Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie Review: Twelve Years a Slave – Decades of Occupation

This weekend I viewed the movie Twelve Years A Slave.  As I sat throughout the movie and for five minutes afterwards I was numb, bewildered and astonished, unable to move from my seat. I just don't know how African-Americans endured such cruelty, such horror, such brutality, such a violation of every indignity known to man. Then I thought about what Israel has done and is currently doing to the Palestinians and while I cannot personally relate and while I do not want to belittle the dreadful era of American history known as slavery, I am perplexed to understand how man can commit such inhuman violations upon his fellow man.  Slavery and occupation are abhorrent attributes of the evil that man can inflict upon man.  Slavery has been constitutional banned in America.  Occupation is still in our midst in Palestine.

Twelve Years A Slave is a powerful movie which depicts the savagery of slavery like no other movie ever has. The arousal of our emotions is deliberate but you have to be spineless if you are not moved- by the brutality of the long hours of hard labor; by the whippings, even for the minuscule deviation from the white master’s rules; by the cramped and unsanitary living conditions; by the indignity of being constantly raped by the master; and by a constant dehumanization of a race. But there is something more in this movie to make you wonder beyond what you see on the screen.  

As I scrutinized the movie on the big screen, I wondered how man can be so malevolent towards another, so callous to the deprivation of another’s human rights and so righteously barbarous even when interpreting the words of the Prince of Peace.  The lure of cheap labor and the exploitation of another unlike “your image” for profitable gain based on a warped perception of superiority over another race are powerful persuasive monetary and narcissistic incentives that induce the worst trait of human behavior to dominate.  Hitler used this glorified perception of superiority to attempt to conquer Europe and the world and also to attempt to annihilate the Jews.  The Southern Whites in pre-civil war America needed a cheap labor force to pick the cotton fields and chop the sugar canes in order to keep their large multi-acre plantations and lavish lifestyle and they justified their actions within their own twisted and malignant minds by using the words of Jesus in support of their immoralities. The exploitation of the “uneducated” Africans presented the cheap labor force needed by Southern Whites to perpetuate their decadently self-centered existence. Besides Africans were different than Whites and identifiable in such a way as to be controlled.  

Thank God for the abolition of slavery in America.

Within the 150 years after the abolition of slavery, we find that the lessons of how not to treat our fellow man have not been learned.

·        The egocentric Nazis attempted to claim the German race superior to all other people and they galvanized the emotional charge of a defeated nation in World War I into another world war that saw a holocaust beyond imagination. 

·        At its height, the British Empire colonized over 458 million people, one-fifth of the world's population at the time. The empire covered almost a quarter of the Earth's total land area. Revolutions around the globe in America and India and elsewhere attest to the abomination of what Britain has done throughout the centuries to exploit other people.

White South Africans subjugated the native Black South Africans to apartheid in 1948 but the precursors to that system were embedded into that region over a century before. It was not until the release and election of Nelson Mandela (1990 and 1994 respectively) that the human spirit of the Black South Africans was set free.

Many countries in the world have not learned these lessons and therefore, much to the disappointment of those who champion human rights, we see repeated violations against humanity. Paradoxically, Israel, which should be the chief advocated of human rights given its citizen’s memory of the holocaust and their “never again” mantra, is the chief country which repeatedly violates the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding the protection afforded to civilians in an occupied territory.  Israeli atrocities against Palestinians have been documented extensively in the past forty to fifty years.

The brutal military occupation of Palestine by Israel is not unlike slavery in America and as I sat in my theater seat squirming within my mind at the horrific scenes of Twelve Years A Slave, I could not help recall what I read about the recently arrested Palestinian Rasmiah Odeh in Chicago, Illinois, USA.

As local news accounts flashed about Rasmiah having allegedly not disclosed her imprisonment by Israel for “terrorist” acts she allegedly committed in Jerusalem in 1969, I quickly did a quick Google search of her. To my amazement, the first thing I read was the following about her torturous interrogation by Israeli Mosad agents:  

In February 1969, Rasmiah Odeh was arrested and brought to Moscobiya [prison]. Her father, Joseph and two sisters were detained for interrogation. Joseph Odeh was kept in one room while Rasmiah was beaten nearby. When they brought him to her she was lying on the floor in blood stained clothes. Her face was blue, her eye black. In his presence, they held her down and shoved a stick up her vagina. One of the interrogators ordered Joseph Odeh "to fuck" his daughter. When he refused, they began beating both him and Rasmiah. They again spread her legs and shoved the stick into her. She was bleeding from the mouth, face and vagina when Joseph Odeh fell unconscious.

In Twelve Years a Slave there is a scene in which the main character, Solomon Northup, is ordered to whip a female slave, Patsey, and when he hesitates, a gun is pointed at his head as the enraged “master” threatens to indiscriminately kill all the “Niggers.”  Reluctantly, Solomon beats Patsey mercilessly and when his conscience no longer allows him to continue the whipping, the master takes over, but only to appease his wife as she knows that her licentious husband favors Patsey whom he repeatedly rapes.

That horrific scene on the big movie screen bellowed out the screams of Patsey but in my mind’s eye I also heard the screams of Rasmiah. The penetrating pain of whip marks upon Patseys’ back horrified me as I recalled the descriptive brutality inflicted upon Rasmiah.

Like the White Southern, the Israeli military brutality subjects Palestinians into a submissive state of being in order to exploit the cheap labor that Palestinians are compelled to offer the Israeli middle and upper class. Prior to the Oslo Accords, the Israeli military occupation administration of the West Bank and Gaza would not issue building permits for Palestinians (in Area A) thus leaving Palestinians clustered into shanty homes that can never be improved or expanded. This is not different than the shacks that were loosely built to house ten or more slaves in a single room.

Deprivation of basic rights such as housing, education, speech, assembly and representation in government are all denied by the oppressor. Slaves could not read or write and when Solomon is exposed as to his writing ability, he must deny it to save his hide from the wrath of an insecure oppressor who fears education among the oppressed. Israel routinely closes Palestinian schools and in many cases turned the buildings into military bases for the occupation.

According to a 2009 Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education report:

“Since 2004 the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] shelled and invaded 13 colleges and universities, “shelled and broken into”, 288 schools, overtook and converted 43 schools into military barracks, and disrupted 1125 school”.
During the First Intifada (which literally translates as the shaking off the occupation) in 1987 through 1992, Palestinian education was effectively made illegal by the Israeli occupation. Palestinian universities, schools and even Kindergartens were closed down by Israeli issued military order for nearly five years.

All this has come after the Oslo Accords (Treaty between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel) first signed in 1993 at the White House Rose Garden.

In Twelve Years A Slave, Solomon was once a free man and living comfortably as a violinist in Boston, Massachusetts with his wife and two children.  He was separated from them when he went to Washington D.C. (a slave territory  at the time—about 1842) to perform when he was captured and covertly shipped to the deep South to be sold as a slave.  Other slaves never knew what being free meant as they were born into slavery. In Palestine, a great majority of Palestinians know nothing but the brutal Israeli military occupation. Generations are being born into a submissive state where a gun is pointed at their heads and while they are not slaves subjected to the cruelties of the White Southern as Africans, their human spirit is nevertheless imprisoned and they are not free.

In the end, Solomon was freed when a Canadian working with him on the plantation agreed to write a letter for him to his family. This started a chain of events (not in the film) which freed him back to his family. 

Who will write a letter of conscience to the world to set the Palestinian human spirits free?

(  © Copyright, Fadi Zanayed.  Publication or distribution of this material is allowed provided its content is not altered and the source and its author are cited.)

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