REVIEW: State 194 [2013]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG | Runtime: 98 minutes | Release Date: May 17th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: Participant Media
Director(s): Dan Setton
Writer(s): Elise Pearlstein & Dan Setton

“Only free people can negotiate”

I don’t generally keep up on current affairs because there’s just too much going on outside my comfy little bubble with no immediate concern to me. Yes, I’m one of those Americans. However, even if I were to have grown up under a rock without internet connection I still think a cursory knowledge of the struggle in the Middle East between Palestine and Israel would be had. A holy land with legitimate ties to both people, it was always easy to blindly side with the more powerful and modernized faction because they’re our allies and don’t have a penchant for suicide bombings. Insight has begun to change as of 2009, though, with questions of human freedom and moral aptitude seeping into the equation. That old position is quickly becoming a pardon for injustice.

Director Dan Setton’s documentary State 194 delves into this changing tide as Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad puts his two-year “Ending the occupation, establishing the state” program in effect. By increasing the sense of personal safety inside the West Bank, citizens will finally be unafraid to walk the streets past 6pm and the world will begin to see progress where only violence once lived. Fayyad sought out international assistance for upwards of 1.5 billion dollars and created a modern city infrastructure of roads, electricity, schools, and hospitals. He acquired the seal of approval from a trio of established organizations to ensure Palestine was ready to be recognized as an independent state and even brought his case up with the United Nations in 2011 for ratification. But this is only half the battle.

Without necessarily picking a side or pushing an agenda besides the prevalent use of human rights rhetoric on behalf of most interviewees, Setton’s film does a great job laying out the facts for those in the dark to the intricacies of Palestine’s fight. We learn about the Fatah controlled West Bank being settled by new Israeli homes despite their Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying he too wants peace. We’re exposed to the Hamas-led Gaza Strip and a contingent of bloggers engaging in protestation discourse with friends on the other end of Israel leaning towards political unification. Yitzhak Frankenthal introduces his organization The Parents Circle as he looks to educate both sides on the need for a two-state solution and Israeli Sara Benninga non-violently fights for Palestinian rights at home.

It’s such a divisive subject, however, with everyone staking a claim in trying to rectify it without giving one side a victory over the other. Israel is too strong to concede and Palestine too divided to be taken completely seriously. We’re made privy to a slew of people talking candidly and at press events about their ideas and actions from Fayyad to Mahmoud Abbas to Netanyahu to Barack Obama and yet none are shown speaking to one another. For Palestine to become the UN’s 194th state—there’s your explanation of the title—negotiations must be held for a mutually agreed upon resolution with Israel. Nations like America can weigh in and blurt out how the 1967 ruling of borders is where this needs to go, but only the two countries involved can make it reality.

Setton’s film takes us to the ground floor of what’s occurring in this holiest of lands and shows how gray the once cut and dry issue has become. We watch the UN ratification of Israel in 1947 and then hear Netanyahu declare the same for Palestine would be detrimental to peace. And while such a statement appears self-serving on the surface, there is a point to his position. If the world believes Palestine is real before an agreement is made, why would the newly approved nation bother negotiating? All-out war could begin and even more blood could be spilled. We see stats talking about a 90% drop in Israeli deaths during Fayyad’s two-year plan and thus hope peace can be found before an inexcusable trend of terrorism renews.

Here we are in 2013 and still no agreement has been reached. Palestine performed in the Olympics; prominent Israeli cultural figures fight for the Palestinian cause because it will also bring Israel freedom to be a complete Jewish state; but the people who matter have yet to give into public desire. Setton shows the many Israelis who still believe all this land is theirs and will stop at nothing less while children are heard declaring allegiance to country over humanity in the fight against a people they’ve been raised to believe is the ultimate enemy. Homes in Sheikh Jarrah are still being taken from Palestinians with the Israeli government’s seal of approval and new Palestinian homes are being torn down while Israeli settlements push further and further into the West Bank. Peace may never come.

Like most things in this world, it comes down to education and teaching those ignorant to both sides what’s really happening. State 194 achieves this goal by showing the other side of the coin with Palestinian determination and non-violent actions. By taking a page from Israel’s book they have created something no one believed was possible. Their ragtag bunch of angry militants has grown into a society yearning for peace and a home. Rather than fall blindly into rage and avenge they’ve learned to boycott, protest, and evolve. Don’t be naïve and believe this is every Palestinian—Gaza is still a warzone under Hamas’ control—but do accept times have changed. Hopefully an agreement can be made before the bloodshed restarts. If this film is any indication, Palestine is doing their part.

[1] Fayyad NGO meeting
[2] Majd demonstration
[3] Sara with Palestinans
courtesy of DDA PR

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