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Palestinian film draws protest in Marblehead

Protesters speak to the film’s codirector, Jeremy Earp (left), in front of the Universalist Unitarian Church Sunday before the screening. (Bette Keva photo)
Bette Keva for The Boston Globe
Protesters exchanged words with the film’s codirector, Jeremy Earp (left), in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Marblehead before the screening.

About 30 people with signs, flags, fact sheets, and a bullhorn stood outside the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead Sunday demonstrating against the church’s screening of what protesters call an anti-Semitic, one-sided film about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The church’s minister, the Rev. Wendy von Courter, stood with church members and filmmakers watching the scene and at times responding to protesters.

After failed attempts from several area rabbis and philanthropist Robert Lappin to get von Courter to cancel “The Occupation of the American Mind, Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States,” the hourlong protest played out on narrow Mugford Street amid a police presence. At 4 p.m., some protesters left, but others joined an overflow crowd inside the church to watch the 82-minute film.

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Released in 2016 and narrated by Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters, the film begins with aerial shots of Palestinian buildings in the Gaza Strip crumbling from bombs and features speakers criticizing the treatment of Palestinians by Israel. It ends with a poignant shot of a small boy dwarfed by an army tank as he swings his arm back ready to hurl a stone.

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Calling the film “propaganda,” protester George Freedman said many venues have refused to show it. Freedman, a retired Marblehead psychiatrist, said it’s an insult to claim “that Jews regard anything negative said about Israel as anti-Semitic.”

The film is entirely from the Palestinian perspective and speaks only of “occupation” without any historical context, he said.

Bette Keva
Sut Jhally said the film “is not about the conflict.” It’s about “showing the Palestinians in their own voices as deserving of a life. That’s the only thing we are saying.”

While the film has been shown on American college campuses and in other countries, it has never been accepted into any major independent film festival, such as Sundance or Tribeca, said Sut Jhally, the film’s executive producer and founder of the Media Education Foundation, which produces educational videos about media, culture, and society.

The film “is not about the conflict,” Jhally said. It’s about “showing the Palestinians in their own voices as deserving of a life. That’s the only thing we are saying.

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“We thought with Roger Waters [as narrator] someone would at least pay attention to the film. We now know why [they didn’t] — fear of the reaction they will get, such as the Marblehead reaction,” said Jhally, a University of Massachusetts Amherst professor of communication.

Codirector Jeremy Earp said the film is less about the conflict than the way US media distorts the coverage. It illustrates how US strategic interests, a US news media that promotes the government line, and pressure from the “Evangelical Christian right to the right-wing Israel lobby” shapes the media narrative, he said.

Speaking against the film, Judith Wayne of Marblehead said she was appalled that all the humanitarian acts that Israel does for Palestinians and others were left out of the film.

Israel-born Beverly resident, Dina Davidyan, who protested with her husband and children, said she was pained by the film’s “hints that there is a Jewish conspiracy” to shut down the voices of Palestinians.

“The film is a poke in the eye to the Jewish community. The film is anti-Semitic,” said protester Howard Rich of Marblehead.

Bette Keva can be reached at bettekeva.globe@gmail.com.