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Omar: A Heartwrenching Palestinian Film
Tender and brutal, Omar is a love story in the context of a cruel Israeli occupation. The affect of one over the other leads the movie through tense, heart-breaking trajectories, showing, with every development in Omar’s personal life, the domination by the overall political situation and the choices allowed to those individuals living under it. The choices are stark – collaboration with the enemy or loyalty to the Palestinian freedom struggle.
Set in the West Bank, the opening scene is of Omar climbing over the wall ducking Israeli bullets. The wall, often called the Apartheid Wall, is enormous and intrusive, a weapon of mass separation which gives the feeling of living imprisoned inside the wall, not next to it or around it. Throughout the movie, Omar scales the wall repeatedly to avoid the lengthy checkpoints that otherwise separate him from his friends, Amjad and Tarek, and Tarek’s sister Nadia, Omar’s love. During one such scaling of the wall, he is viciously humiliated and attacked by Israeli soldiers.
Amjad and Omar are in training under the guidance of Tarek who is a more experienced resistance fighter. One evening they shoot an Israeli soldier and from this moment the escalating tension remains throughout the rest of the film. Omar is arrested and tortured in dark prison dungeons by Israeli intelligence who want a confession and to learn who were his accomplices.
With the threat of 90 years in prison hanging over Omar’s head, Rami, his Israeli handler, uses Omar’s love for Nadia and deceit about her and his friends to pressure him to collaborate against them. Rami’s character is well developed – a non-discerning view might mistake him as just a good person with a bad job. He is portrayed as reasonable, a father with family relations much like any other human being. He even speaks Arabic. Remember, the Godfather was also nice to his grandchildren!
The suspense of whether or not Omar will betray his friends and the Palestinian cause is almost overwhelmed by a feeling that there is almost no exit for people like Omar and the Palestinian population in general. Under Israeli occupation, he remains forever susceptible to constant Israeli demands for collaboration. And every move he makes in his personal life has the stamp of occupation hovering over it like a dark cloud.
Shown at the Cannes film festival in France earlier this year, Omar won the Jury Prize, the third most important prize at the festival after the Palme d’Or and the Grand Prix. The audience gave Omar a standing ovation.
The producer, Hany Abu-Assad received an academy award nomination for his film Paradise Now in 2005 and some see Omar as a sequel to that film. Abu-Assad sees it as mainly a love story like Shakespeare’s Othello, a tragic love story of racism, love, tragedy and betrayal which leads Othello to kill his wife Desdemona because he thought she was cheating on him. Abu-Assad claims to shun making overtly political statements in his films. The criminality of the occupation percolates through nonetheless.
The cast in Omar are all Palestinian and the overwhelming majority of the money to produce the film, some say as much as 90%, has mainly come from Palestinian donors. They are proud to make a film that is independent of European support and influence. Palestine has selected it as their entry in the coming Hollywood oscars for best foreign film.
It is impossible to take this film out of the real life context and history that Palestinians have endured since their expulsion from their homeland and the Nakba or disaster of Zionist massacres and ethnic cleansing that occurred in 1948. During the Nakba almost a million Palestinians were brutally forced from their land, villages and homes, fleeing with only the possessions they could carry. Many were raped, tortured and killed. Hundreds of villages were destroyed and overlayed by Zionist villages with Hebrew names on which the Israeli state was built. On the blood and bones of such massacres, the state of Israel was built. The Nakba is what frames the daily life of every Palestinian today.
Israel is an outpost for the interests of the U.S. in the Arab world and elsewhere. Israel is an enforcer of the imperialist system lead by the U.S. without who’s weapons and support this Zionist state could not exist. Until that imperialist system is overturned little can change for the masses of Palestinians who will continue to exist under conditions of annihilation.
Palestinians have struggled continuously, courageously and creatively all these long years to get back their land. If watching Omar doesn’t make you feel hatred for Israel’s brutal occupation, nothing will.