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Then the people had enough

Naila and the Uprising
Regissør: Julia Bacha
( England)

OCCUPATION: Naila and the Uprising is a close and personal story of women's struggle and big politics during the first intifada.


  1. May 1948 Israel breaks with the UN-controlled Israeli-Palestinian division negotiations. They declare themselves an independent state, annexes land, razors more than 400 Palestinian villages and flees more than 750 Palestinians. In 1967, they annex East Jerusalem and occupy the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula. Then Naila Ayesh – the main character in Naila and the Uprising – Six years old and living with the family in Ramallah. The film's story begins with the occupation of the West Bank: One day Naila comes home from school, she finds her father sunk in front of their bombed-out home.

The Palestinians' first intifada (1987 – 1993) is then the backdrop where Brazilian filmmaker Julia Bacha – with effective use of animation, archive photos, news clips and interviews – stitches together a close and personal narrative of women's struggle and big politics.

Love and prison

Today's Ramallah: We see Naila and her son Majd browsing an old photo album. "Look, there you are!" She looks lovingly at her son and at the image of a one-year-old with an open face and busty curls. When Majd was born in 1989, he spent six months in Israeli prison with his mother, and only two years old met his father – who had been deported by Israel just before birth.

The Oslo agreement was a betrayal of the Palestinian people, and especially of the women.

Late 70s: Palestinians are deprived of all rights and subject to Israeli military laws. The occupation makes the population thin, which nourishes Naila's rebellion: "I realized that nothing would change if we were still submissive." She armed herself with knowledge and was granted an education scholarship. In a beautiful animation scene, we see her transform into a paper airplane that hovers out the window of the girls' room, over the hard geo-
political realities and lands softly in the student community in Bulgaria, where she meets Jamal Ayesh from Gaza. "I was attracted to Naila's fighting spirit," he says. Jamal and Naila's love unite in the urge for freedom struggle. "My parents were skeptical of Jamal, they wanted me to have a 'normal' life, and he had been in an Israeli prison. 'That's why I want him!' I answered."

They move to Gaza and become active in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Like many others, Naila is arrested and jailed for six months without charge, verdict or contact with loved ones. She escapes from prison just before the intifada erupts in December 1987. Israel has killed four Palestinians on the Gaza Strip, and the people have had enough. The director makes use of clips from international media here: Women and men, young and old demonstrate against the occupation power.

Naila and the Uprising tells us that it was not boys' rock throwing at tanks that led to the intifada succeeding in building community structures and faith in the Palestinians: When Israel closed Palestinian educational institutions, teachers defied bans and organized homeschooling. As Israel closed access to the hospitals, doctors and nurses sneaked around the armed checkpoints and organized "health days" in the villages. And when the Palestinian leaders were deported, imprisoned or killed, the women took over. The people established local committees and gathered for a practical, nonviolent revolt.

Hope that breaks

The theater Oslo (now goes to the Norwegian Theater) is about the parallel and secret peace talks. Here Terje Rød-Larsen appears as a vain man who wanted to "accomplish something great". The PLO's leadership in exile in Tunisia was labeled as terrorists by the world community and denied access to the official negotiating table. The invitation from Rød-Larsen must have felt like a gift. Israel eventually understood that the PLO's homesickness could be exploited, and that Israel had more to gain from entering into an agreement in Oslo than to continually train the negotiations that were governed by Washington: Peres and Rabin then sent the Hawks to Norway.

The first intifada succeeded in building social structures and faith in the Palestinians.

In the film, Zahira Kamal is interviewed: “The signing of the Oslo agreement came as a shock – we were not informed. And when you see the content of the deal, you just get sad. ” She later became minister of women's affairs in the Palestinian Authority (PA). The film conveys that the Oslo agreement was a betrayal of the Palestinian people, and especially of the women:

Naila and the Uprising reminds me of something a Palestinian friend would like to repeat: "We are under three occupations: the Israeli all-encompassing occupation, our own corrupt politicians, and the rural animal's obsolete mindset, which is cemented by having been cut off from the world for 70 years." Neither society nor people flourish when isolated and crushed under the heel of a military force.


Brazilian Julia Bacha (b. 1980, now residing in New York) debuted as a filmmaker in 2004 with Control Room. She has received over thirty awards for films such as Encounter Point (2006), Budrus (2009) and My Neighborhood (2012). Naila and the Uprising is her fourth film dealing with the situation in Palestine / Israel. The filmmaker has a clear political commitment, and her TED talk Pay Attention to Nonviolence (2011) has been seen by over half a million people. Bacha is one of the artistic leaders of Just Vision, an organization that works to strengthen the anti-Occupy movement in Israel and Palestine.

However, the Palestinian women experienced a feminist liberation wave during the first intifada. The film goes a long way in claiming that the feminist wave was due to society being tapped for men. Reality is probably more nuanced, and here the director's class perspective is missing – as women's struggle and class struggle are inextricably linked, including in Palestine.

Director Bacha has made a strong documentary on courage and freedom struggle. And hope: "The occupation will end. There is no other way, "Kamal concludes.

I am left with a heavy feeling as the screen goes black, and soon after I hear a news broadcast about the ongoing Israeli election campaign: Prime Minister Netanyahu's counter candidate Gantz uses movie clips from the bombing of Gaza to lower votes.

Animation: Dominique Doktor, Sharron Mirsky

The movie is shown on Arab movie days, 20-24. March.

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