Documentary about Palestinian activist

Film director Line Halvorsen cant get past her latest documentary, USA v. Al-Arian, a movie about the Palestinian activist Sami Al-Arian, a university professor in Florida, who is imprisoned on terrorism charges.

Ola Flyum 10.09.2008 15:07

Line Halvorsen.

Halvorsen, originally from Trondheim, Norway, says she can´t start new projects before she has done her uttermost to tell the world about what she says is a ”kafkaesque” case against the Al- Arian family in Florida.

Since it first screening in January 2007 the documentary has been screened at more than 80 film festivals. In addition to earning favourable reviews, it has also won prizes at some of the film festivals. Halvorsen is frequently in touch with the Al-Arian family. ”I have several ideas, but they are on hold for now,” she says.

We met Halvorsen in New York City where the documentary was shown at the film festival organized by Human Rights Watch. The films photographer, Tone Andersen, also from Trondheim, and Sami´s son, Abdullah, were also present at the showing.

Both Halvorsen and Andersen has lived for extended periods of time in Israel and the Occupied Territories, where they made another documentary called A Stone´s Throw Away, about young Palestinians resisting the occupation. The documentary about Al-Arians case was not set up for regular screening in movie theatres in the U.S., but it has been shown on numerous festivals. Human rights groups and church groups have also organized viewings.

However, a movie theatre owner in Los Angeles refused to show it as he deemed it to ”radical”. At the showing in New York most of the people in attendance stayed for a Q and A session with Halvorsen and Abdullah Al-Arian. A political prisoner Sami Al-Arian is still in prison and his son Abdullah says his dad is a political prisoner. Al-Arian has been acquitted of the charges of terrorism, he has also served his sentence for the lesser charges. Still the Palestinian professor remains in prison.

To end the case, and for the sake of his family who intend to stay in the U.S., Sami Al-Arian came to an agreement with the authorities to leave the US. Al-Arian has lived in the country for 35 years.

The challenge is to find a country that is willing to let him stay. Even though he has served his sentence, Al-Arian will be in prison until this is solved.

”The Bush administration uses the case against Al-Arian to set a precedent in its fight against Palestinians. This made it almost impossible to expect a just verdict. This is like when the blacks didn’t have the same rights as white,” says Abdullah Al-Arian, who says it is a bitter paradox that his dad only can regain his freedom if he leaves the ”the land of the free”.

The reason the authorities are refusing to release Al-Arian from prison is that he denied testifying against former colleagues and activists in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. By not doing this, the U.S. authorities say Al-Arian broke the agreement between the two parties. Instead he was found guilty in contempt of court, which prolonged his time in prison.

Al-Arian says he will not testify against his friends out of principle. In addition, he fears for the safety of his family is he does testify. Al-Arian has protested by having several long-lasting hunger strikes in prison. Both Halvorsen and Andersen are pleased with the reception the documentary received in New York.

”In most of the places we have shown the movie people contact us to tell us about similar cases in the U.S. It just shows how strong the fear of terrorism is in the U.S.,” says Andersen.

She has already started on a new documentary project about Bosnia.