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Is The Hunger Games Inadvertently Mocking Israel?

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November 24, 2016 23:21

When all about you is doom and gloom, go to the cinema. When you want an escape from the depressing daily fare of anti-Israel propaganda all around, head for the popcorn stand and the blockbuster.

Except that's not quite how it turned out last night. Oh, Mrs. Inverne and I did buy popcorn and our much-coveted tickets for the new Hunger Games film, but mindless escapism it was not. I didn't go into Mockingjay – Part One blind. I had seen and loved the first two. And I was very aware of the topicality of the innocents-versus-tyrant theme (when is it not?).

Yet this one was different. No longer set in a remote, lethal playground where nominated victims must battle each other and some pretty terrifying special effects to stay alive. Now, we were in the heart of the rebellion against Donald Sutherland's smooth and serpentine President Snow's empire. If this sounds eerily like the plot of a certain other futuristic franchise set to return to our screens next year (did you see the gripping new Star Wars trailer?), Mockingjay is much grittier, more realistic.

And it could not but help evoke in me disturbing echoes of the Israeli-Arab conflict. In all storytelling writ large, there are iconic images that work like signposts, clearly telling you who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. Clothing, kinds of weaponry, a wall.

Yet the interpretation of a story can be very subjective. Nobody who watches that film will be in any doubt that Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen is the heroine and Donald Sutherland the big bad wolf. But if we are supposed to find universal themes and relevance in the story, then the use of iconography becomes more troubling.

The symbol of bow and arrow against jet plane is very powerful

Sutherland's character, for instance, lives in an ultra-stylish, uber-affluent society whose most privileged citizens neither see nor care about the oppressed workers in the tyrannised peripheral districts. Snow's soldiers move around in pristine combat gear, helmeted and faceless. They sport the latest automatic weapons and rule the skies. Everdeen's friends, meanwhile, all wear the same drag workers' garb and she fights with a longbow - albeit with high-octane explosive bolts, but that doesn't matter. Nor does the fact that her friends actually have some fairly advanced missiles. The symbol, of the bow and arrow against the jet plane, is powerful. And there is even a scene where an enormous wall is blown to smithereens by brave, anthem-singing workers.

So if I was a Palestinian in Ramallah or Gaza what would I be seeing in all of this? Actually, I wouldn't, since it's highly unlikely that a film that shows a man and woman kissing, as this does, would be allowed to be publicly screened. So let's be realistic. If I were an ardent Palestinian sympathiser (and I do have sympathy for them) in London what would I be seeing? Those fully kitted out soldiers would look to me an awful lot like IDF soldiers in riot-control mode. And that poor abandoned worker army? For crossbow, read slingshot and stones. Those aggressive jets could be Israeli F-16s, couldn't they? That wall speaks for itself.

And so I would be seeing this as a parable of Israel's perceived subjugation of the Palestinians, and their plucky resistance. I know I shouldn't mind that Mockingjay raised such images in my mind, because it's important always to question what we believe and what we do. But I do mind, because I know that too many people will accept that same metaphor.

It is, however, emphatically not a true comparison. Israel doesn't tyrannise the (self-governing) Palestinian territories, they react against attacks. The scene where a frightened Everdeen sits in a shelter to helplessly wait out a bombing raid is as true a depiction of Israelis this summer hiding in their shelters from Gazan missiles as it doubtless was of Gazans hiding from Israeli retaliation. Except that Hamas started, and refused to end, that war, not Israel. And they had built attack tunnels rather than shelters. And this infamous wall - barrier, fence - is a necessity that has stopped thousands of attempted suicide bombings within Israel. It is a symbol of Israel under attack more than it is of Palestinians being oppressed.

Snow would, disingenuously, make many of these kinds of arguments. The difference is that for Israel they are true. And he doesn't have to contend with being surrounded by many extremely hostile, larger countries. But the film underlined for me again the brilliant Palestinian use of iconography, and the way the bare pictures work against Israel. For me, Snow's empire is much more Iran or Syria than it is Israel. The poor workers are like the early-20th-century Jewish socialist immigrants to Israel, not the Palestinians.

But I returned home more depressed than when I left. Even the popcorn didn't help much.

November 24, 2016 23:21

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