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Washtenaw Jewish News - March 2007

Finally, A Peace Movie
By San Slomovits


In early February I was able to view a rough cut of the new film about Zeitouna, the local group of twelve Arab and Jewish women who have been meeting together for the past four years.

The documentary, Refusing To Be Enemies: The Zeitouna Story, produced and directed by Laurie White, a member of Zeitouna and a local filmmaker, is just under an hour long. It begins by briefly introducing in turn each of the six Jewish and six Arab women in Zeitouna. The film then follows the group as they meet in each other’s homes every two weeks and talk about the enormously charged issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also includes footage of a visit to the region that six of the women made in May of 2006.

I’d read and heard about Zeitouna in the last few years, but it wasn’t until I saw Refusing To Be Enemies that I understood the level of commitment these women have made, and how hard it has been to do what they are doing. I came away from the film with a feeling of enormous respect for them, especially because, while all the women are American citizens, a number of them have deep family ties to the Middle East. Several, both Arabs and Jews, have lived there and have families there still. For them, the conflict is not impersonal or simply intellectual. It is not taking place far away from here, among strangers. For the Zeitouna women, the conflict is very personal and hits close to home. Which is all the more reason to admire their courage and their willingness to take responsibility for confronting this tremendously difficult, sometimes seemingly unapproachable, issue.

There is a whole genre of Hollywood movies called “war movies.” I am unaware of another type entitled “peace movies.” There is a reason for that. War is exciting to watch; there is plenty of action, and life and death dramatics that a filmmaker can use to advance a story. Peace is much more difficult to capture on film. Refusing To Be Enemies has plenty of scenes of just “talking heads,” and many scenes of the women greeting each other warmly, hugging, cooking and sharing meals and simply sitting in each other’s homes, talking with one another. Not the stuff of exciting action that you often find in cinema.

And maybe that’s good. Maybe that’s the whole point. Probably all of us can agree that for decades there has been enough “exciting action” surrounding this issue. Perhaps scenes showing people with such different and historically hostile backgrounds simply being together in one room and talking is exciting—maybe even miraculous—enough.

Which is not to say that there is no conflict in the film. We see the women struggling with their age-old prejudices and stereotypical attitudes. We see them confront each other when they perceive one-upmanship about whose historical pain is greater, the Jews or the Arabs; we see them express their fears about how they will be perceived by each of their communities for simply being in the group.

But over and over again, we watch them go back to talking and to listening.

Perhaps that is the most powerful and valuable message of Refusing To Be Enemies; that sometimes it may be more important, even crucial, to talk and to listen, than to act. 

The film is likely to trouble some, Jews and Arabs alike. There may be those who will feel that it’s not pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian enough, or that it’s too much of one or the other. That’s natural. Our loyalties to family, to tribe, our memories of ancient and present day conflict and pain so powerful, that feelings of resentment and betrayal can be very easily triggered. Still, over and over again, the Zeitouna women show that there is hope of another, and more peaceful, way to deal with these feelings.

 

The World Premiere of Refusing To Be Enemies will take place at the Michigan Theater on Sunday, March 18 at 7PM.

 

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