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Unfogging the War

Flick Chick


Published August 9, 2006 at 4:00 p.m.

One of George W. Bush's favorite talking points has been that Hezbollah is the "root cause" of Lebanon's current conflict. But a young woman here wants to let people know the problem there goes much deeper than that. Sara Mehalick, 23, will host an 8 p.m. benefit screening of "Palestine Is Still the Issue" on Thursday at the Euro Gourmet Market & Cafe in Burlington. The almost hour-long documentary, Australian journalist John Pilger's 2002 sequel to his similarly titled 1977 film, examines the deadly pas de deux that has lasted for half a century.

Mehalick, who graduated from the University of Vermont two years ago, returned to the state in March after spending seven months as a human-rights activist in the embattled West Bank. "I'm trying to raise money now to support my work," she says. "My plan is to go back at the end of October."

Her overseas efforts have been largely geared to participation in nonviolent demonstrations organized by Anarchists Against the Wall, a collective of Israeli anti-Zionists opposed to the 400-mile security fence their government is building to prevent terrorism. The barrier is designed to cut through a significant amount of private Palestinian land.

As Mehalick crossed checkpoints between Tel Aviv and the volatile West Bank city of Ramallah, she often encountered hostility from police. She says that Palestinians living in the occupied territories frequently face much worse humiliation and harassment.

Mehalick's sojourn, which began shortly after she graduated UVM, was initially less about politics than matters of the heart. "I was traveling in Southeast Asia when I met my boyfriend," she explains. He's an Israeli graduate student and a former soldier. As a "refusenik," his intention is to decline obligatory military service now that reservists like him are being recalled to fight in Lebanon.

Mehalick, who is aligned with Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel, seeks donations for admission to the Euro Gourmet event. She studied Hebrew but doesn't have a work permit to qualify for jobs in Tel Aviv. One of her goals is to start a weekly blog in the Holy Land to share experiences and observations with loved ones in the United States.

Even in this intense Information Age, truth continues to be a casualty of war. The London-based filmmaker Pilger has denounced the English-speaking world's supposedly even-handed media coverage of the Middle East powder keg, suggesting, "Impartiality and objectivity mean the establishment point of view."


Yankees beware: American filmmaker Estela Bravo's Fidel is not a very balanced portrait of the controversial Cuban leader, who recently turned over control of the government to his younger brother Raoul. Cable-access Channel 15 will broadcast the 93-minute doc at 6 p.m. this Sunday. While Fidel lacks opposing perspectives, however, it does present remarkable footage, such as the image of a somewhat flabby Castro swimming with his bodyguards in the warm waters of the Caribbean; or the moment, during a victory speech four decades ago, when hundreds of white doves were released over the crowd and one chose to land on the commandante's shoulder. Superstitious supporters saw it as a divine blessing. U.S. intelligence operatives who have been out to kill him ever since the 1959 revolution would probably have preferred to see the birds poop.

There's also a vintage Edward R. Murrow interview on CBS with a charming Fidel in pajamas, sitting next to his young son of the same name, who is holding a puppy. But in the film, warm-and-fuzzy gives way to the loquacious, angry guerrilla commander in his ever-present military fatigues. The human being inside the uniform is certainly a rare sight in this country.

Estela Bravo's credentials stretch back 30 years, including extensive nonfiction work that has aired on PBS and CBC. She had unique access to Castro, showing him sometimes in a reflective mood or displaying a keen sense of humor. World leaders such as Nelson Mandela warmly embrace him. The film also includes commentaries, generally disapproving of American foreign policy, from novelists Alice Walker and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hollywood director Sydney Pollack, singer Harry Belafonte and former diplomat Wayne Smith.

Missing in Fidel, though, is the critical voice of the Cuban exile community. At the very least, it would have been appropriate to once again hear the shrill cries of little Elian's infamous Miami relatives.