The Lecture Tour at Boston College

By EGM Contributor Tim Stoner

The first day of the 12-day Little Town of Bethlehem tour began auspiciously with a packed house and engaged students on the campus of Boston College in Chestnut Hill , Massachusetts. More than 100 students chose to miss Glee’s season-opener to join faculty and members of the community in Vanerslice Hall. This premiere was scheduled to coincide with the United Nation’s International Day of Peace. The team is excited as it anticipates the tour’s first screening hosted by the Faith, Peace and Justice Program of BC’s Department of Sociology.

Bill Oechsler, president of Ethnographic Media (EGM), is the “field marshall” who has been heading this large-scale undertaking for the past six months. The thousands of hours of preparation have resulted in gathering a team from California to Washington D.C. specializing in event planning, marketing, media and university relations. It is joined by a film crew and a photographer to document the tour.

Each event will be highlighted by a Q&A in which the audience will have the opportunity to engage Sami Awad, one of the three subjects of the film, as well as the director, Jim Hanon. Special guests, experts in nonviolence, will also be present at each of the venues.

A binder, one-inch thick, reflects the amount of effort that has gone into obtaining permission for another of the film’s subjects, Ahmad al’Azzeh, a Palestinian Muslim, and his family to leave Palestine and join us. While there were some positive indications as the deadline approached, some roadblocks remained, and the tour had to start without him. We are still very hopeful that at some point he will be able to be a part of the tour.

There is more at stake then merely having Ahmad on the panel, for our goal all along has also been to make it possible for his three-year old son to obtain treatment in the U.S. for his severe immunity disorder. Since Ahmad’s arrest this March in a nonviolent march, he has been denied permission to enter Jerusalem to obtain medication for his little boy.

Yonatan Shapira, the film’s third subject, had been out of contact for two months prior to our launch. A few days before we were to gather in Boston, Yonatan notified Bill that he was in Greece on a secret peace initiative that would prevent him from coming with us. Bill asked if we could Skype him in, and his response was cryptic. All he could say was that he would be on a ship and would probably not be available. Something big is up but that was all the information he could share.

Fortunately, Oded Na’aman, former artillery commander with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), was available to stand-in for him. Oded spent a year enforcing the occupation, “using the weapons of fear” and commanding checkpoints in the West Bank. He is now a member of Breaking the Silence, an organization of other former IDF members that gathers testimonies and photographs of their involvement in the occupation, and shares them around the world.

After the film it is evident that the audience appreciated the unique opportunity of engaging representatives from both sides of the conflict. They were excited to dialogue with individuals who speak about the Israeli-Palestinian struggle from personal experience rather than a theoretical, academic perspective.

Lindsey Hennawi appreciated how it “humanized the situation” by telling the stories of three men from different sides. “It was a wonderful film,” said Chris Stalinger. “The graphics were well done, and the music was amazing! And the story was one I have never seen before.” Usama Abudlahim Ayed stated that “it has given me hope as an American Palestinian.”

“It is a powerful movie that reframes the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Oded remarks, “At heart we see it as a struggle between those who use violence to achieve their goals, and those who insist on nonviolence. This movie encourages hope by telling the story of Israelis and Palestinians who are equally committed to the nonviolent struggle for equality and an end to the Israeli occupation.”

“For a premiere event, this was perfect,” said Oechsler.” The audience watched intently and interacted honestly and with respect. It is obvious that our hosts have gone all out to make this evening a success.“ In director Jim Hanon’s opinion, “This was a very good beginning.”

Our next stop is Brown University, in Providence, Rhode Island.

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