Tuesday, March 15, 2011


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Distributed by the www.ArabAmericanNewsWire.com

Screening at the U.N. General Assembly Followed by Intercultural Dialogue

New York, NY – March 15, 2011 – Last night, the president of the U.N. General Assembly hosted the U.S. premiere of director Julian Schnabel’s latest film, “Miral.” Based on the autobiographical novel of the same title by Palestinian journalist Rula Jebreal, the film stars Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) as a young girl growing up in East Jerusalem who confronts the effects of occupation and war in every corner of her life.

Following the screening, renowned journalist Dan Rather moderated a panel discussion with Schnabel and Jebreal; Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli Air Force Captain who refused to continue flying missions over the occupied territories; Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York; and Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born journalist and speaker on Arab and Muslim issues.

Rather called the film “moving” and then asked Schnabel, who has faced criticism from some Jewish organizations and the Israeli government over the film’s portrayal of Israelis, why he made a film about a Palestinian girl.

Schnabel noted that as a Jewish man whose mother was the president of the service organization Hadassah in 1948, “I love the state of Israel. I am about preserving it, not hurting it.”  He added, “I think that if you listen to the other side there might be a chance of making peace. Because the situation as is, cannot continue. This is wrong.”

This sentiment was echoed by Rabbi Irwin Kula, who praised the film’s personal story as an example of innovative peacemaking.

“After 63 years of conventional diplomatic efforts, we’re pretty far away right now,” the rabbi said. “The conflict has literally crowded out the possibility of empathy on all sides.”

In contrast, he said, a film allows people to experience empathy for a character. “As everyone knows you can’t have understanding without empathy. And this film is fundamentally a meditation on empathy.”

Former Israeli Air Force Captain Yonatan Shapira responded to concerns that the film depicted Israelis in a negative light by saying that the few instances of aggression in the film were minor in comparison to what is actually happening today in the occupied territories.

“It’s a very, very moderate movie,” Shapira said, noting that the Israeli Air Force has been dropping white phosphorus bombs on Palestinian areas, killing children.

“We have to stop it right now,” Shapira said. “Like Martin Luther King Jr. said, liberating the oppressed is also liberating the oppressor. So when the Palestinians are free, the Israelis will also be free.”

Mona Eltahawy linked the recent uprisings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other Arab countries to the Palestinians’ search for self-government, citing today’s plans for peaceful demonstrations for Palestinian unity and autonomy in Gaza and the West Bank.

“People forget that the Palestinians have a long history of nonviolent struggle,” Eltahawy said. “The violence has been held up as a role model, but we don’t hear about all the years of peaceful struggle.”

She praised Jebreal for making a film from the perspective of women, whose voices are not often heard in news coverage of the Middle East. “Women’s stories are the stories that are silenced the most. I salute you Rula, for your honesty and your courage.”

Jebreal credited Hind Husseini and the education she received at the Dar El Tifl orphanage in Jerusalem with helping her to survive the pain and loss of her youth. But she noted sadly that today the orphanage houses very few Palestinian girls, not because there is a lack of needy children but because they cannot travel across the wall that divides the Palestinian and Israeli areas.

Without education, she fears, young girls will be forced into marriage, slide into prostitution, or be used by radicals.

“Should we be attacked for making this movie and talking about this subject, or is the problem that this subject has existed for 63 years?” Jebreal asked.

“Miral” will be released in select theaters in NY and Los Angeles, by The Weinstein Company on March 25, 2011.

For a Preview, Synopsis, Filmmaker Bios, and notes on the Cast & Crew, visit: