The DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival recently wrapped up its eighth year of showcasing Palestinian filmmakers and artists, with over 570 tickets sold – including all-event passes – to film screenings, embroidery and painting workshops, a pop up store, and the Kennedy Center for a comedy show. The festival, largely led by women, held light in a city buried by sexual assault testimony and hearings for Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh. With Donald Trump’s presidency entering its second year and the entrenchment of policies reflecting the xenophobia and bigotry that drove his election, some of his policies materialized in the festival.
The filmmaker behind “194. Us, Children of the Camp,” a documentary featuring his journey in Syria as a Palestinian refugee in the midst of the Syrian uprising of 2011, was scheduled to join theater-goers for a Q&A after the screening of his film. Samer Salameh was to provide one of few opportunities to hear a voice from Syria in person. Unfortunately the current State Department, under Donald Trump, denied Salameh his visa, impacting both his and the film festival’s plans. Given his connection to Syria, it’s likely the denial was part of what has been dubbed the “Muslim Ban,” which bars citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from even visiting the United States. At time of writing, Salameh was yet to relay to film festival organizers the reasons given for the denial. The ban was one way in which Trump policies materialized at the festival.
Another was in the theme of one of the films screened, a documentary that garnered a 100 percent on the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes. “Naila and the Uprising“ centers Naila Ayesh, a Palestinian woman at the heart of the 1987 uprising often dubbed the “First Intifada.” Ayesh played a role in organizing political leadership during that intifada, and as a result was imprisoned by the Israeli military forces governing the West Bank where she lives. The film first revisits a pre-intifada arrest of Naila where she was imprisoned while pregnant and suffered a miscarriage as a result of the torture and conditions she was subjected to. In the summer of 1988, after her husband Jamal was forcibly displaced and sent to the Gaza Strip, Ayesh is imprisoned again. Her son Majd was just born and Naila was separated from him while still nursing. After an outcry in the Israeli press and internationally, the Israeli military allows baby Majd to join his mother in prison for the remainder of her sentence.
The scenes of Naila’s incarceration and separation from her child parallel the images we have seen in the U.S., of migrant mothers and fathers whose children have been torn from their arms and placed in separate detention centers. The film captures outrage in a segment of Israeli media regarding this case of child separation, but as often happens the larger issue failed to be addressed comprehensively as an Israeli policy. It was reported shortly before the film festival that the separation of migrant children from their parents during detention either after their arrival to, or their arrest within, the U.S. was a formal policy of the Trump administration. Over the summer, the New York Times obtained data showing over 12,800 children of migrant parents in detention camps across the United States. Today, Democrat Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota is the sponsor, along with 30 others, of a bill demanding that the U.S. condition its aid to the Israeli state on an end to their detention, abuse and torture of Palestinian children.
This year’s DC Palestinian Film & Arts Festival was a reminder of the worsening conditions for migrants and refugees as a result of the Trump administration’s policies.
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