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ASU shows film about Palestine after interim agreement

FILM+SHOWING+-+The+ASU+screens+5+Broken+Cameras+during+lunch
Desmond Parsons
FILM SHOWING – The ASU screens 5 Broken Cameras during lunch

After months of controversy, the Arab Student Union and the Jackson-Reed administration reached an agreement in federal court last month allowing the student group to screen a documentary about Palestine in school.

The agreement settles the ASU’s immediate demands filed in its April lawsuit against Principal Sah Brown and DC. The lawsuit alleges that Brown and the District violated the students’ First Amendment rights by forbidding the group from showing the documentary, The Occupation of the American Mind, prohibiting the distribution of pro-Palestinian literature, and postponing a Palestinian culture night.

With the agreement, the ASU withdrew its immediate demand to show The Occupation of The American Mind film, which the D.C. Attorney General’s office in a court filing labeled “inflammatory and offensive.” Instead, the group was allowed to screen one of three alternative films, The Wanted 18, Farha, or 5 Broken Cameras, and distribute a modified zine before the end of the school year.

The parties also agreed that Brown would write an email stating that the ASU “will be treated the same as other student clubs—the same policies, the same procedures—which they don’t believe was true this year,” Arthur Spitzer, senior counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the ASU, told the Beacon.

The chosen alternate film, 5 Broken Cameras, was shown on May 29 and 30 during lunch. The film, co-directed by Palestinian Emad Burnat and Israeli Guy Davidi and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, details non-violent resistance in the West Bank village of Bil’in where Israel is building a security barrier.

The film shows “the daily struggle of the Palestinian people living under [Israeli] occupation” in the West Bank, an ASU member said. “Most people hear about Gaza and not a lot of attention is being focused on the West Bank,” they continued.

It took us five months to show [a] movie so it definitely is really important,” the member added. “It is kind of crazy that we had to sue the school [and] do all of this stuff in order to simply show a movie in a classroom.”

Some within the community oppose ever showing the Occupation of the American Mind at Jackson-Reed.

Two JR parents, the Brandeis Center, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, and the American Jewish Committee filed an amicus brief supporting the school’s decision to bar the showing of The Occupation of the American Mind.

Dr. Edna Friedberg, a historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a JR parent responsible for filing the brief, said that showing the movie perpetuates hate speech. The 2016 film, she said, “leans into very well-known lies and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories about Jewish power, about Jewish wealth, control of the media.”

Regarding the three alternative films proposed in the settlement, Friedberg said she had not watched them but said “it is possible to be anti-Israel without being antisemitic.”

Spitzer said that despite the agreement and the showing of 5 Broken Cameras, the ASU lawsuit is still active. He said the settlement is “only the very first stage of the case and there are potentially many stages to go.”

The court urged the parties to reach an agreement on the remaining unresolved issues, namely whether or not The Occupation of the American Mind will be shown at JR.

While ASU members believe that showing 5 Broken Cameras was an important milestone, the ASU still wants to show the Occupation of the American Mind at school and “do the same kinds of activities in the coming years—showing other films, putting on other presentations, handing out other literature without the months-long delays and instructions that they faced this year,” Spitzer continued.

Spitzer said that any further action regarding the lawsuit would depend on the defendants’ next steps. Brown declined to comment on the interim settlement and the state of the lawsuit.

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About the Contributors
Isadora Groves
Isadora Groves, Editor-in-Chief
  • 2021-23: Junior Editor
  • 2023-24: News Editor
Devan Mehta
Devan Mehta, News Editor
Devan is the person on the Beacon with the best hot takes, which ultimately is why she is one of the fabulous opinion editors. She does theater, choir, and Bollywood dance but manages to still be opinionated in all of those things! You will often find her reading a romance novel, watching the Baltimore Ravens, or doing both at the same time. She also would give Taylor Swift literally any of her organs if necessary.
  • 2021-23: Junior Editor
  • 2022-24: Opinions Editor
Gil Leifman
Gil Leifman, News Editor
  • 2023-24: Assistant News Editor
Desmond Parsons, Photo Editor
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