man, in search of meaning, but cannot overcome her feeling of emptiness. Insulted for being Arab, she reacts, and is put in jail. There she meets Fatima, who gives us our third tale.
Fatima is in prison for orchestrating a failed terrorist attack, an example of the many contradictions that dog the Palestinian story. Hers is the tale of how a life-saving nurse comes to be a terrorist whose goal is to take as many lives as she can, one of so many tragic stories of promising youth turned murderers.
Upon her emergence from prison, Nadia marries Fatima’s brother Jamal, but not before she indulges in an affair that gives her a child, our title character: Miral. The marriage does nothing but increase Nadia's yearning for something more, a meaning to life that not even another baby girl, Rania, can give. Motherhood and wifehood give her no peace and she finally ends her own life, leaving her two girls without a mother.
Now, finally and most extensively, comes Miral's story. Sent to Dar-El-Tifel after her mother's tragic death, she excels at school and becomes a model student. However, after witnessing first-hand injustice at a refugee camp, she begins to defy the pacifist, non-confrontational method that Hind endorses in dealing with the conflict that determines their daily lives. Awakened into action with the rest of her generation, she starts going to demonstrations behind Hind's back to protest for the rights of her people. At one of these demonstrations, Hani, a Christian Arab activist who belongs to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, saves her life. He encourages her to intensify her political activity and they begin a romance that will change Miral's life forever.
Continually at risk, continually trying to keep her two lives separate, all secrecy implodes when she is taken into custody and tortured for information about Hani — information that she refuses to divulge. After her release, she is sent to recuperate in Haifa, where she meets an Israeli girl named Lisa and begins to understand the reality of who the “other side” really is. Palestinian and Israeli, they are both the same in what they yearn for: peace in which they can live their lives uninterrupted by the vicious circle of oppression, injustice, and violence that never seems to end. And indeed, no end is yet in sight. Stylistically, Miral is a case of good intentions let down by poor execution: clumsy wording that tells rather than shows, and some secondary characters reduced to nothing more than cardboard cutouts, But Rula Jebreal tells her story with heart, conviction and spirit, and the message is desperately needed. Dedicated to "the Israelis and Palestinians who still believe peace is possible", it is a convincing argument for the need of personal stories to combat the story of nation against nation that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become.
The movie was released this weekend and has not been spared controversy; that’s not a surprise, given the subject matter. Few topics arouse as much passionate debate and argument as the “everlasting conflict” and are as relevant in these turbulent times. Accusations of anti-Semitism have been leveled at both the book and the movie. After reading and watching, you may decide for yourself what the message of Miral is. Personally, I believe it is a message of hope that is neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli, but the better of the two: it is pro-peace.By Maryam Al-Dabbagh*Photo Credit: Nick Stepowyj
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