Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Sabaya (2021)

Dir.: Hogir Hirori; Documentary with Mahmud, Siham, Shadi, Sheik Zyad; Sweden 2021, 91 min.

Kurdish director/writer/DoP/editor Hogir Hirori (The Deminer) has certainly ventured where few other filmmakers dare to go: he follows Kurdish resistance fighters, both men and women, in their efforts to liberate young Kurdish women who have been abducted, raped and sold by members of Daesh, during their reign of terror which lasted from 2014 to 2019. The Yazidi, a Kurdish minority religion, was one of their fiercest opponents, and Daesh took it out on them: By 2016 over two thousand six hundred women and girls – some still babies – were abducted, 3793 remain as sex slaves until now, given the titular name of Sabaya by their captors.

Mahmud, a Syrian, seems to live where he works, the ‘Yazidi Home Centre’ in north-east Syria. Mahmud and Sheik Zyad, the director of the Centre, lead a group sending female “infiltrators” into the nearby ‘Al-Hol’ refuge camp to locate Yazidi women. Daesh is trying to reconstitute itself by selling Yazidi women to sex trafficking groups. Bereft of any political aim, they are simply a Mafia organisation. Some of the Yazidi women are sold up to 15 times to different sex-slave operators. The fighter’s most important allies are older Arabic women who “look after” the captured Kurdish women evading Mahmud and his female spies by changing tents when the liberators arrive. The search is hampered by their inability to identify the women, post capture, and this is their main setback. Even when a positive identification is made, the real trouble begins: the liberators – including Hirori – are shot at in their cars, and near the end there is an armed attack on the Centre itself. Eylol, the commander of the female troops, also has to use rifles. The number of nationalities in the Camp makes is even more difficult and dangerous to spring the Yazidi women: 58 nationalities are involved, among them citizens of Morocco, Tunisia, Russia, Chechnya, France and Somalia.

Mahmund, whose wife Siham and young son Shadi suffer from his regular absence; but when he visits the nearby Hassaker Prison, where Daesh prisoners are kept, he can confirm the identity of Leila and Dilsoz, who were abducted from the city of Sinjar. Leila has a baby from her Daesh rapist/husband, but when even if her family are alive it’s doubtful they will welcome her with open arms. Finally, young Mitra, who is unable to speak or understand anything but Arabic, will be re-united with her parents – if they can be found. To date, 206 Yazidi women and girls have been rescued, 52 had children born after a rape. When Mahmud takes five of the liberated women to Sinjar, he brings back the same number of female infiltrators.

Like his ‘hosts’, Hirori certainly put his life at stake during the nightly raids. Sabaya is a chronicle of courage, it is filmed like a diary, avoiding dramatic arcs – the continuous action speaks for itself. It could be considered a thriller – but that would sensationalise its sad subject matter. The reality can be found in the faces of the ‘liberated’ women – to call hem the lucky ones would be a sad euphemism. Brutal and unforgiving, Sabaya is a unique tale, told under the most hazardous circumstances. AS



What If? Ehud Barak on War and Peace (2020) Moscow Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Ran Tal; Documentary with Elud Barak; Israel 2020, 85 min.

In his immersive new documentary Israeli director/writer Ran Tal (The Museum), interviews former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The upshot? That war has dominated Israel’s history – from before its foundation of to the ongoing stalemate.

Since the State of Israel came into being, the Premier also served as Defence Minister. This changed in 1967, after the war when battlefield hero General Moshe Dayan became Minister of Defence. Since then, five Prime Ministers have been high ranking military men: Yitzak Rabin, Ygal Allon, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Some people may include Menachem Begin, who was a leading proponent of the Zionist Underground, responsible for the death of over 80 British soldiers in the bombing of the Hotel King David in 1946. Barak was only PM for two years at the turn of the 20th century when he met Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the failed Camp David meeting in 2000, where President Clinton tried in vain to broker an agreement between the two leaders. It turned out to be the last time a peace agreement seemed possible.

Ehud Barak (*1942) grew up in Mishmar Ha Sharon, a small Kibbutz. He remembers nights round the camp fire when the young members of the modest Kibbutz – a family room was a just 11 square meters, and there was no loo – they sang patriotic songs that told how “it was worthwhile to die for one’s country”. 300 meters down the road was the Arab village, the inhabitants “looking like our biblical forefather”. There was no tension between the two communities, but one day, the Arabs disappeared. The Kibbutz suddenly grew, taking, over the land which had belonged to the Arabs. When Barak became Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army he once asked the Chief of Military Intelligence if they should assassinate Yasser Arafat. The answer was negative, since Arafat was deemed to be a political leader.

A few years later, the situation had changed. Barak saw active service in the 1967 war, which, so he believes, was won, “because we attacked first”. In the Yom Kippur War of 1973 (Barak flew in from California, where he was studying), the roles were reversed: Barak was part of heavy fighting in the Sinai peninsula.

After the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, Barak became leader of an Elite Corps, called the ‘Wrath of God’ who targeted terrorist all over Europe, killing, among others, Abbas al-Musawi, the Secretary General of the Hezbollah which he had co-founded. Asked about the civilian victims of these killings, Barak is clear: “When you operate, not to kill civilians, you won’t do anything.”  Referring to the assassination of Sadam Hussain, he claims history could have been entirely different: “Over a hundred thousand lives lost in the Iraq war, might have been saved”.

Strangely enough, the Rabin assassination “is not comparable with the aforementioned terror acts”. Sometimes Barak sounds reasonable: defending the reason to withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon, or offering to divide Jerusalem in four sections, an offer Arafat refused at Camp David. But then he slips back into the warrior position: “We can not offer the Palestinians an enlightened occupation, that would be an oxymoron”. In 2001 Elud Barak lost the General Election to Ariel Sharon – an ex-general, responsible for the massacre at Sabre and Shatila.

No doubt Palestinian leaders are thinking on the same lines as the Israeli commanders – but how can you sit down and negotiate a peace treaty with somebody you would have assassinated, had you had the chance. This is the real oxymoron. Ran Tal’s feature is sad proof the military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will go on for a long time: the language of war speaks loudest. AS


Path of Blood (2017) ****

Dir.: Jonathan Hacker; documentary narrated by Samuel West and with the voice of Tom Hollander; USA 2018, 91 min.

Best known for his groundbreaking TV work Jonathan Hacker’s big screen debut is a chronicle enlivened by Al-Qaeda home movies and propaganda statements, and videos of the Saudi Secret Service and police forces bearing testament to their side in action against the Jihadists in the out-and-out war between Al-Qaeda and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has been raging since 2003. 

Hacker never takes sides. Even the most infuriating statement by the young, un-informed and death-loving Al-Qaeda fighters is simply shown as testimony. The first is Ali, a young man who does not wear a mask and has been chosen to drive a car with a bomb – for which 72 virgins will wait for him in paradise. Asked by his instructor “Ali, what do you say, if you hear, that our acts are a sin against Islam?” Ali does not know the answer and begs “for a more easy question”. Keep it simple, is his repeated refrain. In the same video men are laughing, messing about – your normal gang of teenagers with arrested development. They will play football and talk about their love of death and killing: the fight against the “crusaders”, the police and security forces of Saudi Arabia, is a holy and noble one. “Expel them! Rip them apart! Destroy them until they either die or convert to the true religion”. Western citizens are obviously targets and do not even deserve the option of converting. Victims like the US engineer Paul Marshall Johnson jr., who worked for a company who run Apache helicopters, are simply be-headed – for once, Hacker does spare us the gruesome details, and leaves us with the black images with ‘snow’, which always ends when the videos of the ‘other side’ are about to begin. Older generations will recognise this from the small black and white TV sets, appearing when the programmes of the day were over- quiet a symbolic reference indeed.

In 2004 Al-Qaeda switched targets after they were heavily criticised for killing high numbers of Muslims in their attacks. From now they would attack compounds like Al Hamra, killing foreigners in great numbers. The attack on the oil refinery of Abqaiq could have seriously damaged the Saudi economy if it had succeeded as planned. And in 2009 the Saudi security minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, escaped an assassination attempt, after his forces eliminated more and more cells, like the whole Saudi-Arabian leadership of the Jihad fighters, who had hid in a village villa. Their leaders were killed by the police at roadblocks or petrol stations. But sometimes Al Qaeda got away with murder on a grand scale: a member telling proudly the story how they escaped “after having shot western citizens in a shopping mall, we had a good breakfast, and then Allah made sure, that the forces of the evil-doers did not find us when we fled”.      

All told this offers bloody evidence in the videos from both sides of the hostilities: Nothing is spared in a repetitive cold blooded murder fest. The older zealots send their youth on the gratuitous killing sprees – just for the hell of it. Whilst utterly brilliant, Path of Blood is not for the faint-hearted. Unlike the realistic fiction in films such as The Hurt Locker, this is disturbingly chilling and real. AS

PATH OF BLOOD will be released in cinemas 13th July

Picturehouse Central – London Premiere – 10th July

Curzon DocDays – 17th & 19th July

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