Film on Israel-Palestine conflict fills theatre hall
The auditorium for the screening of a documentary charting the Israel-Palestine conflict was filled to capacity yesterday afternoon.
Israelism, which is told from the perspective of American Jews with pro-Israel upbringings who change their views after witnessing the way Israel treats Palestinians, attracted an audience of about 140 people at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute.
Security staff were at the entrance and guests had their bags searched to “protect the space”, one of the event organisers said.
The film has triggered a backlash in other countries in the wake of terrorist attacks on Israel, launched by Hamas from Gaza on October 7, which claimed nearly 1,200 Israeli lives, with close to 250 hostages taken back into the territory.
The ongoing war is believed to have killed at least 28,000 Palestinian civilians.
Several prominent members of the community attended the screening, including Dennis Lister, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, who said: “The truth is always enlightening.”
Mr Lister, who visited Israel last summer, said: “That is the key that we should walk away from this with, to hear truth.
“We see a lot of propaganda, particularly in Western media, supporting Israel. The truth is always uplifting.
“What we need to understand is that when certain things happen, we always need to look around them and see the real reasons. Too often people don’t want to go deep into why and they just look at the surface. This is way beyond what is on the surface.
“We lived through the world coming up against apartheid in South Africa. What do we see today? It’s the same. It’s another form of apartheid taking place here with people being oppressed.
“I was in Israel. I’ve seen the walls. I’ve seen the barriers. I’ve seen the checkpoints. I am talking to people saying they cannot drive their cars through the checkpoint if they are from Palestine. I’ve seen that. I was there.”
The film, which premiered in March and won the audience award at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, has been controversial, with some showings cancelled over accusations that it fosters anti-Semitism.
A representative from the Jewish Community of Bermuda contacted the BUEI asking that the facility, which is not associated with the documentary, call off the screening.
The organisers of the screening said they did not encounter any opposition to the event on the day.
Fiona Elkinson, the president of the board of the Jewish Community, was contacted by The Royal Gazette for her views on the screening.
She said: “I support the right to free speech but I am concerned about one-sided, unbalanced views which may have the potential to incite hatred against any particular group or people.”
Jonathan Starling, a member of the audience, said that criticising Israel was not anti-Semitic.
He said: “I thought it was a very powerful film. It was an awesome turn out and there was an applause at the end. It was great. I would encourage more people to watch it. It shows there is a lot of work to do and the key thing to do is separate Zionism from Judaism. They are two separate things.
“If anything, I would say Zionism is a threat to the Jewish people. The key thing in life is solidarity, everywhere. You can’t be free unless everyone is free.”
A brief synopsis on the film makers’ website says: “When two young American Jews raised to unconditionally love Israel witness the brutal way Israel treats Palestinians, their lives take sharp left turns.
“They join a movement of young American Jews battling the old guard to redefine Judaism’s relationship with Israel, revealing a deepening generational divide over modern Jewish identity.”
Emir Saleem Talbot, director of the Bermuda Islamic Cultural Centre and co-chair of the Bermuda Committee for Human Fraternity, said: “I felt that watching this film was the least I could do as this is a horrific situation in Palestine.
“Any human being must be traumatised by watching the news and seeing 30,000 people slaughtered for nothing. I stand for peace and justice. The world is standing by and it seems like nobody is able to do anything to stop it. Just stop the killing, OK? Stop the killing.
“It’s a human tragedy.”
Ellen-Kate Horton, a veteran educator and former Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Education, said: “There must be resistance. Palestinians live an oppressed life.
“There is a reason. It’s never a good thing but there is a reason behind it. I am sick of the United States, everything Israel does is right. We live in a sad world.”
Aziza Furbert is one of the organisers of the group that screened the film and has taken part in public demonstrations on the island in support of Palestinian civilians caught up in the fighting between Hamas and the Israeli Defence Force.
She said: “What we are focusing on now is the current issue that is still ongoing, which is the genocide in Gaza. We already condemned the attacks that happened on October 7 and we are also bringing attention to what is currently happening in Gaza because we’re at almost 30,000 people who have been killed right now with the ongoing bombardment of Palestinians.”
The film can be viewed for $5 at bit.ly/rentisraelism