Palestinian leaders in Israeli prisons. "At least 10,000 Palestinians are imprisoned in Israeli jails today. They are called 'Security Prisoners'. For most Israelis they are assassins and criminals. For most Palestinians they are heroes and freedom-fighters.
With unique access to the most guarded Palestinian prisoners in Israel, director Shimon Dotan and producer Arik Bernstein explore the evolution of the Palestinian Prisoners into a political force and the impact that's having on Palestinian politics out of jail. The film culminates in the historic elections to the Palestinian Parliament on January 20, 2006, which brought to power the militant Islamic organization Hamas.
HotHouse tells the stories of Hasan Yusuf, Hamas leader in the West Bank, who was recently elected to Parliament from his prison cell; Abu Naji, Fatah leader in jail, imprisoned for more than 24 years; Ahlam Tamimni, Hamas leader of the female prisoners, sentenced to 16 life terms for planning and executing the attack on the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem.
The prison experience has become a Palestinian rite of passage, and the prisons for Security Prisoners are in fact nationalist academies - seen by Palestinians as their Robben Island. The film raises questions about the impact of this incubator-culture on both Israeli and Palestinian society.
Avi Lewis: "In doing the research for this show, I've been struck by how the issue of Palestinian leadership in Israeli jails has been overlooked in the Canadian conversation. After all, the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah and one by Hamas in the run-up to the war in Lebanon were intended as part of a long-standing ritual of prisoner exchanges. Prisoners are at the heart of the current conflict. The film, by renowned Israeli director Shimon Dotan, gives us a portrait of the prison leadership that complicates the prevailing discourse. The prisoners are presented as intellectuals and news junkies, studying at the Hebrew University via correspondence and immersed in the details of the conflict through Israeli TV and newspapers. Some are chillingly unrepentant about their participation in suicide bombings. Others are clearly committed to negotiation and compromise. None speaks of torture or mistreatment at the hands of Israeli authorities - in fact, the relationship with the prison warden is presented as positively collegial.
I have no doubt that some will see the film as too soft on the prisoners, and others will say it's too soft on the jailers - this portrait of prison life will surely be critiqued for what it leaves out as much as what it leaves in. But beyond the debate about the film, I think that focusing on Palestinian prisoners will allow us to take on issues that go much deeper than the current crisis.
The film challenges the black and white, "good guys vs. bad guys" paradigm that dominates the discussion about terrorism these days. It asks complicated questions about how Israel is creating the conditions in which Palestinian leaders are emerging. It will provoke a historical discussion of the targeting of civilians by national liberation struggles - from the IRA and the ANC to the early days of the Zionist struggle for Israel itself. And if we can manage it in the fraught atmosphere of today's debate, it might shed some light on how to shift from the extreme positions of wartime to the constructive compromises of negotiation."
Moshe Ronen, Canada-Israel Committee
Adam Hanieh, Sumoud Palestinian Political Prisoner Solidarity Group
Arik Bernstein, Producer, HotHouse
MJ Rosenberg, Israel Policy Forum
Jonathan Halevi, former advisor to Israel on Foreign Affairs
Norman Finkelstein, Author, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History
Ahmed Hanoud Sholi, former political prisoner
Rafeef Ziadeh, Sumoud Palestinian Political Prisoner Solidarity Group"
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