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March 1-7, 2006

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Occupied Minds

Photograph by Jerome Prebois
Eyeful in Gazal: David Michaelis (left) and Jamad Dajani try to make sense of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in 'Occupied Minds.'

The Wall

Cinequest documentary entry 'Occupied Minds' takes disturbing trip through Israel and Gaza Strip

By Richard von Busack


WHAT MAKES a man blow himself up? Occupied Minds explores the question in a documentary that works as a companion piece to either Syriana or Paradise Now. (And it's far more informative than Munich.) The short documentary. Jamad Dajani and David Michaelis, a pair of neighborly Palestinian and Israeli journalists, take us on a consistently fascinating tour of the battle lines in Israel. Plump, humanist duffers that they are, the two make a likable team; they're fine guides to the old grievances, the bad neighborhoods and the long-deferred hopes of Gaza and the West Bank.

The captioning is insufficient, though. The only name I caught long enough to write down was Dr. Iyad Siraj, who has the unenviable job of tending the Gaza Mental Health Center. Siraj, a psychiatrist in a ghetto called "the most densely populated spot on Earth," tells the camera that 36 percent of the children he interviewed want to grow up to die as martyrs. The Gaza Strip is a bombed-out ruin of concrete and frustrated crowds; lines form at the water pumps, and crowds swarm through daylong delays at border control. (The Egyptians are just as unwilling to let in angry, penniless people as the Israelis are.) While the Israeli lobby always likes to point out young Palestinians indoctrinated in hate, Dajani and Michaelis show us a stage show of singing right-wing Israeli children, returning such hatred. The reporters attend a photography show by vets of the Israeli army, revealing photos of what they saw and did in a show titled Breaking the Silence. These images of men bound and blindfolded is disturbing enough, but one of the soldiers photographed graffiti written by a Jewish settler: "Arabs to the gas chambers." "Rock bottom," sighs the white-haired Michaelis disgustedly.

Among the other interviewees are a Jewish doctor blinded in one eye by a suicide bomb, a civilized settler surrounded by his books, a furious Arab farmer who had his pasture divided by one of the walls being built around Israeli enclaves, the Jewish peace activist whose soldier son was killed by an Arab and even the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who lacks the tact to avoid starting a sentence with the phrase "The trouble with Palestinians is ..." Our two guides are last seen in a city park, trying to find an upbeat answer to the troubles. The last shot has them sprawled on a park bench mulling over what they've seen. Heaven help a country where even the patriarchs don't know what to do. The recent Hamas victory casts doubt over even the muted optimism of the film's ending, making Occupied Minds seem slightly obsolete. Hamas may be in favor of a one-state solution but perhaps not in the same sense that Dajani and Michaelis believe in it. And while some would call this film wildly optimistic for the possibility of change, others are bound to call it a hatchet job on Israel.

It doesn't matter whom God gave the land to, since it was the U.N. that signed the papers. Americans, who prefer to not to meddle with these ancestral hatreds, have to realize that they're bankrolling them. They should see this movie and ask themselves what they're paying for.


Occupied Minds (U.S.; 58 min.), a documentary by Jamal Dajani and David Michaelis, plays March 6 at 9:30pm and March 7 at 5:30pm at Camera 12 in San Jose. The screening is part of Cinequest.


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