Disturbing the Peace | Leonardo/ISAST

Disturbing the Peace

Disturbing the Peace
by Stephen Apkon, Andrew Young, Marcina Hale, Directors

Reconsider Films, 2016
DVD, 82 mins., English, Arabic & Hebrew with English Subtitles
Public performance rights purchase, $350; rental $95
Organization website: https://www.disturbingthepeacefilm.com.

The Activists: War, Peace, And Politics in the Streets
by Melody Shemtov., Director

Bullfrog Films, Oley, PA, 2017
DVD, 60 mins., SDH Captioned
Public performance rights purchase $295; rental $95
Organization website: http://www.bullfrogfilms.com.

Reviewed by: 
Enzo Ferrara
April 2020

Democracy depends on solidarity and, to survive, must produce its own solidarity, over and over, in the face of new challenges ––Jedediah Britton-Purdy (Dissent, winter 2020).

As noted in The Activists, the two films under review deal with “people involved in action with the goal to bring about social, political, environmental, or other intentional change.” The here-considered action mainly addresses peace processes and aims at raising international war-end politics, such as in the past with Vietnam and Korea, now for Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and the Occupied Territories of Palestine.

It is refreshing to hear voices of hope in a world that abandoned the very idea of peace as a dynamic equilibrium among different interests, to be continuously reinforced “in the face of new challenges” by implementations of democracy, participation and freedom. What most politicians intend for peace nowadays is more faithful to a “depiction of peace,” used to seal the status quo imposed by the stronger through occupation, checkpoints, walls, drone control, and military surveillance.

André Trocmé, the Protestant leader in the French village of Le Chambon sur Lignon where hundreds of Jews found salvation during the Nazi occupation, exhorted to adopt two visions of the world: an exterior one to perceive reality “as it is” although unpleasant, and an interior one, utopist, seeking at reality “as it should be” (André Trocmé, Jesus and the Nonviolent Revolution, 1971). [1] Until we separate these views, the world is flat and with no depth, either in the first vision as a sequence of phenomena with no reason, origin or end, and in the second vision isolated from the sensible world as an ideal without support to become realities. We ought to be capable of seeing reality with stereoscopic vision – explained Trocmé – and our eyes along with our spirit should be able to superimpose the two images, each one gained with relief, depth, and meaning that monocular visions cannot give. The message of Trocmé emerges from both of the films: to let people see the world in deep, someone or something must disturb the widely shared status quo vision representing peace as a matter of control and domination, and stand to address peace differently as an obligatory condition for humankind to share a more secure and free world.

The first title, Disturbing the Peace, is set in Palestine starting at the end of the Al-Aqsa, or second Intifada, a period (2000-2005) of intensified Israeli–Palestinian violence. It challenges the need, in order to achieve peace, to contest a system that systematically denies the humanity of the other side, as it happens in all conflicts. Primo Levi and Hannah Arendt explained – e.g. in The Drowned and the Saved (1986), and The Banality of Evil (1963), respectively, that it is impossible for normal people to murder somebody having name, family, hopes, dreams and fears like ours and yet remain sane. In order to transform humans in killers without unsustainable pain, the enemy has to remain vague: a target rather than a human being. This was the initial vision shared by S. Khatib, J. Qassas, S. Al-Qudsi, and M. Owedah on the Palestinian side, and C. Alon, A. Wishnitzer, M. Hascal, and A. Yacobovitz on the Israeli side, whose experiences is shared along the documentary. After being involved with violence during anti-occupation guerrilla or while serving in the Israeli Defense Force-IDF, they changed their vision of the affairs in the Middle East and took an irreversible walk on the path of peace recognizing even enemies like potential fellows, as all of them are now: nonviolent activists on both sides of the conflicts.

One focus is on the episode in January 2002 when 52 IDF reservists made a call to refuse fighting beyond the Green Line (i.e. Israel’s pre-1967 border), a limit after which military intervention was considered not defensive but for the purpose of dominating and expelling the Palestinians. The call rapidly collected 500 signatories of IDF officers and soldiers. The so-called “refusal community” (refuseniks) of Israelis who have declined military service for whatever reason numbers now in thousands.

Likewise in the former case of Yesh Gvul (There is a limit) movement that in 1982 arose against the Lebanon War, one can question whether the refuseniks had really affected on the Israeli political discourse, challenging the long domination of Israeli society by the military and its values. The same question can be posed to the other side wondering on the real impact on the Palestinian political elites had by the “betrayal” committed by renegade combatants and unsuccessful ex-suicide bombers meeting with their enemies. However, the point here is not on the Israeli and Palestinian political system, it is on the path that transformed former enemy combatants that have eventually joined to challenge the status quo.

Revealing their transformational journeys from soldiers to nonviolent peace activists, Disturbing the peace evokes universal themes and inspires in the creation of a world that mainstream communication tends to ignore. Enlarging the viewpoint from the Middle East to the existing cases of civil rebellion is a task efficaciously accomplished by the second title under review, The Activists: War, Peace, and Politics in the streets (2017). The author is the filmmaker Melody Shemtov. With the political sociologist Michael T. Heaney, she compiled over 100 hours of footage and interviews with many anti-war leaders, like Leslie Cagan (United for Peace and Justice) and Medea Benjamin (Code Pink), scholars like Tom Hayden and ordinary people – among whose many joined first the military and became later its opponents – painting a comprehensive picture of their movements.

Although civil movements are a customary part of the struggle for peace, justice and civil rights in American society, hardly they are thought to have influence over the conduct of inner and foreign policies. Yet their experiences helped in collective learning about speaking out in the face of injustice, as during the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street or for Fridays For Future and Extinction Rebellion more recent experiences. Furthermore, in Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, August 2011) E. Chenoweth and M. J. Stephan observe that campaigns of nonviolent resistance in the XX century had been more effective than violent events that only rarely appears justifiable on strategic grounds. Nonviolence took advantage (e.g. by presenting fewer obstacles to moral and physical involvement), producing education and direct information (e.g. just by crowdfunded movie like The Activists) attracting support from citizens, and separating regimes from propaganda that is their main sources of power.

This is an issue also for the polarization of American electoral politics: as the movie was shot between 2008 and 2010 in Washington DC, New York, Colorado, Atlanta, and Minnesota, one chapter is on hope first, regret later for Barak Obama election in 2009, widely sustained initially by the anti-war movements. Peace requires more than just the practice of voting every four or five years. Higher levels of committed participation contribute to enhanced resilience, which outcomes at least in more durable and internally peaceful democracies. Neither the pressure exercised by active citizens on their government is sufficient. It is necessary that the human potential of the whole community is unleashed to stop entire nations participating in conflicts that continuously change their declared objectives and ought to be managed by the already available means of international politics. That is what one can learn by these instructive and educational DVDs: taking action to create new possibilities is what democracy and freedom ask us to practice, with the power of our convictions, participation, and activism.


[1] Currently available in printed editions through Orbis Books, New York, and Plough Publishing, Farmington PA press houses, eBook free download https://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/nonviolence/jesus-and-the-nonviolent-revolution.