A highlight on cinema screens this year is an innovative Palestinian film that has received high accolades from Michael Moore. The Wanted 18, directed by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan, has already won various awards including the best feature documentary award from Aljazeera, the best documentary from the Arab World in Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the golden tanit for best documentary film in Carthage Film Festival, and the Traverse City Film Festival best documentary award. Now, the directors are competing with big budget blockbusters to win one of the highest accolades in the film industry, the Oscars. All this should be celebrated.
The Wanted 18 is an ingenious film that combines creative animation with a story-telling and documentary reporting style, resulting in an entertaining, educational and thought-provoking cinematic experience. Something as original and impactful as The Wanted 18 doesn't come along very often and it is an unmissable film.
The film is based on a true story that is visualised in a way that creates a beautiful emotional mess: Leaving the cinema I wondered how a film based on a fundamentally tragic story could be told in such a comic, heart-warming way? It was as if I had just been on an emotional rollercoaster, feeling happy and inspired, but at the same time feeling sad and nostalgic. These thoughts lingered with me for a long time and the film has left a long and lasting impact on me.
The Wanted 18 shows how the Palestinian right to develop, which is a basic human right, is denied. Although the end of the film is painful and bitter as it shows the disastrous impact of the "Oslo Peace Accords", signed in 1993 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the Palestinian struggle for freedom and self-determination, however it is also inspiring. It is inspiring because it shows the problems that need to be addressed in order to reverse the conditions and processes of de-development.
In my opinion, The Wanted 18 illustrates three areas that Israel, as a colonial and occupying power, hates to see. These areas are: Palestinian sovereignty; resistance and mobilization, and self-reliance.
Since its establishment, and mainly through brutal military means, Israel continues to prohibit and deny any form of Palestinian sovereignty or real independence, thus preventing Palestinians from realising their rights. Israel is only interested in sustaining the existing status of dependency, economic asymmetric containment, and the dynamics of the matrix of control. These measures are so deeply entrenched into the status quo, and ensure that the Palestinian market/economy remains captive and open to exploitation for Israel's benefit.
The film highlights that any measures, either at the macro or micro levels, taken by Palestinians to address the imbalances of power, will be immediately suppressed by Israel. This in part explains why we are witnessing the Palestinians resisting and engaging nowadays in cycles of contention and contentious collective actions.
The Wanted 18 effectively illustrates that economic resistance and steadfastness that aim to empower Palestinians, is considered to be a threat to Israel and its colonial project. In this tragicomedy, the true story of the 18 cows that pose a threat to the security of the state of Israel is retold. Although this happened in the late 80s, in the last weeks similar events have occurred, most notably relating to 8 buses in the city of Nablus in occupied West Bank. Israel went to a garage after midnight to seize the wanted 8 buses due to their responsibility of transporting the people from one place to another. This is the natural duty of any bus in the world, however under the military Israeli occupation, this becomes an abnormal duty due to the Israeli security pretext as these buses are used to mobilise people to confront the 500 checkpoints spread over the West Bank.
Before these 18 cows, the 8 buses, Israel destroyed many factories, workshops, and farms and agriculture fields. This is not to mention all the measures it takes to steal the natural resources and inputs for production in a clear violation of international law. It is not only about targeting the natural resources and economic assets, but also and more importantly it is about targeting the people and their mobilization. Just over the last two months Israel arrested around 2400 Palestinians. This is equivalent to 50% of the number of the Palestinian prisoners in the Israeli jails before October 2015.
The Wanted 18, and by using the economic steadfastness lens, builds a strong case for the need to the acts of resistance and mobilization to challenge the Israeli domination. It also builds a powerful case for the necessity of resistance and confrontation, in their broad definition and meaning, as a way of living under colonization and military occupation. The historical evidence from around the globe testify that only through confrontation in all spheres -political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, academic- the imbalances of powers between the colonized and the colonizer can be addressed.
After the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority became completely dependent on international aid. This aid industry over the last 25 years stripped the Palestinians from their transformative potential and instead helped Israel in sustaining and subsidizing its occupation. This bleak conclusion however, is challenged by a positive one that relates to the effectiveness and necessity of the global but Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement (BDS). Over the last decade, this civil society movement achieved remarkable successes for Palestinians but most importantly for global justice, and it remains one of the very few sources of hope in the current miserable situation.
During this tough time for Palestine, the Middle East, and the whole world, The Wanted 18, comes as a powerful and inspiring attempt to show that the power of a small group of committed people to change the world, as the ones in the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour, should never be underestimated. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has, as Margaret Mead once argued.
Note: This blog is based on Tartir's remarks that he gave at a screening event of the film at the Graduate Institute on 30 November, in the framework of the Palestinian Film Festival of Geneva (Palestine: Filmer c'est exister), where he participated in a debate with the film director Amr Shomali and professor Riccardo Bocco (CCDP).