In the midst of injustice, it is common for people to turn to art as a catalyst for social change. Unfortunately, the masses have become desensitized to war, corruption, and violence; it is not enough to simply hear about injustice – we must feel it. Art has been playing a major role in the fight for justice not only because of the sensory components but for its ability to draw in large audiences as well. There are many different art forms, but film seems to be one that has the widest reach – and hopefully that reach will carry the documentary Palestine: Why The Caged Dove Sings, directed by Sabry Wazwaz. Wazwaz is a Palestinian activist and, in 2014, he decided to create his first documentary on Israel’s brutal military occupation of Palestine. I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview Wazwaz about his debut documentary. He has provided extremely interesting and insightful responses that have the power to inspire many.
MM: Is this your first documentary? Tell us what the process was like getting your project started.
Sabry Wazwaz: Yes, this is my first documentary. I’ve been into activism for a long time, but I never did anything like this before. Michael Moore inspired me with his documentaries and, once I watched 5 Broken Cameras, that’s when I said I have to do this. I need to do even more for the Palestinian people who have been suffering for decades now under Israel’s brutal military occupation which I’ve witnessed for myself and what my wife herself lived under for 18 years until she married me and came to the U.S.
The process was pretty difficult. It took some convincing to get my wife on board with what I would be doing. People who lived under Israel’s Apartheid all know if you go pointing a camera at Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers, you can get shot. She was very worried and so were many family members. I had to pick out a good camera, write an outline on what I would ask and who I would seek to interview. It was a lot more work than I imagined. I needed to make sure I was able to convince people in Palestine that I was not an Israeli spy and there were so many who wouldn’t accept being interviewed because of how fearful they were that they would be persecuted by the Israeli government.
What is the story and influence behind your documentary?
The story is showing people everywhere, but really focusing on the American people, the difference between Zionism and Judaism. Too many people in the U.S. are brainwashed by Fox News and have no idea about what’s really going on regarding the Palestine/Israel conflict. My story is showing the average American how Palestinians are normal people just like everyone else. The influence is to wake up and educate as many people as possible who have no idea about the reality behind Israel’s Apartheid and Racist government. There are Jews across the globe, including friends of mine, who have been fighting for Palestinian rights and doing a much better job than even many Palestinians I know.
“Despite living like caged animals, the Palestinian, Arab Christians and Muslims still keep their spirits high and never give up their dreams of being free.”
Is your documentary’s name based on Maya Angelo’s “I know why the caged bird sings?” If so, I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. Tell me about the similarities.
The title was picked by my cousin’s husband. I used Facebook to get suggestions on titles. The Top 5 “liked” would advance to the next round. When the Top 5 were selected, I then posted on Facebook and Instagram the options and this title was the winner. Way before Dr. Angelou’s book ever came out, the dove was a symbol of peace. My documentary will show just how brutal living under Military Occupation and Apartheid is. Despite living like caged animals, the Palestinian, Arab Christians and Muslims still keep their spirits high and never give up their dreams of being free. As bad as it is for Palestinians, it’s a thousand times worse for the Palestinians in Gaza. They are literally living in an open air prison camp. Right now they only have 3 hours of electricity per day. Only 3! Yet, they still wake up daily with the hope that one day they will finally see the Blockade end and be able to travel in and out as normal people do across the globe. Once I saw this title suggested, I remember thinking, I hope this wins because it fits the Palestinian people perfectly.
What was the biggest challenge creating your documentary?
The biggest challenge was definitely staying alive. When I arrived into Ben Gurion, I was held for 10 hours and treated like some terrorist. 10 hours! While I was filming throughout Israel and Palestine, I was always worried I might get shot by an Israeli soldier or settler. I was always given mean looks. Sometimes, I was in areas where I was surrounded by settlers, and if they didn’t think I was a member of the press, I might’ve been attacked.
Who is your intended audience?
My intended audience is the people in the U.S., especially the Christian conservatives who are clueless about what’s really going on. The majority of the world outside of the U.S. supports the Palestinian people. The only reason it is different in the U.S. is AIPAC. The American Israeli lobby has a string influence on Congress, the Media, and Hollywood. Slowly with social media now, the tides are turning and more and more people in the U.S. are learning the truth about the conflict.
What backlash have you received? Do you have advice to other film/documentary artists on how to combat backlash and adversaries?
The backlash hasn’t hit that hard yet because my documentary has just come out. It’s coming, though. I already knew it would, but I’m not worried. Zionists will eventually throw out how I’m anti-Semitic and their usual defenses as a deflection. I have Jewish friends who will tell you the only complaints they have about me is I feed them too much. I have friends who are from every community. I don’t care what race, gender, or religion a person is. I treat and respect each person with the same manner. My fight is with the Racist Zionist Apartheid state of Israel – not with Jews or Judaism. For example, I am Muslim, and if I found out Jews in Morocco or Iran were not given the same rights as others, I would be on the streets with everyone to protest and demand for their rights. That’s not the case, though. Jews in other Muslim majority countries have the same rights as everyone else. Also, too many people forget Arabs are Semites too. So, if you look at Israel’s Racist laws against Arabs, simply because they are Arabs, that makes Israel the most Anti-Semitic country in the world.
“…The will of the Palestinian people is unbreakable.”
What is the main message you want your audience to learn?
The main message is simple: Ask yourself “Why?”
Why have you never heard about the fact that there are Israeli right-wing extremists who vandalize Christianity’s holiest churches?
Why have you never heard about the Jews from across the globe who condemn and criticize the state of Israel for its racist laws?
Why has the U.S. media never shown any video when, so many times, thousands of Israeli Zionists took to the streets and chanted “Death to All Arabs“ ? They never said Hamas, but to All Arabs.
Why was this never covered on American news networks like FoxNews or CNN?
Why have the American people never ever been told about how Israel has special privileged laws for Jews only and lesser laws for Palestinians because they’re Christian and Muslim?
Why have they never seen or heard from the Jews who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people demanding an end to Israel’s Apartheid?
Why have they never heard about Breaking The Silence (a human rights organization created by former IDF soldiers) which tells the world about the human rights violations and war crimes that they were ordered to do by the Israeli government?
Throughout the whole process, what has been your favorite part?
My favorite part was finishing the documentary. A lot of people doubted me when I first said I would do this back in the summer of 2014 while Gaza was being bombed. I announced it at a pretty big protest with about 500 people. I took an oath that I would do more to help the Palestinian people. Keeping my promise to the mothers who lost their children that I would tell their stories was so important to me. Sitting with them and seeing their hope, despite having their child murdered by settlers, or those who had their lands stolen by the Israeli government, or those who were shot by the IDF, etc., yet still say Alhamdulillah rather than complain or give up their hope of living showed me the will of the Palestinian people is unbreakable.
How do you define success and failure when it comes to film/documentary making?
Success and failure as to this documentary is simple for me. Success, for me, lies in the answers to the questions: Did I show without a doubt that there is a difference between Zionism and Judaism? Can anyone say that me simply advocating for same laws and rights for all Jews, Christians and Muslims and everyone else in the Holy Land is asking for too much? Did I in anyway show any bias? So far, all answers to those three questions were nothing but positive, so I can easily say it’s been a great success making this.
What drove you to pursue documentaries?
As I said earlier, I’ve been a human rights activist for a long time. Not just Palestinian rights, but for immigration rights, Black Lives Matter, women’s rights, LGBT rights. Basically, I believe we need to give all people their rights. You would think it’s a simple request. I have been to D.C. ten times now for protests. I’ve been at thousands of protests covering several parts of the U.S., and after watching Michael Moore’s documentaries and finally 5 Broken Cameras, as I mentioned earlier, I said to myself, I need to at least try and do this.
Tell us about your thoughts on the pros and cons of documentaries as catalysts for social change. Do you think they hold a strong influence about how people view the world?
Honestly, I see only pros when it comes to documentaries, as long as you are not biased and are providing the audience with solid sources and facts. I really believe it can change people – especially people who have no idea about the topic or subject at all.
Did creating this documentary give you hope about the future of Palestine?
Yes, it very much did, actually. It gave me more hope than I ever had before. I truly believe that one day the Apartheid by Israel and it’s Military Occupation will come to an end. We must remember no one back in South Africa ever thought that the Apartheid would end. Segregation in the U.S. was not even that long ago. Things change no matter how bad it is, but it takes time and it takes more involvement. We can’t just stay silent when an injustice is happening anywhere across the globe. People all across the globe need to care about what’s going on in Palestine. It’s not just Muslims who are suffering, but Christians as well as activists, including Atheists, who are also denied human rights and treated like dirt by the Israeli government and the IDF. We must care for each other otherwise humanity will slowly continue to lose it’s way.
This documentary is a must see. If you are anywhere around Columbus, Ohio or want to go on a road trip, the next viewing is on September 9th at 6pm at the Ohio Union on Ohio State University’s campus (1739 N High St Columbus, OH 43210). Wazwaz plans on uploading his documentary to YouTube later this year.