The Plight of Christians in the Middle East

198ffef6-f550-48a0-805b-a79b31c425412.jpgBy Jamie Glazov / | 7/9/2008

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Pierre Rehov, a French filmmaker who has filmed six documentaries on the Palestinian Intifada. One of his recent documentaries, Suicide Killers, explores the psychology of suicide bombers. It is based on interviews with the victims of suicide bombers, the families of suicide bombers, would-be bombers themselves, and experts on suicide killer mentality. He has just completed a film: “First Comes Saturday, Then Comes Sunday,” which explores the plight of Christians in Lebanon, Egypt and Palestinian Territories. He is also working on a film, “Proliferation,” which documents the contagion of suicide killing around the world, including inside the U.S. He recently moved to the U.S.

FP: Pierre Rehov, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Rehov: It is always a pleasure to answer your questions.

FP: Well, it is always a pleasure to listen to your answers.

Tell us about the film you just completed.

Rehov: It’s a film that was inspired by the horrible episode at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002. If you remember, after a series of deadly suicide attacks, which had ravaged Israel, the Israeli government finally decided to eliminate the terror infrastructure inside Palestinian territories. A large military operation took the IDF inside Jenin, Bethlehem and other areas and fierce battles ensued, as Israeli soldiers fought Palestinian gunmen.

In Bethlehem, about 100 Palestinian terrorists and wanted criminals found refuge in the Church of Nativity. The IDF organised a siege which went on for a few weeks, while international media could film, for free, their prime time show at Israel’s expense. From time to time, the Palestinians inside would fire at the soldiers, hoping for retaliation.

During their stay, they desecrated completely this Christian holy shrine. They used priests, monks and nuns as human shields. They behaved like barbarians. But nobody reported the real facts. Nobody really took the side of the poor Christians locked up with those Palestinians. The international media was silent on this crime. The only thing the media could report, day after day, was that the IDF was putting a Christian shrine under siege, risking Christians lives, and not providing those “poor” Palestinians with food or water, which actually was a lie.

FP: So what angle does your film take?

Rehov: My film uses testimonies of some of the monks who had been victims of those Palestinians. It gives footage from different sources and also testimonies of Christians living in Palestinian territories. It tries to understand why the Christian population of Bethlehem, among other Christian towns of the Middle East, has come from being 80% Christian, down to only 20%.

While filming, I discovered what kind of persecution most Christians have had to suffer under Palestinian rules, since Arafat had been in power. The film was very useful for a lot of Christians to understand who their real enemy is, even though many might still be blinded by traditional anti-Semitism.

I started this year five years ago and decided to go back to it. Five years later, having progressed in my work, and looking at this film, I found a lot of technical, artistic mistakes. At the same time, it was only focusing on Palestinian Christians. Last summer, then, I decided to make another film about that important and tragic matter, but this time I extended the subject to Lebanese and Egyptian Christians, in addition to the Palestinian ones. I discovered the suffering of two large and vivid communities under Islamic rules, and was proud and happy to give them a voice through my film.

FP: You have titled the film, “First comes Saturday, then comes Sunday.” What does it mean exactly?

Rehov: A phrase is very well known among Middle East Muslims: “First comes Saturday, then comes Sunday.” This means, first we take care of the “Saturday people” (the Jews), then we will take care of the “Sunday people” (the Christians). I decided to make this sentence the title of this film.

FP: Tell us about your work in progress.

Rehov: That’s “Proliferation.” We have been shooting in different areas around the world, including Iraq, Japan and the Palestinian Territories. The idea is strong and simple: what do American kids, like Cho (the serial murderer of Viriginia Tech ) or the authors of the Columbine tragedy, have in common with a Palestinian or an Iraqi suicide Killer ? “Proliferation” explores how two cultures inter-connect, bringing new mythologies to each other.

While most Iraqi kids would like to become American soldiers, wear Jeans and Nikes, and dream of a country where they could go out at night and watch a film, or simply take a girlfriend to a restaurant, the way some western media approach the phenomenon of suicide killing, leads some psychologically weak American kids to believe that they could become heroes, by just, one day, killing others and killing themselves. Not to say that there is a direct connection between the two. But “it is in the air.” There is a “proliferation.”

The same tools for understanding apply to a Muslim suicide killer and a disturbed teenager in search of an identity through extreme violence and self-destruction. Again and again, I am trying to explain that Suicide Killing is not the result of Israeli occupation, in the Palestinian territories, or the so-called U.S. “invasion” of Iraq, but the cynical use of wickedness by leaders. I like to work with parables, which is the best way to explain things.

FP: Where were you living before you moved to the U.S.?

Rehov: I was living in Paris, where my family moved to in the sixties, after being kicked out of Algeria, where my ancestors had moved to in the fifteen century, escaping from the Spanish inquisition. Same story, again and again. People easily forget what it was to be a Jew in Europe during almost two thousand years, or under Muslim rule, which was not as rough, but still very humiliating for non-Muslims.

FP: What is your take on the overall situation in France?

Rehov: On the economic level, things are getting worse. The French refuse any kind of reform, and they expect the government to handle all problems, including in their daily life. They voted for Sarkozy, hoping for a change, but as soon as he tried to change something, everybody was against him. The French society, as old and complex as it is, is still very immature, due to too many years of Gaulism, under communist influence. The level of Injustice, under cover of social laws, is so high in France that it makes it almost impossible for an independent worker to survive. The socialised medical system which was one of France’s prides in the past, is now completely out of control, driving the whole system to an abyss. Immigration became also an uncontrollable problem, with a level of insecurity in most suburban areas which makes the Bronx look like Disneyland. At a political level, under Sarkozy, France took a nice turn, and I hope to see some positive results in the near future. Being again an official friend of the US is certainly a good sign.

FP: Why did you move to the U.S.?

Rehov: It is my second move to the US. In 1983-84, I was already living in Los Angeles, where I produced a fiction film which happened to be a financial disaster. I learned a lot from that but since then I had always dreamed of coming back here to live.

To be honest, I never felt at home in France. On a personal level, my daughter moved to NY a few months ago, my son hopes to graduate with an MBA when he finishes his third cycle of studies in France, and since I am back writing novels in addition to making films, I could decide to live wherever I want.

I love America, it is in my blood. No matter what, this country will always be the last one standing for freedom and I am a man who puts freedom as the number one essential thing in his life.

The French system is all about security, which is funny when you know how insecure France has become. Now, when I get out in the streets in the U.S. I have the feeling again that I can breath freely, and I don’t look behind my shoulder wondering what I might have done wrong, just because I believe in free enterprise, freedom of expression, and also freedom to expose new kind of fascisms, Islamo-fascism being the most dangerous of all. People in France believe that you have to choose between freedom and safety. I know that freedom is the only safe place, because individuals will always be greater than the systems they create.

FP: Words of wisdom sir. Thank you for joining us.

Rehov: My pleasure.