To Shoot an Elephant is a documentary by Alberto Arce and Mohammad Rujailah. They both accompanied a group of foreigners who managed to stay embedded with the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances during the 21 days of Operation Cast Lead launched by Israel against the besieged Palestinian people of Gaza exactly one year ago. The assault started in December 27th, 2008, and lasted until January 18th, 2009. Horrific days of endless bombardments, random sniping of children, women, elderly, rescue workers – bombings of civilian areas, hospitals, ambulances, schools, mosques, UN headquarters that resulted in the killing of over 1,400 Palestinians, almost entirely civilians and the death of 13 Israelis. A global screening of the film was organized around the planet commemorating the first anniversary of the end of the assault.
The title is a reference to George Orwell’s essay during the years he was serving the British Empire as a police officer in Burma. Orwell’s witnessing of the horrors of imperial rule, the murderous absurdity that it entails, the level of human raw feelings of injustice that invariably transform into hatred, still holds to this day.
Two hundred and forty screenings were held in different communities around the world. I attended the one organized in Paris by Clement and Julien from Regarde à Vue, a group of socially engaged activists who advocate the free diffusion of citizen generated media. Their work is entirely under Creative Commons and they regularly share and exchange experiences and conduct workshops in different communities noticeably in Palestine where they are helping make video, a tool for expression as well as resistance. By the way they will be going to Dheisheh near Bethlehem soon and are asking people who might be able to help, to donate video cameras through their association to young would-be Palestinian citizen reporters there.
The Film is a slap in the face. People are justifiably moved by images coming from disaster-stricken areas of the world like Haiti hit by a horrific earthquake lately, but I guess the emotion is taken to a new level when the disaster is so conspicuously man-made, unjustifiable (indeed illegal), and avoidable. An overwhelming sense of anger together with feelings of injustice, helplessness and shock makes the experience even more compelling and engaging. I, for one, feared that the film would drift too much into a mere pornography of death and misery. I also was anxious to see whether the film would end up preaching for the converted. All in all it is a real, unformatted, unmanicured eye witness account about what really happens when ordinary people got bombed and collectively punished whether in Guernica, in Warsaw or in Gaza. And although, for the sake of preserving human dignity, I might have some contention about where the limits of filming agonizing people and dead bodies should lie, I still want to believe the film respected the suffering victims it happened to film.
In Poitiers, central France, over 80 people gathered to watch the film thanks to Sylvette from Comité poitevin France Palestine.
In Morocco the documentary was screened in Ecole Hassania des Travaux Publics.
More screenings are getting scheduled.