Palestinians Use 'Avatar' to Protest West Bank Barrier
2010-02-13 0:00

By Carl Franzen |

The conflict in the Middle East took on an especially cinematic quality Friday, when activists representing a small Palestinian village dressed up like the oppressed aliens from the blockbuster movie "Avatar" before staging a demonstration in front of the Israeli West Bank barrier.

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"When people around the world who have watched the film see our demonstration and the conditions that provoked it, they will realize that the situations are identical," said Mohammed Khatib, one of the leading Palestinian protesters against the barrier.

In an interview with AOL News, Khatib explained how the idea to impersonate Na'vi, the movie's subjugated blue-skinned race, sprouted in Europe. There, a Palestinian author and documentary filmmaker named Liana Badr was so moved by the film's similarity to the Palestinian experience in the West Bank that she recommended it to Khatib.

Unfortunately, Khatib and his fellow villagers couldn't just rush off and catch the next matinee there are no cinemas in their area, he said. Instead, a fellow activist snagged a bootlegged copy last Sunday.

"After we watched it, we began to do research on the film and discovered how much attention it was getting around the world," Khatib said of the film that has grossed more than $2 billion so far around the world. "We learned that Chinese villagers had adopted the name of the mountain range in the film for their own mountains, that hundreds of millions of people around the world saw and sympathized with the Na'vi."

Immediately drawing a parallel between the Israelis who have joined their movement and Avatar's human hero-turned-alien Jake Sully, Khatib and his fellow activists began planning the event. Ibrahim al Kadi, a visual artist from a nearby village, was recruited to handle makeup. Others gathered rubbish to use as makeshift props.

Six days later, five protesters, including three Israelis, marched up to the Israeli Army blockade in full Na'vi gear. As they chanted for an end to the occupation of their lands, a bevy of journalists and various onlookers followed. Israeli forces responded by firing dozens of rounds of tear gas and sound grenades at the movie impersonators.

"At first they were surprised," Khatib said with a laugh. "But then they began shooting and we felt like it was a scene from the movie again, except it was real, and it was taking place in the village."

Despite the Israeli response, Khatib considers the event a success.

"We're very proud of how it happened," he told AOL News. "It drew much media attention to our cause. Like the film, the occupation has sent us a message that they can take whatever they want and we can't stop them. But we sent them a message in return: They cannot take whatever they want. This is our land!"

The rural villagers of Bil'in, population 1,800, say they are separated from a majority of their farmlands by fences, barbed wire and an Israeli military blockade that is part of a 256-mile-long barrier Israel began building in 2002 amid a sharp uptick in attacks by Palestinian militants.

Two years later, the the International Court of Justice ruled that the barrier violated international human and property rights and issued a resolution calling for Israel to halt new construction and dismantle those sections that crossed into the West Bank territories. Israel's own Supreme Court decisively rejected this in 2005, however, prompting influential residents of Bil'in and international activists to begin holding civil demonstrations every Friday. CNN notes the protesters claims that six of their number have been killed by Israeli forces since then.

Over the years, the demonstrations have grown increasingly artistic and theatrical as activists began appropriating images from global pop culture in an effort to attract a wider audience and draw sympathy to their cause. A giant paper chain of people holding hands, a classic pinstripe chain gang and Santa Claus have also made their way into the weekly protests.

Two and a half years ago, the Israeli Supreme Court changed its mind and ordered that the path of the Bil'in fence be adjusted to give back 30 percent of the land. While the Bil'in activists have embraced the gesture, they still don't believe it is enough and plan to keep protesting until the Israeli army leaves their town and removes the barrier.

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