Paradise Now and the Effects of Suicide Bombers in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

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The film, Paradise Now, which was directed by Hany Abu-Assad and released on November 18th, 2005, tells the story of the last two days spent between two best friends who are recruited into becoming suicide bombers in Tel Aviv. Said and Khaled are two Palestinian mechanics who spend much of their time together as they try to help to provide for their families. On one fateful day, they are both recruited by an unspecified political group and to go on a mission across the Palestinian and Israeli border and to act as suicide bombers to demonstrate the group’s belief of being oppressed by the Israelis.

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As they go on their mission after being prepped by the political group and make videos to explain why they individually are committed to this mission, Said and Khaled are eventually separated. While they are apart, Khaled eventually finds his way back into the groups base while Said starts to grow in his doubt of being a part of the mission. Said goes to talk to Suha, a girl that Said develops feelings for throughout the film, he is eventually found by the group and they plan to carry out the mission the next day.

As they make a second attempt for the mission, Khaled suddenly has a change of heart and decides to back out and pleads with Said to do the same. Said decides at that point to carry out the mission alone and he is successful by the end of the film. Paradise Now is a film that depicts the real-life beliefs and the process that many suicide bombers in places such as the middle east go through not only in the recent past of 2005 but even the methods that are used now. Hany Abu-Assad’s film depicts the violence between the countries of Palestine and Israel and provides his own personal commentary on this conflict and the terrorists who commit these actions by not letting the audience sympathy with the characters, but rather letting them feel pity towards them. The film also vaguely gives the opportunity for the audience to see how these suicide bombers are chosen, prepare and go to fulfill their violent missions to demonstrate to others how they feel about their personal political beliefs. However, when we watch the film and see this story unfold in front of our eyes, we must wonder in our minds how did these people come into this position of needing to demonstrate their political beliefs in the dramatic and grotesque fashion and what effect do their actions have on creating their want and need for political change. By using this film’s depiction of the real-life conflict between Palestine and Israel, we the audience almost have a responsibility into understanding and finding out what caused this conflict to first occur, why are individuals interested in joining these terrorist groups, and how the conflict reflects on how others view these countries from a global perspective. To begin with, we must try to understand the conflict itself between Palestine and Israel.

One of the man reasons for the conflict between these two states is due to the fact of two separate groups who want to control a city that they each consider to be a holy city, Jerusalem, for the sake of their religious practices and is located at the border between these states. We have the Israelis who practice Judaism who believe that the city was given to them by their God as their homeland. However, we also have the Palestinians who practice Islam believe that Jerusalem is also a holy city for them and they feel it belongs to them in a historical aspect. Due to this disagreement between the two groups, a violent conflict has broken out between the two countries that have carried on for more than 70 years as they try to fight for their own individual lands. In a journal article written in the Middle East Report, it states that Israeli forces have destroyed 385 of the 475 Arab villages on the border of Israeli from 148 to 1988 (Wenger, Rabbani, & Hajjar, pg.35). While this violence is occurring, there have been some talks and attempts to make peace between the two states. In an article entitled What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, the author writes about the certain attempts for peace such as the 1993 Oslo accords which allowed each state to be recognized separately and that in a five-year transition period, Israel would gradually withdraw from highly populated Palestinian areas as well as some other regulations to help keep the peace (Slater, pg. 176). However, when this accord was put into action, it didn’t take long for Israel to not comply very well to the terms of the accord and often were slow and resisting their new obligations.

This of course not only allowed the conflict to start again where it left off but also added more to the conflict and the aggression each state had against one another. While there was another attempt for a peace agreement in the Camp David summit in July of 2000, which had more regulations and went into further detail than any other peace proposal, it also eventually was dropped due to conflict between drawing borders for each state, the influence of the Israeli military on the Palestinians, and which state should own Jerusalem (Slater, pg. 182-185). With all this conflict between these two states, many individual political groups from each side have decided to take their own action against their enemies in drastic and violent ways. While the Israeli government has chosen to use their military to showcase their aggression towards their rivals, many Palestinian political groups have taken extreme measures to violent attack Israel through acts of terrorism, with Suicide terrorism being one of the main courses of action. In an article researching this topic of violent attacks as a form of retaliation, they found that Israel fits the narrative of attacking in a form of retaliation against the Palestinians, whereas the Palestinians seem to attack the Israelis just for the goal to harm them in a way (Haushofer, Biletzki, & Kanwisher, pg.42). Due to this act of terrorism in the form of suicide to the attacker and without any context as to why they would act in such a dramatic fashion, many psychologists have developed a new field of research, called terrorism research, to help them understand the motives of these suicide bombers.

In research done by several professors of the University of Maryland, they found that the frequency of traumatic events that happened in the lives of these suicide bombers, such as a parental figure, brother, or more than one family member being killed, seemed to alter the course of the lives of these individuals to act in a form of terrorism (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, &Orehek, pg. 339). In another article written by Lori Allen, she describes how these suicide bombers are martyrs in the Palestinian culture and have their faces pictured throughout places like the West Bank because of how they have died due to the Israeli occupation in what they believe to be their land (Allen, pg. 34). In her article she also goes into detail about how these suicide bombers don’t seem to stand out compared to other members of the Palestinian society and gives an account of how many of them can’t come up with a single theory as to why these terrorists do what they do to demonstrate their beliefs (Allen, pg. 34). With this violence between these two states of Palestine and Israel, it can easily be understood that these actions have influenced the global relationships not only between each individual state and another country but have influenced the relationships of other countries when talking about their conflict. In an article written by the Palestine News Network, they have reported that a bill in the House of Commons in the United Kingdom has been submitted where in it, the UK could recognize Palestine as a state (Qud, 2018).

Since the Palestinians have fought for a long time to be considered a state after being under the influence of Israel rule, this bill would help allow the two states to reignite peace talks by being observed as two separate states from a foreign country. However, not all countries have been making the same steps to help acquire peace between these two countries, such as when in 2018 where the President of the United States decided to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which sparked some tension between the two states as well as its relationship to other countries. In an article written by The Times of Israel, a new site located in Israel, it states that in an interview with French President Emmanuel Macron, he stated that the move of the embassy sparked violence in Gaza and should not be celebrated as it did not help promote peace (The Times of Israel, 2018). With that being said, it is very clear that the conflict between these two states has gone from a dispute between two states into a political and global discussion into what should be done to help these states find peace. For our film Paradise Now, the director who grew up in this area of extreme conflict wants us as the audience to better understand the narrative of the film and its characters as it fits directly into the political and historical context between these two states.

This is evident even in the beginning of the film where the film introduces us to our main characters Said and Khaled and how they survive where they live. In the beginning scenes, we see that the place that they live is surrounded by Israeli military check points on the roads which is used to help the audience see how much influence Israel has over certain Palestinian populations. We also see at the beginning of the film that Said and Khaled are seen as normal people who work as car mechanics who want to help provide for their struggling families as well as develop relationships between other members of society such as the relationship between Said and Suha. However, because of how these characters are established, when the audience sees that they have been recruited to carry out a suicide mission for an unnamed resistance group to bomb innocent civilians, the director allows the audience to look into the perspective of these terrorists in a way that is not portrayed in ways as many other news stories or other news coverage has put these terrorists into. If we were to take a look into our main characters of the film, we see that they don’t seem to be anyone special, but rather normal people who are acting on their beliefs on how their state should be run. In the film, we never really see a clear motive as to why Said and Khaled are doing this suicide mission because of the scene of where they make their video tapes and we clearly see them using a script to provide them with a motive to do so. However, at the end of the film, we do learn that Said does have a secret motive into becoming a suicide bomber. In this scene, he explains to the leader of the unspecified group that his father was a Palestinian who collaborated with the Israelis and he was executed due to this, and he blames the Israelis for taking advantage of his father.

This back story of Said’s life can directly parallel with the research talked about earlier where a traumatic event like a father being killed can motivate someone into going to the live of a suicide bomber (Kruglanski, Chen, Dechesne, Fishman, &Orehek, pg. 339). This also shows a motive that doesn’t fit into a religious or political position, but one that is set on seeking revenge against a certain group of people, which is more of an individual humanistic response to this sort of trauma. The director also puts into perspective as to the normalcy of these attacks between these states as a well as how these martyrs, as explained in Allen’s article, are seen in the eyes of the Palestinian society after they fulfill their suicidal missions. In one scene, we see Said go into a video store after he is separated during his mission. At the video store, he sees several pictures and tapes of those who have carried out suicide bombings and, in the scene, we understand that these films can be rented out to the public from the store clerk. Through this interaction between Said and the store clerk, we the audience can interpret that because of how often these terrorist attacks occur, the idea of renting out these tapes of people who are giving their motives as to why they are doing this, as well as saying goodbye to their families, is a common occurrence in that culture.

It seems as though in the film that while the families of those who commit these terrorist actions rent these videos as a reminder of how their family member stood and spoke before they died, it doesn’t seem to affect the general public that much. Hany Abu-Assad has seemingly tackled the lives and motives of suicide bombers in this film in a way that essentially takes off the blinders of the audience focusing on their actions at the end of their mission and allows us to fulling understand these characters as a more rounded people. Take for instance the scene where we witness Said first get separated from Khaled and he stops at a bus station. In scene we see Said think about and almost pull the trigger on his bomb strapped to his abdomen, but he suddenly stops when he sees a child on the bus. This scene tells a lot on how the director wanted to help portray these suicide bombers in a more humanistic way because of why Said doesn’t ignite the bomb on the bus. This scene shows allows the character to show empathy towards someone he was about to attack, as well as start the small seed of doubt in his mind on if he is doing the right thing by completing his suicide bomb mission.

In conclusion, we as the audience can better understand the perspective of those individuals who become suicide bombers in the film by attempting to understand why the conflict between the Palestine and Israel started, the motives as to why individuals want to be a part of these acts of terrorism, and how these acts of terrorism effect the society that they live in as well as its global effect. Through the film, the director Hany Abu-Assad has made it clear that these people who commit these violent acts are seemingly normal people who believe in their beliefs so extremely, that they are willing to do anything to see that their vision of gaining control is fulfilled. This film would allow a future class to get a unique perspective on those who commit these violent acts of terrorism and see the humanity of these individuals that isn’t portrayed well in most news stories in the western world. This film allows the audience to individually ask themselves what makes these terrorists human, what makes them not human, and how do certain individuals cross that line.

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