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Oscar documentary contender on Palestinians angers many


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In Bilin, far away from the glitz of Hollywood, there is little excitement over the movie. Few residents have seen it and hopes are dim that the sudden attention will help their cause.

"I heard there was a film. I heard it was nominated for a prize. That’s important," said resident Rizan Abu-Rahmeh, a 23-year-old housewife, pregnant and clutching her pigtailed-daughter’s hand near Bilin’s stone-built mosque.

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"But we don’t want the prize. We want what’s behind the prize. We want the land that was taken," she said.

Conversations with the villagers betray a weariness that is reflected in the film.

"What’s an Oscar, anyway?" asked an elderly woman, Umm Hazem. Five of her seven sons were imprisoned for throwing rocks during protests over the years, and her family’s lands remain behind the barrier.

"We paid a high price, and we didn’t get anything in return," she said.

Over eight years of weekly demonstrations, villagers count two slain residents and dozens wounded and detained in clashes with Israel.

Of some 500 acres of confiscated land, villagers wrested back about a third of their rolling, terraced groves, or some 170 acres, after a protracted legal struggle in Israel’s Supreme Court. They have exhausted all local legal avenues to claim the remaining 330 acres of land, said lawyer Emily Schaefer, who represents Bilin.

Israel has said it built the separation barrier, which snakes hundreds of miles across the frontier between Israel and the West Bank, to keep suicide bombers out of the country. But Palestinians say barrier, which frequently dips into the West Bank, is an excuse for seizing land.

Israel’s Defense Ministry says Bilin residents are still able to access their farmlands through a gate manned by soldiers 24 hours a day.


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Activist Kefar Mansour said it was hard to get excited about a documentary that showed their day-to-day life, even if the scenes are shocking to outside viewers. In one scene, for instance, Gibreel asks his father why he can’t slay Israeli soldiers with knives after a family friend is killed.

"People outside clap when they see powerful images in the film, but for us that’s like normal, day-to-day life," Mansour said.

The 31-year-old Mansour is one of the few people in town who seem excited about the Oscar nomination. "It shows nothing is impossible," he said.

Since the movie was made, Gibreel, now 8, has become a mini-celebrity, said his mother Suraia, 42, who logs into his Facebook account to keep track of her son’s fans.

Suraia, a devout Muslim Palestinian born in Brazil who speaks Arabic with a heavy accent, will join her husband at the Oscar ceremony along with Gibreel — an event few Palestinians from the West Bank ever attend.

"I love watching the Oscars. I never imagined I’d be with those people," she laughed.

"When this movie is shown (after) the Oscars, millions of people will know the story," she added. "They will know about the Palestinian cause. Many people abroad don’t even know what Palestine is."



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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