Robert Azzi: Black Swans resist – it’s their state, too

  • Natalie Portman arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of “Annihilation” at the Regency Village Theatre on Feb. 13. AP file

For the Monitor
Sunday, April 29, 2018

‘What? You’ve never seen The Maltese Falcon? I’ll lend it to you – you have to see it – it’s a classic!”

I have a small library of “must see” movies, which includes Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, The Shawshank Redemption, Caramel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The Conversation – and Léon: The Professional.

I remember first discovering Natalie Portman in Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional, where, as 11-year-old Mathilda (Portman was 12 at the time) she gave an endearing and beguiling performance in a compelling thriller starring Jean Reno (Léon) and the evil Gary Oldman.

I remember noticing that while she tried to smoke cigarettes she never inhaled. I found out later that that was a condition her parents wrote into her contract.

Eight years later, in 2002, Natalie Portman wrote in the Harvard Crimson: “We must be ashamed of every act of violence and mourn every child as if they were our own. I pray for the safety of all those in the region and hope that we may someday use our unique human assets of language and empathy rather than military technology or propaganda to resolve this conflict.”

Today, Portman, an Israeli-born, Hebrew-speaking, Harvard-educated, Oscar-winning (Black Swan) Israeli-American actor has chosen to deploy her own unique human asset of language to boycott, as its designated honorée, the awards ceremony of Israel’s Genesis Prize.

Since March 30, 40 Palestinians have been killed and 5,511 wounded – with no Israeli casualties – in “The Great Return March,” protests along the border fence between Gaza and Israel. As Peter Beinart writes in The Forward this week: “Hamas did not force Israel to adopt the policies that have devastated Gaza. Those policies represent a choice – a choice that has not only failed to dislodge Hamas, but has also created the very conditions in which extremism thrives.” (tinyurl.com/y87ejoo3)

Today, as I write, three Palestinian demonstrators are reported killed and 833 injured by Israeli forces as new protests mark the fifth week of resistance along the fence, protests the Israel Defense Forces General Staff describes (via Haaretz) “as a popular initiative that the Hamas leadership co-opted for its own purposes,” and which are scheduled to continue at least until May 15.

While Portman wrote on Instagram, “Let me speak for myself. I chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony. Like many Israelis and Jews around the world, I can be critical of the leadership in Israel without wanting to boycott the entire nation. I treasure my Israeli friends and family, Israeli food, books, art, cinema and dance,” some commentary suggests otherwise.

According to Israel’s Channel 2, a representative of Portman’s told Genesis organizers it was Israel’s response in Gaza that prompted her withdrawal, writing on April 2 that they’d been “following the news lately on Gaza with concern.”

A Genesis representative is reported to have responded “events in Gaza are the result of a planned operation by Hamas that is designed to sacrifice its citizens for political gain” and that Portman’s cancellation would be “a slap in the face to the Israeli people.”

To Portman, perhaps, the Genesis response was the last word.

She canceled.

In response, Zionist Organization of America’s president, Morton Klein, misogynisticly tweeted: “Natalie Portman’s absurd, uninformed, inaccurate, dangerous views on Israel, while ignoring the anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist views/actions of Hamas and Palestinian Authority gives credibility and legitimacy to the ludicrous, false, nonsensical belief that beautiful women aren’t too bright.”

In response, Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev described Portman’s action as having “fallen as a ripe fruit into the hands of BDS supporters.”

BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel is a nonviolent form of resistance – initiated by Palestinian civil society – to the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, to the oppression of Palestinians, and to the continued incarceration of hundreds of Palestinians held under administrative detention without either indictment or trial.

BDS does not delegitimize Israel; it delegitimizes illegal occupation and oppression. Some activists apply BDS only to the occupied territories; others apply BDS to both Israel and the occupied territories.

Some begin by applying it just to Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Welcome to the resistance.

Another resistor, another advocate for justice, another “beautiful woman,” Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, 17, wasn’t invited to any awards ceremony. Tamimi, from the West Bank village of Nebi Saleh, would like the freedom to enjoy her Palestinian friends and family, food, books, art, cinema and dance.

She can’t.

She’s in an Israeli prison, convicted in a plea bargain of assaulting (slapping) a soldier, incitement and interfering with a soldier in the line of duty. She was sentenced to eight months in prison plus a fine of $1,400. Her mother, Nariman, and cousin Nur were convicted and sentenced alongside her.

Israel’s Deputy Knesset Speaker Bezalel Smotrich tweeted: “In my opinion, (Tamimi) should have gotten a bullet, at least in the kneecap. That would have put her under house arrest for the rest of her life.”

This week the defense rested in the trial of Palestinian poet Dareen Tartour, an Israeli citizen who lives in Reina, in the Galilee, charged with incitement to violence and terror stemming from posting her poems online. Since being indicted in 2015 Tartour has been either in full detention or under house arrest.

This week, too, students at Barnard College exercised their free speech rights and after debate voted 64 percent to 36 percent to embrace a limited form of BDS, to formally request that the school divest from eight companies that do business in Israel, companies, referendum sponsors claim, that violate international law through their treatment of Palestinians.

These are radical women, challenging not only patriarchal and political hierarchies but challenging injustice and oppression.

Celebrate them.

Celebrate Ahed Tamimi and Dareen Tartour, living resistance while under oppression; celebrate Natalie Portman and Barnard’s women, expressing resistance freely, all refusing to collaborate with injustice.

They will resist: It’s their state, too.

Unitarian minister William F. Schulz writes, “There is truly no peace without justice, and those who shout ‘Peace! Peace!’ without pointing a viable way to justice are collaborators with the oppressors just as surely as if they had supplied them with arms or turned the keys of their jail cells.”

Mathilda: “Is life always this hard, or is it just when you’re a kid?”

Léon: “Always like this.”

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)