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Paradise Now’ a prayer for peace

Observer Scene | Tuesday, March 21, 2006

One of the most complex issues of modern society is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Paradise Now,” directed by Hany Abu-Assad, attempts to explore this controversial topic through the eyes of two Palestinian men who decide to become what some people would call terrorists, but others would term martyrs.

The film is first and foremost about Palestine, but approaches the issue from many directions. While “Paradise Now” ultimately produces few answers and assigns little solid blame, it does raise many very important questions.

The film involves life-long friends Said and Khaled who have grown up in Nablus, a town on the West Bank. They are Palestinians who both have stories about the involvement of Israeli forces in their lives. Recruited to become suicide bombers, they are sent on a mission to Tel Aviv.

But the plans go awry when they cannot meet their contact on the Israeli side and the emotional force of the story then moves into full swing. The daughter of a fallen Palestinian hero returns from the West and tries to sway the two men from their mission, stating that there are other ways to accomplish their goals. At the same time, the men who recruited them are calling them martyrs for the cause and great heroes who will soon be in heaven.

The strength of this film is that neither side seems completely right or completely wrong. There are reasons given for why the men are doing what they are doing. The humiliation they experience at the hands of the Israeli military is poignantly described but does not justify what the friends are doing – although the film does give a reason that should not be ignored. It pays close attention not only to the characters but also to the Palestinian situation as a whole.

The slums of Nablus are shown in the beginning of the film, followed later by the skyscrapers and beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv. This contrast, however, does not criminalize everyday citizens of Israel. In one scene, Said is waiting at a bus stop to go into to Tel Aviv on his mission when he comes across Jews also waiting for the bus. They look at him as another person waiting for the bus to go to work – not as a man who has a bomb strapped to him. As a result, he begins to see them as human beings and not the enemies his recruiters say they are.

This contrast of the wealth of Israel against the poverty of Palestine, coupled with the contrast of the character’s internal realization of where he came from, who he is, and where he is going creates many complex intersecting avenues of emotion on both a personal and national level. The humiliation the characters experience cannot be ignored, but neither can the innocence of the everyday Israelis who are in mortaldanger from terrorist attacks.

This film refuses to give the audience any answers. It does not say one side is better than the other. However, what it does do isunderline the need for change. There is violence on both sides of the fence and there are issues that must be addressed. The tagline of the film, “From the most unexpected place, comes a bold new call for peace,” not only pertains to the story of the film but also to the film itself. The movie calls for reconciliation, but fully acknowledges that the avenue is fraught with hardship and that each side must address aspects of the conflict it would rather not. The path to peace is never easy, but “Paradise Now” invites us to at least make an attempt to walk down it.