"The Israeli occupation invades your most private spaces, the space even your husband and children never enter," explains a woman from Ramallah, a West Bank city that has been all too frequently subjected to siege, military incursions, and strict curfews. "The Israelis invade you without knocking, they break down the door and take over, robbing you of your identity, your humanity, your dignity."
This experience of being subjected to relentless violation, intentional humiliation, and attempts at dehumanization, countered by a determination to preserve one's humanity in the midst of an ever-harsher oppression, summarizes the feelings of the majority of Palestinian women interviewed in three documentaries: This Is Not Living (2001), Women in Struggle (2004), and Soraida, A Woman of Palestine (2004). As they foreground different aspects of oppression and resistance, these powerful documentaries combine to reveal the multitude of ways that living under occupation impacts everyday life for Palestinians in general and women in particular. All three are in Arabic, with English subtitles, and take place in post-1967 occupied Palestine, portraying people struggling under a cruel military occupation well into its fourth decade despite international consensus that it is illegal. What is constant throughout the [End Page 125] stories of these women is their resilience and determination to resist the devastating effects of life under a system intent on erasing their humanity and the very traces of their existence.
Directed by Alia Arasoughly, a filmmaker living in Ramallah, This Is Not Living covers a broad cross-section of the population of the West Bank, introducing us to a number of Palestinian women from Ramallah, Jerusalem, Nablus, smaller villages, and refugee camps. Young and old, poor and wealthy, Muslim and Christian, homemakers, students, journalists, boutique owners and domestic workers, these women speak about their daily encounters with violence as they go about their lives amidst the degrading drama of state-sponsored terrorism by a military behemoth against a dispossessed people. The documentary itself is interspersed with archival clips from international news agencies, showing such events as home demolitions by the Israeli occupation forces, the funeral of martyrs, or popular protests against mass detentions. There are also clips from home videos, of intimate family life before being forever disrupted by Israeli bullets abruptly ending a young boy's life, or a missile shattering the sanctity of a children's bedroom.
The documentary is deeply moving, with many memorable moments such as the footage of women going to harvest their olives, the only source of income for many Palestinians. Illegal Israeli settlers, intent on stopping them, stone the women and children, as the Israeli occupation forces watch. "We've taken care of this land for endless generations, our ancestors have planted and tended these trees, and the settlers have been here a mere two years, yet they claim it as theirs," explains a frustrated older woman as she makes the comment that gives the documentary its title.
Nor does death seem to offer respite from humiliation. Dima, who works at a private television station in Nablus, explains that she has to read all the dispatches and watch all the newsreels that come in so as to present a cohesive report to her viewers. "Our human dignity is violated by the ugliness of our deaths—we do not die naturally, we die mutilated, violently," she says. "As a news editor, I have to watch the news before broadcasting, and I see the images, I stare at the images of the killed young men, and I cannot help but wonder, 'Was he still conscious as his eyes popped out of their sockets? Did he feel his skull crack before he died?' We are humiliated in our everyday life and desecrated in our death."
As these women speak of their daily hardships, certain common [End Page 126] themes surface: there is immense suffering, a sense of suffocation experienced by each and every Palestinian, accompanied by a strong yearning that all is not...