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Event recap: BODILY//Naila and the Uprising

by Noni Carter, 2018-19 IRWGS Graduate Fellow

Gaza. Late 1980s. The Israeli government has ousted Palestinian men from leadership positions of anti-occupation movements in the country through mass imprisonment and deportations, leaving the work of consolidating, striking, and commanding what would become the First Palestinian Intifada to women leaders throughout Gaza’s various communities. Women not only take to the streets, but also successfully organize a massive, peaceful strike that leads to the first set of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Madrid in 1991.

This is the subject of Naila and the Uprising (2017), a documentary that historicizes the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian talks and provides an important, relevant perspective on the events of the First Intifada – Gaza’s first sustained, successful mass uprising. The university screening of Naila, which took place on September 12th, was IRWGS’ first event of its BODILY lecture series. The screening was followed by a lively conversation with Brazilian director Julia Bacha (GS ’03), Creative Director of Just Vision and Dr. Rashin Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University.

Naila seeks to demonstrate the large-scale participation of women who steered their communities towards international recognition during the First Intifada. Bacha’s documentary is weaved together with a mosaic of visual mediums. Through newsreels, journal headlines, taped interviews, animation, photographs, and personal videos, Naila follows the representative story of Naila Ayesh, a Palestinian activist who fought, alongside other women, for both gender equality and freedom from the Israeli military occupation in the 1980s. Naila’s fight began as early as her childhood when she came home to the rubble left after an Israeli bombing of her home. The documentary follows Naila through her schooling, her marriage to an equally committed activist Jamal Zakhout, the inadvertent abortion of their first child during her imprisonment, the separation of her family after the birth of her first son, and her ongoing commitment to the Intifada’s cause. Through Naila’s story and the frequent interlocution of others involved with the Uprising, Bacha is able to portray the powerful impact of collective, grassroots, horizontal collaboration that turned the First Intifada into a temporary—but effective—victory. Naila’s message is both politically sophisticated and heart-wrenching as it encapsulates the bravery, the rigor, and the intellect of the thousands of women who engaged in this Uprising.

A key moment in the discussion that followed the screening arose when Dr. Khalidi quoted a New York Times article that examined the move by the U.S. government and several States to not only criminalize and outlaw outspoken advocacy for nonviolent protests against Israel, but to revisit the idea that support for Palestinian protests are “anti-Semitic.” Responding to this question, as well as to curiosity from the audience as to why the documentary sidesteps the rise in the 80s of Hamas (the Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist organization), Bacha made it strikingly clear that during initial screenings of the documentary, many of her American and international audiences were not capable of distinguishing the place of religion in movements today from the socialist organizing of the First Intifada. Thus, as her team edited the film, focusing exclusively on the First Intifada, they strove to create a story both palatable and directly relatable to audiences outside of Palestine.

To date, Naila has been shown at leading festivals in Dubai, London, Amsterdam, New York, Durban, and São Paolo. It has also previewed at various women’s organizations, schools, refugee camps, universities, and youth groups in Palestine, and has an upcoming screening in Israel. If you would like to learn more about the film, or to get involved with the many projects Just Vision has underway, please find more information provided by Bacha below.

  • For upcoming Just Vision screenings, follow our events page here.
  • Watch and share our films and online resources. Our films and digital resources are available on our website here, including BudrusMy Neighbourhood and Home Front: Portraits from Sheikh Jarrah, along with discussion guides that offer further context and guidance for hosting conversations on key themes.
  • Follow our Hebrew-language news platform Local Call (launched in partnership with 972 – Advancement of Citizen Journalism) — for fresh perspectives, critical analysis and investigative reporting on issues of civil and human rights and grassroots activism in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A selection of articles from Local Call have been translated to English and published on +972 Magazine here.
  • Stay Connected. Like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on our projects, upcoming events and the news that we are following.
  • Fuel our work. Just Vision places storytelling at the heart of our mission, recognizing its profound ability to shift perceptions and shape narratives that are crucial to understanding and grappling with Israel and Palestine. If you were moved last weekend, consider making a tax-deductible donation to Just Vision so that we can ensure that stories like Naila and the Uprising reach audiences around the globe. If you would like more information about Just Vision, feel free to be in touch with me.

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