If you mention to people that there is a new film about the Palestinian struggle showing at a nearby cinema, you will immediately get either weary or awkward sighs; for all the reasons we think we've seen it all and heard it all before. However, when you say that the film is actually about Israeli-Palestinian cows, people will stop to think again and ask if it really is about cows. And, so, yes, it is really about cows but so much more besides.
'The Wanted 18' is an incredible new documentary and stop-motion animation film that sheds new light on the Palestinian cause. It premiered in the UK yesterday as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2015 with two more screenings taking place this week. Created by the Palestinian artist Amer Shomali and Canadian director Paul Cowan, it goes back to the days of the first Intifada circa 1987-1993 and set in the town of Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, where Shomali's family originally come from.
The ingenuity of this artistic piece, that brightly and warmly captures the heart and the imagination of the viewer, is not only in the re-enactment of a true story through first hand interviews with the survivors or in bringing important archive materials to surface; but, also, in creating human personalities for some of the cows that were at the heart of the tale. You will get to meet and feel for them as they too endure the experience of oppression and the devious ways of the occupiers.
When the Israelis took over the West Bank, it was the small Christian population of Beit Sahour that gathered to brainstorm on how to best respond to their practical situation by organising various neighborhood committees; that would firstly administer themselves and that would also plot or plan for non-violent resistance or civil disobedience, including at one point their refusal to pay taxes. But, in order to be as self-sufficient and independent as possible, one of the creative ideas was for the town to invest in buying eighteen cows as a cooperative venture to produce their own milk and be able to proudly boycott the Israeli brand.
And, so, the cows were bought from a kibbutz and brought to the town and were soon providing the milk and becoming local celebrities! Everyone came to love the cows and the cows eventually came round to accepting their new owners and life under occupation. However, when the Israeli authorities realised what was going on, they declared the farm an illegal security threat; after which began a crazy and surreal chase against the cows that had at this point gone into hiding, but to still be able to produce the milk that was secretly being distributed underground at great risk to those making the deliveries.
What eventually happens to the cows and the people of the town is well worth watching the film for as well as offering an insightful history lesson whose consequences are still being felt today. So not only are you guaranteed laughter and tears as you get to respect and admire the fighting spirit of the people of Beit Sahour and their herd, but you will also go away with a sobering realisation for the need for both sides to re-engage to end the conflict through non-violent means.
'The Wanted 18' is being screened in London and will continue to tour the world in the coming weeks and months in collaboration with 'Just Vision'. This is an organisation that highlights the power and potential of Palestinians and Israelis working to end the occupation and build a future of freedom, dignity, equality and human security using non-violent means. Just Vision drives attention to compelling local role models in unarmed movement-building and demonstrates to journalists, community leaders, public intellectuals and students - in the US, Israel, Palestine and beyond - what is possible when leaders at the grassroots choose to act. For more information on Just Vision: http://www.justvision.org.
For more information about the HRW FF: http://ff.hrw.org/london.