– Mexico: Rising protests after the kidnapping of 43 students
– Gett (Divorce): The trial of Viviane Amsalem – a film review
(AWTWNS 6 October 2014)

This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 6 October 2014 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.

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  • Mexico: Rising protests after the kidnapping of 43 students
  • Gett (Divorce): The trial of Viviane Amsalem – a film review


Mexico: Rising protests after the kidnapping of 43 students

6 October 2014. A World to Win News Service. Protests are building in the city of Aytozinapa in the state of Guerrero in south-western Mexico after a police attack on teachers’ college students that left six known dead and 43 missing. Nationwide shut downs have been called for 8 October to demand that the government produce the disappeared. Despite the fact that Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto has sent in national security forces, a member of a newly-formed Aytozinapa parents’ group declared, “There is no reason to trust the government if the government itself kidnapped them.”

The 500-student Aytozinapa school, like other rural teacher training institutions, has been known for decades as a hotbed of opposition to the government and the prevailing state of affairs in Mexico. On 26 September about 150 youth from this mountain city of 130,000 went to the nearby industrial town of Iguala to agitate for student demands and raise funds to travel to Mexico City for a demonstration to commemorate the infamous 1968 Plaza Tlatelolco massacre when government security forces killed hundreds of students and other demonstrators in the capital city.

The students left Iguala to return to Ayotzinapa that night. The three buses they were travelling in were met with police gunfire as they left the terminal. A few kilometres further on the police and other men attacked the buses again, cutting off the road and firing with assault rifles, forcing the students to get off. Three students seem to have been killed on the spot, although reports have been contradictory. Another 43 have not been seen since. Witnesses said their classmates were grabbed, forced into trucks and driven off into the darkness.

Many youth were able to flee. When some returned to the scene a few hours later with local journalists, they were attacked again by men shooting from unmarked vans.

In another incident that night, masked men shot up a bus carrying a local youth football team, apparently thinking that students were aboard, killing two people and a woman in a passing taxi.

The local authorities tried to claim that the students had “hijacked” the buses and the police were simply trying to halt the stolen vehicles. (A survivor later said the bus drivers had agreed to take them home.) They claimed that the missing students were hiding to avoid arrest. It was left to students and families to compile a list of the missing.

The official “investigation” of the incident was so half-hearted that family members of the disappeared began seeking out possible witnesses. They seized a local radio station to broadcast a request that anyone with information come forward.

On October 3 students and relatives staged a night-time torch-light march in the state capital Chilpancingo to demand that their comrades be brought back alive. They were joined by students from another teachers’ college in the region. The next day, hundreds protested outside the governor’s residence, and clashed with police when they were told they would not be allowed to visit suspected burial sites to identify bodies. On 5 October, when the authorities confirmed that they had found mass graves, about 2,000 students and relatives blocked a major highway in Chilpancingo with a huge banner saying, “They were alive when you took them and we want them back alive.” Streets were also blocked in Acapulco, the region’s largest city.

State-level authorities announced the discovery of at least 28 burned bodies buried in the hills in the outskirts of Iguala. One journalist was told that the dead were apparently driven to the end of a dirt road, walked up a hillside and shot, and their bodies burned and buried in several pits. But other media people have been told that the six mass graves may have been the result of one or more older, unrelated incidents involving drug cartels. Officials have said that it may take weeks or months to identify the corpses. A forensic team has come from Argentina, specialists in identifying bodies of the thousands disappeared during the political repression there in the 1970s and ’80s, although at least until now the Mexican armed forces have been keeping the graves under their exclusive control.

So far 37 relatives have given DNA samples, which has had the effect of undermining official attempts to imply that the identities of the dead and other facts may never be understood. In a country racked by unresolved mass murders, with 13,000 people currently on the official disappeared list, the authorities have not found it difficult to sow confusion.

State authorities have begun blaming the local government, saying that many police were in the pay of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, so that “they weren’t really policemen.” Some thirty police and alleged cartel members have been arrested. Students have told the media that on the contrary, the local officials and police enlisted the help of “sicarios” (hired killers) to put down a political challenge.

Federal police and other security forces and the army were sent to take over Iguala, whose mayor and police chief were conveniently lost from view when a warrant was issued for their arrest. Rather than this federal presence being taken as a reassuring sign, many people remember the army massacre of 21 youth last June in Tlatlayo, in the state of Mexico. At that time the national Secretary of Defence, in charge of the armed forces, claimed that the soldiers were defending themselves from a drug-gang attack, but later evidence indicated that the youth, from a very poor area, had surrendered to the army and were then summarily executed.

An opinion column in the national daily La Jornada called the killing and disappearance of the Atozoyinapa students “a state crime” – “repression carried out by a government that has brought organized crime violence into its service.”

For all the bluster from the state and Mexican federal government seeking to confine the blame to local officials and corrupt police, there is much to contradict that claim, including the history of another attack on Aytozinapa students in December 2011. An article in Aurora Roja, the publication and website of the Revolutionary Communist Organization of Mexico (OCR) back then explained the responsibility of the state governor, a representative of the ruling PRD who still runs the state of Guerrero, and the federal government itself.

In that incident, hundreds of students had joined with a peasant organization and a Mixtect group (a native ethnicity) to block a highway demanding that governor Angel Aguirre meet student demands such as easier entrance requirements, better food facilities and food, and jobs after graduation. Two were killed, shot in the head, and others wounded. Security forces kidnapped a student and forced him to fire an AK-47 to fabricate evidence that armed students had attacked the police. The governor denounced the demonstrators as “pseudo-students” with unreasonable demands. Many people felt that Aguirre was behind the 2011 attack. Still in office, he is now blaming the Iguala police and mayor for this latest crime.

The Aurora Roja article refutes the governor’s argument that there is no need for teacher training because there is no need for more teachers. “Teachers are lacking in many rural communities, especially indigenous communities… The government blames demographics when they close schools, but if the population is falling, it is because big capital is driving people from the countryside, grabbing the water, woodlands, gold and farm land, plundering the peasants and leaving them with the choice of immigrating or starving, or simply sending police and paramilitaries to shoot them.”

“‘No more teachers’ is the position taken at all levels of government, not because there are no children who need them but because more teachers are not a priority in the new educational schemes cooked up by imperialist institutions such as the OECD and the World Bank… resulting in a general attack on public education, creating more inequality…

“The government wants to eliminate [the rural teachers’ colleges in Mexico set up after decades of struggle] for several reasons: Because these institutions are not in the interests of their system, and because of the social activism in these schools, which they label ‘seedbeds for guerrillas'”. Several prominent guerrilla leaders of the 1970s came out of Aytozinapa and similar rural educational institutions, and today’s government has often clashed with organized groups of teachers.

In short, now and for years, students in Aytozinapa and similar schools have been a major political thorn in the side of the Guerrero governor and federal government.

The OCR has joined with others to launch a “National Network of Resistance – Stop the War Against the People” and organize a “Week of Resistance” from 20-26 October. The Call for the week’s events denounces “the massacres committed by the armed guards of this capitalist system whose political and military chiefs are in collusion with the chiefs of the narcotics cartels” in a war that is both between different sections of the state and the capitalists and their respective drug lord allies and above all against the people. A war in the service of an exploiting and illegitimate system, armed and under the thumb of the rulers of the U.S., whose government and military is deeply involved in these state and non-state criminal structures. (See aurora-roja.blogspot.com, in Spanish)

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Gett (Divorce): The trial of Viviane Amsalem – a film review

6 October 2014. A World to Win News Service. The following article by Sima Tavakoli appeared in issue number 34 of Atash, a communist print monthly and weblog in Iran. The Israeli-French-German production premiered at Cannes last spring, and since then has been screened at other film festivals in Europe, North America and Israel. It is currently in theatrical release in France, to be followed by Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The video will be available in December.

With dialogue in Hebrew, French and Arabic, it is one of a trilogy of films by the Israeli filmmakers Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz said to be based on the character of their mother.

It’s important to note that the name of this film is not just Divorce (Gett, In Hebrew), but Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem. It is about what is effectively, if not formally, the trial of a woman who has dared ask for a divorce and initiate a five-year painful legal process when her husband refused. In Israel, civil laws do not apply to marriage, divorce and other family matters. Instead they are governed by religious law and courts. [If one of the partners is not Jewish, or not considered Jewish by the Orthodox rabbis, they cannot marry in Israel.] Women cannot divorce. It is up to the husband to decide to divorce or not to divorce his wife, following a strict procedure that is highly demeaning to women. This repressive insult is powerfully exhibited in this film by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.

After 15 years of marriage, Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) formally files for divorce. She wants to be legally free. Before going to court she had already left the husband and was living with her brother’s family. The religious court is chaired by three elderly rabbis with full beards, kippahs and traditional Orthodox black jackets and white shirts. They seem harsh and unbending. Viviane’s lack of love for her husband Elisha Anslem (Simon Abkarian) and her demand to end their marriage is not sufficient for the religious judges. She must prove that her husband regularly beats her or he is sexually impotent. But these are not Viviane’s problems, and this is why the court procedure turns into a trial of Viviane for daring to demand to be free of a repressive relationship that has no love in it.

The proceedings cannot start without the presence of the husband. Using various pretexts Elisha refuses to present himself in court. He uses his power to delay the court in order to wear out his wife and force her to withdraw her divorce request. [This is a not uncommon tactic Israeli men use to delay or prevent divorce, often as a conscious act of revenge, and/or to extort child custody and other favours.]

The next court session is delayed again and again – for two months, six months and so on…New subtitles inform the film audience of each new date, but the scenes are always the same: the white walls, the empty rooms of the court, the rabbis’ frustration and their anger at the woman and her lawyer who present themselves in the absence of the man and waste the court’s time.

When finally Elisha enters the courtroom, with a heavy silence and a meaningful stare at Viviane, one after another people close to him give evidence of his gentle behaviour. The rabbis grill women who seem to want to testify in support of Viviane, and one is thrown out of the courtroom.

Viviane’s witnesses give evidence of her integrity and decency, but legally that is of no consequence. In any case, Elisha has the last word – he refuses to divorce her.

All the film’s scenes take place in the courtroom, a claustrophobic room with white walls. The men were black clothing, as do the women, with a few exceptions. There is no colour and no space. This repressive environment is magnified by repeated close-ups, reminding viewers that Viviane’s life is like a prison. Humorous incidents during testimony make the cruelty and harshness depicted in the film tolerable and at the same time more effective. The actors and actresses play their roles beautifully. Ronit Elkabetz is always convincing, whether silent or at the height of rage. Simon Abkarian says little except, “I will not divorce,” but his body language is sufficiently telling. Viviane’s lawyer Carmel (Menashe Noy) is clearly fascinated by her client’s determination and tries to get around the religious court. All this was skilfully written and directed by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.

Viviane does not wear her hair covered, but she often appears with it tightly tied up behind her head. Once, when under the pressure of hopelessness she starts fidgeting with her hair and it flows down, her judges accuse her of indecent behaviour. With the exception of her garb, the rest is not much different from Iran. The same laws dictated by a centuries-old religion, the same rigid ideas, the same hatred for women, the same feelings of desperation and powerlessness. In thinking of Viviane, I remembered the film Divorce Italian Style and the domination of religion on our life, what religion has done to us and how important and urgent it is to get rid of it.

(Under the pressure of the Catholic Church, divorce was not possible in Italy until 1970. Divorce Italian Style, a 1961 Italian comedy by Pietro Germi, shows that if the Church refused to annul the marriage, requiring much influence, money and hypocrisy, the only way out in Italy at that time was to kill one’s spouse.)

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