Mustafa Azizi is a Nabulsi filmmaker, Executive Director of multi-media company Karakeeb, and staunch supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. I sat down with him to discuss his experiences as a journalist student, film-maker and Palestinian living under Israeli occupation.
Shutting the windows of the office, Mustafa turns to me and mutters, “On a Friday they drill in the street. They should not be allowed! It is Friday, we must pray and rest. We need quiet.” Sitting to join us, Mustafa leans back in his chair and begins to speak, “I was a journalist student at Al Najah university between 2001 and 2006.” Punctuating his sentences with cautious sips of hot tea, he continues, “I was a student during the worst time - during the intifada and the invasion.”
Eyes fixated intensely on my own, he explains that in five years of studies, the journalism department lost thirteen pupils to violence. “It was crazy,” he says, his voice suddenly losing its intensity as he recounts how violence permeated into every aspect of college life.
Although Mustafa studied all journalistic mediums at Al Najah, he quickly determined himself a film-maker. Between 2003 and 2006 alone, Mustafa created five films and through various festivals held at Al Najah, was awarded ‘Best Film’ twice for his various films.
Regaining his characteristically confident tone, he turns his gaze towards his tea cup, “After the Intifada, I realized my duty as a film-maker. It’s not a job - it is a duty.” Explaining his frustrations with simply reporting stories, Mustafa explains the empowerment that film-making brings, “When you create the film, you feel something different. You are not following the news anymore, you are creating the news. Films are strong and very honest. In the end, I chose film because of the truth.”
Frustrated with the media normalizing and sugar-coating his experiences under Israeli occupation, Mustafa saw film-making as a way of resisting the occupation. “You have to say occupation. It’s what is happening, everyone knows that but no one wants to say it.”
Expanding, he continues, “As a person who lives in the Old City [of Nablus], I have seen the ugly face of the occupation. Never can anyone imagine what I have seen.”
As he speaks, my mind wanders to the call to prayer bouncing from the buildings outside our closed office windows. I notice men shuffling quietly in the direction of the Mosque. These men are the antithesis of what I have been told to expect: the angry, violent Islam that infects Western media coverage of this piece of the world. Their unassuming and tranquil commitment to prayer washes a calm feeling over my body as my skin prickles into goosebumps.
Jolted back to the conversation, I hear Mustafa say, “Resisting is a lifestyle for us. And I support all kinds of resistance: non-violent; the boycott, sanctions and divestment movement, and even violent resistance.” Looking up from under my brow, perhaps a little too critically, he explains, “Look, my brother, he chose one path of resistance and I chose another. I tell truth with my film so everyday with my camera, I am resisting the occupation, I am resisting Israeli control over my life. Everybody has their way to resist, and I support anyone in this.”
With that, I wonder to myself about the word, ‘resistance’. Surely, in the Western world, this word leaves a bad taste in our mouths, as we are bombarded with images of suicide bombers and angry, aggressive men wrapped in kufiya [classic Arabic scarves]. But, as the word spirals out of Mustafa’s mouth, I see how in this life - a life he doesn’t even own the rights to - resistance is synonymous with hope.
“You see,” Mustafa continues, “journalism for everyone is a romantic idea. But, in Palestine, it is different. You have no independence to write your story. You need to be following someone always. But me, I am sorry, I don’t follow anyone else.”
Wanting to steer the conversation in the direction of his work, I ask, “What does this mean for your films, that you don’t follow anyone else?”
The corners of his mouth curl upwards as he pauses for a second for a sip of tea. “What it means? It means I say occupation when others don’t. I say what is happening, whether they like it in the West or not. And I love this!” His small smile turns into a large grin, accompanied by a chuckle, “I love this…I love to speak this way, very loudly!”
Asking him about the dangers of speaking loudly and openly against the occupation, Mustafa shakes his head at me, “The dangers of speaking loudly against the occupation are smaller than the dangers of not - the danger is that the occupation may continue. And ideas are more powerful than anything to fight it with.”
Recalling political artist Naji Al-Ali’s cartoon of Handala, a symbol representing the complexity of the plight of Palestinian refugees in my mind, I mention the small cartoon to Mustafa.
“Yes,” he responds. “Handala enlightened the minds of people. Art is very important in this and it is the choice for me. To make art that enlightens and brings people together against the occupation.”
On July 22, 1987, Naji Al-Ali was shot in London as he walked to work. He died in hospital a month later. A tragic end that is all too common for those who, like Mustafa, choose to speak loudly about the devastating effects of the occupation. Acknowledging Al-Ali’s death, Mustafa says, “But, Handala still exists today. He lives now and will live long after his Naji is gone. This is the power of ideas.”
As the afternoon sun beams heavy onto my face, I ask Mustafa what is next for him. He tells me about Karakeeb, the multi-media company he has started in Nablus. He says the goal of this company is to provide a place for local artists, musicians, writers and anyone with ideas to come together and create something.
Remembering his own start as a filmmaker, he says, “I remember thinking, who will give me a chance?” Trying now to use Karakeeb as a vehicle for people who started like him, he promises that his company will not follow the normalization of mainstream media and will strive to change the idea of media in Nablus. He says, “It is simple. Karakeeb is to live. It’s all to live free - and we will do anything to achieve this.”
Our mouths soaked with tea and hope, we stand to say goodbye. Shaking my hand, Mustafa leaves me with words that continue to echo in my mind, even now, months later. He says, “No matter what, I am never leaving Nablus - never. I will be here forever and I will fight to win our freedom with my ideas always."
To learn more about Mustafa and follow his projects, follow him on Facebook:
To learn more about Karakeeb in Nablus, Palestine, follow them on Facebook:
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Republished from the author’s blog with her permission.
Written by Heather Miller and published on 23-August-2014