Every Wednesday night for the past two weeks, the Wesleyan Students for Justice in Palestine (WeSJP) group has gathered in the Public Affairs Center (PAC), laid out some food, and watched a film.
But these films are anything but pure entertainment—they are challenging, controversial films that display Palestinian life and perspectives as part of the first Palestinian Justice Film Series.
The group, created two years ago by J.J. Mitchell ’15 and Carina Kurban ’14 as part of the national Students for Justice in Palestine organization, aims to promote a dialogue and provide awareness for the situation in the West Bank.
Greg Shaheen ’13 joined the group after visiting Palestine two years ago and observing the differences between the treatment he received and the way Palestinians were treated.
“Sharing our experiences of being in Palestine with the broader Wesleyan community is one of our goals,” said Shaheen, who is also one of the group’s leaders. “It gave me a sense of guilt, in a way. I really felt the injustice of the situation.”
While other events during the two years of the WeSJP’s existence have included academic speakers and a performance by a Palestinian dance troupe, the WeSJP decided to create the Film Series after noticing that the Wesleyan Film Series had an Israeli component.
“[We wanted to show] a different part of the story,” Shaheen said. “We came up with some different films and were able to get the library to purchase them.”
Last week’s film, “Salt of this Sea,” is a drama that deals with an American-Palestinian’s experience in Palestine, her experience of coming to terms with the situation in the West Bank, and her family’s past.
Unlike the other two films, “Roadmap to Apartheid” and “Five Broken Cameras,” which are both documentaries, “Salt of this Sea” shows a very different side of the Palestinian experience through its main character, Soraya, as she experiences life in the West Bank along with the viewer.
“[Salt of this Sea] gives a human story to what this woman, Soraya, feels,” Shaheen said. “She’s a daughter of refugees, and she, despite being second or third generation in New York, feels that she is Palestinian, and this was taken from her.”
The next film in the series, “Five Broken Cameras,” was shown at the Goldsmith earlier in the year, but the turnout was so low that the group decided to show it again.
“We thought we should get it and give it another chance,” Shaheen said.
However, the series has suffered the past two weeks from a lack of attendance, putting it at a risk.
“I don’t know that we’ll continue with the series, or they will,” Shaheen said. “It’s so hard to get people to come.”
It may, according to Shaheen, be more effective to place efforts elsewhere, including bringing speakers to Wesleyan and starting a divestment campaign.
Still, Shaheen noted that Wesleyan’s commitment to and interest in both film and social issues would help these films speak to the student community.
What’s more, the films that the group has chosen to show may illuminate certain elements of the conflict.
“Showing a film like ‘Roadmap to Apartheid,’ which makes very clear the comparisons [between South African apartheid and Palestine] can be really effective in showing the details in what it’s like to live there,” Shaheen said. “Within two hours you can learn a lot.”
To save the series for next year, no matter your stance on the issue, go to the screening of “Five Broken Cameras” on May 2 in PAC.