Dear Ted Shen:
While I do appreciate your taking the time to review my documentary film, Gaza Strip, and placing it in the Critic's Choice section of your publication [April 19], I must take issue with some of the statements in your review.
In the first place, you state that I was denied access to the PLO. It was never my intention to make a film about the PLO (PNA)--and I never approached them for access, nor was I ever denied access. It is not clear to me where this statement in your review might be coming from.
Second, you state that my film contains "images of children convulsing from exposure to nerve gas." Never in my film is a definite statement made as to the nature of the gas used by the IDF. The assumption that the gas was "nerve gas" is yours, and yours alone. I personally do not assume that the gas used was "nerve gas"--as nerve gas (defined generally as organophosphorus-based gases such as Soman, Sarin, VX, and Tabun) will almost certainly cause at least some fatalities even when improperly prepared, such as in the Tokyo subway Sarin attack. There were no fatalities in the event I filmed. The accusation of nerve gas use by the Israeli Defense Forces is an extremely serious one, and I do not want it to be associated with my film. Please claim responsibility for your own personal assumptions.
Further, you state that the main character, Mohammed Hejazi, curses Jews. In fact, the only people he curses in the film are Sharon, Barak, and Arafat. While he describes what has been done to his friends and family, this is not the same as cursing Jews, as I think you would agree.
Finally, you state that he smiles into the camera and declares his intention to martyr himself. Had you been watching closely, you would have noticed that he is not smiling--in fact, he weeps after declaring his desire for martyrdom. Also, the boy on the screen is not the main character, Mohammed Hejazi from Gaza, but rather a different, younger boy in Rafah refugee camp.
Please try to be more accurate in the future. This issue is extremely sensitive to many people, and loose words can be extraordinarily harmful.
Ted Shen replies:
Nerve gas is a loaded term, and I shouldn't have used it to describe the substance emitted from canisters the Israeli Defense Forces threw into a Palestinian refugee camp on February 12, 2001, as recorded in Longley's documentary. Yet Merriam-Webster defines nerve gas simply as "an organophosphate chemical weapon that interferes with normal nerve transmission and induces intense bronchial spasm with resulting inhibition of respiration." Longley's Web site, www.littleredbutton.com/gaza, offers interviews with doctors, patients, and eyewitnesses involved in the incident, and according to one examining physician the symptoms included "severe secretions of fluids, extreme difficulty in breathing, recurrent convulsions." The video shows children in hospital beds breathing hard and convulsing violently.
In a recent phone conversation Longley told me that about 400 children and adults had been treated, some hospitalized for nearly two weeks, but that no deaths have been reported and the gas remains unidentified. The incident, he added, went largely unreported (though one BBC news item declared, "Israeli army reportedly using a toxic nerve gas against Palestinians").
Packaging for the videotape of Gaza Strip declares, "James Longley traveled to the Gaza Strip in January, 2001, planning to stay for two weeks and collect preliminary materials for a film about the Palestinian intifada. He threw away his return ticket and stayed for another three months...." Longley now maintains that this documentary about ordinary Palestinians under siege is the film he'd intended to make all along.
Several Palestinian boys are seen and heard in Gaza Strip, although Longley focuses on Mohammed. In their desperately angry outbursts the boys make no distinction between Jews and Israelis, a point I tried to make in my brief review.