* Ex-CIA director John Brennan urges Biden to watch The Present to understand Palestinian plight in NYT opinion piece
An opinion piece by the US Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) former director John Brennan, published in the New York Times on April 27, underscores the need for the Biden administration to press for “serious Israeli-Palestinian discussions on a two-state solution,” citing a portrayal of the issue in the film The Present.
“The United States needs to tell Israeli leaders to cease provocative settlement construction and the sort of oppressive security practices depicted in The Present,” stressed Brennan, who recently watch the Oscars-nominated film (Live Action), and funded by the Doha Film Institute.
“The Biden administration is dealing with a dizzying array of domestic and international problems but the Palestinian quest for statehood deserves the early engagement of his national security team," he observed.
The film tells the story of Yusef (actor Saleh Bakri) and his young daughter (actress Mariam Kanj) setting out in the West Bank to buy his wife an anniversary gift – a seemingly simple task.
The Present establishes its context quickly, opening with images of Palestinian men making their way through a narrow passageway at one of the numerous checkpoints that dot the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Palestinians going to work, visiting family or shopping on the opposite side of a security barrier have to bear this humiliating procedure every day.
“Yusuf sets out with Yasmine to buy an anniversary gift for his wife. He is held in a chain-link holding pen. The ostensible reason is that the Israeli guards want to search him and his possessions more thoroughly. Yasmine sits nearby, watching and waiting in silence,” Brennan said in his article titled Why Biden Must Watch This Palestinian Movie.
He said the scene served as a flashback of his first visit to the West Bank in 1975, at an Israeli camp via the Jordan River. He saw men, women, and children in long queues “fully enclosed by steel mesh fencing labeled ‘Palestinians and Arabs’. “I saw several subjected to discourtesy and aggressive searches by Israeli soldiers.”
This seemed to be a similar scenario in the concluding part of the film where Yusuf was seen exhausted, extremely disappointed, and “on the verge of violence as he attempts to return home with the anniversary gift.”
Yusef overcomes the small but brutal realities, withstands the pain in his back and tries to motivate Yasmine to cultivate hope. However, by nightfall, as their patience shatters into fatigue and cold, the gift that was intended as a surprise is under threat of not making it home, and they find themselves in danger.
“His chilling, emotional outburst made me think of the frustration felt by every Palestinian who has to live with the stifling security measures and political oppression attendant to Israel’s military occupation,” Brennan said. “It was his little daughter, Yasmine, though, who gave me most pause and concern. She watched her father’s patience, dignity and humanity steadily erode.”
“I can only imagine the imprint such experiences have on the young girls and boys who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They grow up traumatised by injustice, discrimination and violence. They live with the feeling that their existence is controlled by people who don’t care about their welfare, their safety, or their future.”
In the political sphere, Brennan lamented that Palestinian interests and aspirations were set aside under the Trump administration, who also moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, “rejecting the position of all previous US administrations that it would endanger final status negotiations on that contested city.”
Citing the signing of the Abraham Accords, he said the agreement, which was brokered by the US in 2020, “did nothing for the Palestinians except to obtain a suspension of Israeli plans to illegally annex the West Bank.”
The former director of the CIA also sees a huge hindrance in reversing the trend of shrinking interest of the Israeli government to push through with the two-state solution.
“Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has spearheaded relentless expansion of settlements in the West Bank. That expansion has brought along more concrete walls, security barriers and control points, further reducing the spaces where Palestinians can live, graze their flocks, tend their olive groves and vegetable gardens without being challenged by their occupiers,” Brennan said.
However, Brennan noted that Biden’s administration made a sudden turn and “has authorised the release of $235mn for humanitarian, economic and development programmes supporting Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the region.”
He expressed optimism that serious talks on a two-state solution between the two parties will reap positive results.