Creighton’s Muslim Student Association, in collaboration with Nebraskans for Peace, hosted a showing of the 2018 documentary “Imprisoning a Generation” last Tuesday.
As detailed on its website, “Imprisoning a Generation” tells the effects that Israeli military and political systems have on four Palestinian children. Through these children’s experiences, Zelda Edmunds, director of the documentary, aims to reveal the “entangled structures of oppression that expand well beyond prison walls.”
Before the film, Edmunds explained her intentional focus on the Palestinian perspective.
“I think so often in our society, especially in predominant white places in our society, we tend to feel that the voices of those speaking from their own experiences have to be validated by other people,” Edmunds said. “Often, we see this pattern of validation that is required in order to take people’s experiences as truth. And so, I wanted to kind of break that pattern, and that’s why you will be only hearing from Palestinian voices in this film.”
Following the documentary, a panel of people with various ethnic perspectives discussed their insights on the film in relation to their own group’s experience with imprisonment and fighting for justice.
The panelists featured the perspectives of Laurie Dance, a sociology and ethics professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who offered her African American perspective; Lucinda Mesteth, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe and contributor of the Native American perspective; and Sharon Ishii-Jordan, former Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences who shared her Japanese-American experience.
Dance began the discussion with the parallels she drew between the children in Palestine and the young people she worked with in low income communities in the United States and Sweden.
“What I have noticed, and this is also backed up by research, is this tendency to treat teens and preteens as hard-core adults,” Dance said. “This ‘adultification’ of brown and black bodies is something that is well studied in the United States. And with the Israeli officials and the [Israeli Defense Forces] in particular that we saw in the film, I see the ‘adultification’ of children as one of many ways to dehumanize a people. What I saw going on in the documentary and what I’ve seen going on in the [youth] I worked with in Sweden and the U.S. is a form of social death — denying people the right to have rights.”
Mesteth also drew parallels between the experiences of Palestinians living near Israeli settlements and the Native American experience during the colonization and expansion of the U.S.
“I’ve learned a ton about what is happening to the traumatized mind, and it’s [going to] take generations to repair the injuries that occurred,” Mesteth said. “[The Native Americans] suffered a huge amount — mentally, socially, economically — and I can see the parallel here in this film. The families, the children, everybody is over and over being inflicted with trauma. One other parallel that I see is settler’s colonization being enforced by a military effort. The government is basically making it OK for the infringement on borderlines that were carved out, sometimes even in blood.”
In the same vein, Ishii-Jordan shared her comparison of the imprisonment of young Palestinians and the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II.
“The actions of the U.S. with the detention of Japanese-Americans came as a result of arrests because of who they were, not what they did,” Ishii-Jordan said. “There are also similarities between the two groups in terms of resistance, especially from the youth. When you consider places where there is oppression, it is the young people who stand out. The resistance that occurred with the Japanese-Americans in the camps was also tamped down by arrests. They were resisting being in the camps as American citizens, rights having been taken away.”
The evening ended with a question and answer period for the panel.
An audience member asked Dance about what solutions were working in the communities she studied. One of the solutions she mentioned was the critical personhood resuscitation of the oppressed people, in which people stop persecuting them based on an idea of who they are but instead saw each person’s individual complexity.
Another solution she offered was the importance of teachers to not participate in the racial profiling and dehumanization of their students in the community.
“It all boils down to seeing [each person’s] complex humanity,” Dance said.