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What Paradise? By: Pierre Rehov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, November 16, 2005

As a filmmaker of the new documentary Suicide Killers, I will tell you that Hany Abu-Assad’s film Paradise Now is an artistically fashioned fiction. A dangerous fiction about dangerous people in a dangerous world. As fiction, his film stages good and bad characters. And since the film is about the final days of life for two suicide bombers, the killers automatically become the heroes.

Hany Abu-Assad tries to portray his heroes as human beings. On this, I could not agree more. In his interview with Newsweek, he says the Palestinians “wanted to see these characters as superheroes, as almost inhuman in their great powers.” “Suicide Killers,” as I call them in my documentary, represent the saddest of human tragedies in their denial of life for death.


Depending on our point of view, we could justify anyone’s behaviour. The temptation would be great to make a film on Charles Manson or Jack the Ripper from an inside perspective that excuses their actions, just as we could rationalize Nazism by the poverty in which the Versailles Treaty emerged from Germany in the twenties. But in all cases—including suicide bombings—it’s important to identify the real causes and not make them up. Unfortunately, when we deal with the issues of Moslem expansion, the desire for Islamic world domination, the intolerance of Occidental culture, the Muslim extremists’ rejection of the modern world, their inferiority of women, and the glorification of jihad and shahada, the conclusion is always the same: to blame Israel or the United States.


Presented from the Palestinian point of view, moderate or otherwise, suicide bombings are the result of occupation, oppression, lack of freedom, and the desire for cultural pride. All of this reasoning is a lie. A myth. I spent hours speaking with would-be suicide bombers in Israeli jails and with their families in Gaza, Jordan, the West Bank and inside Nablus, where Paradise Now was filmed. And I am sorry to tell the Jury of the Amnesty International Award and the Best European Film Blue Angel Award and whoever is ecstatic about the courage and the sacrifice of these supposed heroes that they are just manipulated kids, victims of a system and a culture, or, as Dr. Boaz Ganor from the Hertzliya Center for Studies on Terrorism puts it, “stupid bombs and smart bombs at the same time.”


In the daily life of these so-called heroes, everything is structured to make them believe in a martyr-mythology. And while it is not pleasant to live under curfews and to have to cross checkpoints everyday, no one seems to remember that there were already suicide killers in the days of the Oslo Process when the PLO was in charge of security and when the borders were widely open. In those days, I used to visit friends in Galilee, and we would go to the Jenin open market as easily as to the mall of any Israeli city.


I was surprised and happy to read the Newsweek article about Mr. Abu-Assad being nervous two hours before the screening of his film in Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv? Yes. Absolutely. I wonder how many survivors of suicide attacks attended this “premier?” Also, I wonder when a Palestinian, or any Arab television or cinema will ever feature a film about the Holocaust, for instance, not to mention a film presenting the Israeli point of view of the actual conflict? Stupid me: I forgot. According to most Arabs, the Holocaust never existed except in the minds of the Zionists, for use as propaganda, with an agenda to conquer the world.


But let’s not be too political. Back to our suicide “heroes.”


From what I heard directly from many aspiring to “shahada” (martyrdom) that I interviewed in prison, and in the streets of some Palestinian towns and villages, you do not start thinking about becoming a suicide killer in reaction to an Israeli tank. The idea starts in the mosque. Yes, where, every Friday, most Imams mix up religious and political sermons, where they say that the Jews are the descendants of Apes and Pigs, deserving no mercy after having betrayed God himself, and killed most of the Prophets. And next, the idea is further advanced by Palestinian television where those sermons are mixed up with video clips showing Israeli soldiers raping Palestinian women and targeting children. And where numerous programs stage “martyrs” talking from heaven about the delights of the afterlife, and of the 72 virgins waiting for Allah’s good servants. And then later in the streets, the kids who have been poisoned against the Jews in the mosques and on television, play “martyrs and Jewish pigs” the same way western kids play cowboys and Indians.


And finally, all of this organized incitement that structures a religious aim behind a political one would not be sufficient to compel any kid to sacrifice his life in the massacre of innocent civilians if this were not orchestrated within a highly repressive culture. Visiting Gaza, talking to students, to women (who were in grave danger just because they were talking to me), I could apprehend the mechanics of a civilization capable of creating such “heroes.”


Imagine a world where separation between men and women is virtually absolute. Where not only sex is a taboo, but where a woman’s body is considered to be so impure that it must be hidden at all times. Where women are second-class citizens and where a teenage girl can be slaughtered by her own father, brother or cousin, if only she is suspected of  having lost her virginity. These crimes of “honour” take place almost on a daily basis, although very few enthusiastic viewers of “Paradise Now” talk about it, or even know about it.


In this chauvinistic land, a 16- or 18-year-old boy has a 99% chance of having never touched the hand of a girl nor having spoken to one, except for his sister. At this age where libido is at its peak, a young male is in need of these beautiful and forbidden sensations. He needs to prove to himself that he is a man, a future man. But, in this arena, there is no hope—only frustration. Dating and flirting are forbidden. Marriage is the only tolerated path to sex in the Muslim world. But without money there is no wife.


Ironically, while women are the object of the highest contempt, while the temporal existence of flesh is considered despicable (“seek for death, and eternal life will be given to you”— Prophet Mohammad), the promise of eternal life surrounded by 72 virgins is popularized daily through every arm of the Muslim media.


The misguided kids I interviewed while shooting “Suicide Killers” spoke of the 72 virgins with total conviction. “No one knows how much Allah would have given me in heaven if I had succeeded,” said one of them, who described his ideal target as a mall, a school or a hospital in Netanya.


Yes, suicide bombers are humans who draw our sympathy for the insidious cycle of lies that pervade their lives. But as long as films like Paradise Now perpetuate the myth that they are heroes standing up to a cruel oppressor, the line for new suicide bombers will continue to grow longer. This film promotes a lie that spells continued death and destruction without the possibility of progress for the Palestinian culture and its future generations. It celebrates the beauty of their selfless sacrifice, shows them as having nothing to lose, and elevates what in real life is senseless slaughter to noble action rewarded in heaven. However, in a fiction, everybody forgets the pain of their dead victims and their families, and the young kids who “survived” a terror attack but are condemned to live with paralysis or blindness or even without a face, like in the worst horror movies.


The threat of suicide bombers now goes far beyond the Israeli-Palestinian borders—to London, Bali, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Iraq and Jordan—and where will it end? Suicide bombers are not heroes. To be a hero, you must make a choice. And in their culture, suicide bombers have no choice.


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