For over a decade, whenever I’ve asked Palestinian grassroots leaders about the models of inspiration that they draw on, they’ve consistently pointed towards the First Intifada. I knew after years of filmmaking in the region that, despite the First Intifada’s immense status among Palestinians, it remained seriously misunderstood internationally, clouded by a dominant narrative that simplified the uprising with a single image: stone-throwing Palestinian youth facing off against Israeli tanks. When the Just Vision team decided to conduct our own in-depth research, we came to grasp just how much of the story had become obscured by history. The First Intifada was not only a vibrant, strategic and sustained nonviolent civil resistance movement; for months, it was led by a network of Palestinian women who were fighting the 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 for today’s rising leaders. We felt it was our responsibility to provide a more holistic account of that time, illuminating how Palestinians have historically engaged in nonviolent activism, underscoring the power of civil society in creating change and elevating the role of women in civil resistance.

The project held an even greater urgency in the wake of the most recent US elections, as I witnessed not only a scaling back of civil and political liberties in the country I’ve come to call home, but also a vibrant women’s movement standing up and fighting back. From the First Intifada to the present moment, it became clear: women’s leadership in civil society organizing is vital, but too often sidelined or ignored. That’s a troubling trend, because a number of academic studies have demonstrated that movements with women in leadership positions are more likely to employ nonviolent tactics. And movements that employ unarmed civil resistance are much more likely to achieve their goals. This research resonates strongly with what Just Vision has observed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for over 14 years, including in the successful struggle against the separation barrier waged by Budrus - a village in the West Bank and the subject of our 2009 film - in which women and girls in the village 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 from the struggles, but often misrepresents the struggles themselves, as well as the demands behind those struggles. Naila and the Uprising is a call to pay attention to those movements, in real time and historically, so their courage and creativity can be leveraged, replicated and ultimately effective. 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 nearly four years ago, 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 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 in the course of making this film who demonstrated incredible courage and resilience – both in their ongoing resistance on so many levels and in stepping forward to tell their stories, despite the challenges that they face. It is our hope that their experiences will inspire and inform audiences worldwide just as they have moved and educated me.

Julia Bacha (2017)