Sunday, March 16, 2014

Martin Luther King in Palestine


Our Palestine film series has been growing weekly and this week brings a new collaboration. Thanks to my friend Sekou, now in Boston, we have agreed to be a venue for Connie Fields’  documentary Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine, under the main sponsorship of the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA).  Many other groups have joined in cosponsorship as well. So tonight’s showing has brought a more diverse audience together. Adding to its uniqueness is the subject of the movie. It’s about an African-American gospel group that goes to Palestine to be part of a collaborative production with a Palestinian theatre company of  Claybourne Carson’s play Passages of  King.

The film works on several levels. There’s Claybourne’s play itself. Then when he arrives in Palestine he discovers that the Palestinian director has changed the play into one about the Palestinians and Americans rehearsing a production of the play and negotiating an understanding. An a film crew recording that. The process of agreement reaching the same levels as director El Basha’s play. Then there are the African-American gospel singers primarily focused initially on walking where Jesus walked. Oblivious to the reality of the Palestinians, and as Americans, of their own sense of privilege.

the singing transcends (movie still)
For most of the film, I find this interesting, but not especially profound. And then something  I didn’t see coming happens. On the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King’s own assassination, Juliano Mer-Khamis, the inspiring and dynamic founder of the Freedom Theater in the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, is gunned down.  And the lines between play and reality begin totally fall apart. And I learn the story of one of those human beings who preserve the world. Born of parents of two cultures—although both committed   communists,  who always true to their ideals, Mer-Khamis described himself as 100%Jewish and 100% Palestinian. Although he fought for the IDF at an early age, after a dropout period, he fully invested his identity and work in the Palestinian movement, especially at Jenin. The parallels between the coffin of King on the stage and the coffin of Mer-Khamis outside stage reality and street reality flowing into one another.  His was one of those singular lives that strengthen humanity.  ( At the end of the movie, I am happy  to have met him.

After the screening, one of Sekou’s younger colleagues, Darnell Brown, part of the first queer solidarity delegation to Palestine, also from the  heart of the African-American community, speaks passionately of how his life of marginalization and exclusion at multiple levels led him to see connections with the Palestinian struggle. Once again, Mayor Di Blasio’s catering to AIPAC is an issue. Progressive leadersship must be more than posture.

Another good night.  Things slowly quiet down. I’m wrapping up work before heading home.

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