Palestinian protesters dressed as a character from the movie “Avatar” take part in a protest demanding the right to return to their homeland, at the Israel-Gaza border in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, May 3, 2018. Photo by Ashraf Amra
This week, as the ‘Great March of Return’ entered its sixth week in Gaza, Palestinian protesters dressed as Na’vi from James Cameron’s $2.7 billion box-office breaking Avatar in an attempt to draw wider recognition to their plight.
This is not the first time Palestinians have turned to morphing into these fictional characters; in 2010 protesters adopted the same iconic characterisation in Bil’in while resisting the effects of the occupation wall. Palestinians then and now are right in recognising the parallels between the plight of the fictional Na’vi characters and their own experiences; both are victims of industrial militarism, predatory colonial capitalism and foreign occupation. Although Mark Fisher is also right to recognise the Na’vi as a primitivist cliché—consisting of an amalgamation of typical indigenous features, coupled with suffering the recurring tale of forced eviction and mass slaughter of colonialist history—the parallel maintains relevance not just for those unfamiliar with the Palestinian story, but even more so for those who attempt understanding its current phase.
This act of creative resistance attempts to exploit the power of universally understood images in a globalised world to stimulate interest and explicate suffering in what is considered a notoriously complex conflict.
The tragedy of having to employ fictionalised representations of suffering to communicate actual, real-world oppression is a grave and serious one. That a metonymic portrayal of dispossession has a better chance of undoing international indifference than the dispossession itself seems to elucidate an incredible amount, not just about the Israel/Palestine conflict, but about our society and ourselves more generally.
Edward Said stressed “humanism is the only resistance we have”. But Gazans, having been blockaded by land, air and sea since 2007, with half the population under the age of 18, have felt the failure of the humanist ideal. For them the truth is simple: the multi-billion dollar image of a blue-skinned alien possesses more potential for stimulating global concern than the image of suffering brown-skinned Palestinians.
For Palestinians to speculate that images of these fictional characters depicted in media could inspire more supranational solidarity among the global public than the stories and images of their real human suffering shows a self-awareness of a tragic reality. Only an occupation so overdue solution could produce such a response. When civilians risk death to walk peacefully along their imposed boundary, the avenues for imaginative protest are clearly restricted. This is what ultimately leads to the willingness to dehumanise oneself in appeal to fans of a film. At the time the most expensive movie ever made, the 3D spectacle Avatar showcases the power of modern technology fuelled by immense capital concentrations, standing in stark contrast to Gaza where clean water is scarce and electricity turned off for days at a time.
It brings the Palestinian resistance into a post-human phase where human value is lost in media transmission—perhaps it was never even there—but is retained (or created out of nothing like a simulacra) by packaging it into un-distortable symbols that transcend human prejudice.
This protest represents an attempt to reach out to the foreign public, as opposed to the intransigent global political class who have been unwilling to demand a ceasefire. Israeli forces have killed 43 demonstrators in the Gaza strip in the last six weeks. Whilst Boris Johnson stated he was “appalled” by the violence, it once again fell on the opposition, led by Jeremy Corbyn, to demand the government call for an independent international inquiry through the UN and to review UK arms sales to Israel. Arms sales now include sniper rifles and have increased ten-fold to $445 million since the onslaught in 2014.
In spite of the troubling implications of the Palestinian’s decision to dehumanize themselves in order to affect sympathy, they are right to acknowledge the potential liberation power of popular public support. As long as we live under a parliamentary system, the public still has the power to press for the importance of a topic—no matter how uniformly a government presents their media agenda to its citizens. If the insistence is powerful enough, politicians are forced to react to achieve public support. We are our politics as much as we may not like to think it.
We are forcing the oppressed into the humiliation of self-dehumanisation to deal with our own disregard of human value. If we want to see peace we can re-humanise Palestinians by reconceptualising all human suffering as our own. We can and we must.
Gaza’s desperation resurrects appeal to Avatar fans
Written by Omar Talab
Co-writer: Bertie Wnek