By: Ellen Grefberg
It’s easy to understand why Palestinian filmmaker Osama Qashoo finds it difficult to trust people – after all, he was on the ill-fated Gaza ‘Freedom Flotilla’ in 2010, he’s been shot six times and imprisoned on 28 occasions since he was a boy and first threw stones at tanks.
London has been Osama’s home town since the age of twenty but he’s always travelling following his passion for human rights; demonstrating to bring about regime change. He has travelled across the Middle East in the light of the Arab Spring uprisings and the sweeping changes. These, he feels, are the first stage of a global movement of peaceful change for social justice arising from the experiences in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.
“Before I came to London I didn’t think much of the fact I’d been in prison 27 times in Palestine; it was almost part of everyday life. Then when I came here I thought, ‘this is messed up’.
“I’ve nearly been killed because of my passion for change,” he says, explaining his lack of trust. “My family has been affected, and three of my close friends have died under very suspicious circumstances. One was drowned with his hands tied behind his back. They called it suicide. Have you ever heard of anybody killing himself like that?”
Osama studied at the National Film and Television School in London and is now building a reputation as a filmmaker exploring the power of youth as a force for social change and creativity, in particular in the Arab world.
He has produced and directed a number of films including “My Dear Olive Tree” which drew attention to Israel’s destruction of olive trees in Palestine and which, he says, led to two million olive trees being planted in Palestine. The film came about from “the irony of my existence in London and my discovery of peace doves made from olive trees of the Holy Land.”
His first feature film is currently in pre-production. “Emergency Radio” is a story of two young men coming of age as radio DJs in Palestine.
“You meet the whole world here,” he says of London, “If the whole world wasn’t here, London would be very boring. London is an expensive place and all that, but it is the best place for people who want to feel like they are part of something.
“Like more than 5 million Palestinians, I am forbidden by Israel to return to Palestine.” Osama knew in May 2010 on the Mavi Marmara, one of eight ships in the ‘freedom flotilla’ which sailed towards Gaza, that he would not reach the country of his birth that time either.
“We didn’t expect to reach Gaza,” he says, “but we didn’t expect 25 helicopters, over 60 Zodiacs and four war carriers attacking us on international water either. We did defend ourselves when they came – as we had said. But, where we had pipes and chairs, they had bullets and tear gas.” It became the 28th time Osama had been imprisoned by Israel.
“I lost my faith in humanity on that ship,” he says. His face twists in pain for a second as he remembers the victims of Mavi Marmara; but he is also proud of the results. “Now people talk about Gaza ‘before’ and ‘after’ the ships,” he declares with a crooked smile. “The eyes of the world turned to Gaza; now much more aid reaches the country after Egypt eased some of the sanctions.”
When asked about the future, Osama has his goals figured out, counting them out on his fingers: “I want to make a successful film, learn how to play the piano, drive a car and remove a few dictators.” When asked what the deadline for all of this is: “two years”, he says with a smile.
So what drives a person like Osama to carry on? “I don’t want to be high profile,” Osama explains, “I just want to do what everyone should be doing.”
Does he expect to be arrested a 29th time? “I am not afraid of being arrested but I will face challenges: jail, bullets, harassment. And, if you hear I die in a car accident, it won’t be an accident,” he says with a wry laugh which doesn’t reach his eyes.
Next up for Osama Qashoo is another trip to somewhere in Europe or North Africa – anywhere he feels he can get involved, and make a difference, removing ‘a few dictators’. He has yet to decide where it will be next, and even if he had, I have a feeling he wouldn’t tell me where he was going.
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