For over a decade, whenever I’ve asked Palestinian grassroots leaders about the models of inspiration that they draw on, they’ve consistently pointed to the First Intifada. I knew after years of filmmaking in the region that, despite the First Intifada’s immense status among Palestinians, it remained misunderstood internationally, shaped by a dominant narrative steeped in a law-and-order frame that largely overlooked the daily grassroots organizing at the core of the uprising. When the Just Vision team decided to conduct our own in-depth research, we came to grasp just how much of the story had been obscured. The First Intifada was not only a vibrant, strategic and sustained nonviolent civil resistance movement; for months, it was also led by a network of Palestinian women who were fighting a dual struggle for national liberation and gender equality.
We knew we wanted to bring this story to light by producing a documentary that could provide insight and wisdom from the veteran women activists of the First Intifada to today’s rising leaders. We felt it was crucial to provide a more holistic account of that time, illuminating how Palestinians have historically engaged in unarmed resistance efforts, underscoring the power of civil society in creating change and elevating the role of women in movement building.
The lessons of Naila and the Uprising are as relevant today as they were in 1987. Women across the globe continue their struggle for basic freedoms and dignity. From the First Intifada to the present moment, it’s clear: women’s leadership in civil society organizing is vital. But too often, their work is sidelined or ignored. That’s a troubling trend, particularly as a number of academic studies have demonstrated that movements that support women’s leadership are more likely to employ nonviolent tactics. And those that employ unarmed civil resistance are much more likely to achieve their goals. This research resonates strongly with what Just Vision has observed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories for over 15 years, including in the successful struggle against the separation wall waged by Budrus – a village in the West Bank and the subject of our 2009 film – in which women and girls played a central role.
Our research on the First Intifada made it clear that the women in Budrus were drawing from a deep legacy. Women have consistently been a part of influential social movements coming out of the Middle East, but time and again, the cameras focus on armed men, leaving us with a narrative that not only erases women, but also misrepresents the struggles themselves, as well as the demands behind those struggles. Naila and the Uprising calls attention to those movements, in real time and historically, so that the courage and creativity of women can be amplified and leveraged. The film is also a cautionary tale for what happens when women are stripped of their leadership roles and excluded from ongoing struggles.
When the team at Just Vision first embarked on Naila and the Uprising, we knew that surfacing this history was important. But we didn’t fully anticipate exactly how timely the film would be. The women in Naila and the Uprising are not only role models for the rising generation of Palestinians and Israelis struggling for justice, freedom, dignity and equality. They also illuminate lessons and legacies for communities around the globe who are demanding more of their political leaders as they organize for the rights and well-being of all.
We were privileged to connect with dozens of women while making this film. They demonstrated incredible courage and resilience – in their ongoing resistance and as they step forward to tell their stories. It is our hope that their experiences will inspire and inform audiences worldwide just as they have moved and educated us.
Julia Bacha (2017)