Samer Bisharat, star of Oscar-nominated “Omar,” in Project X / YouTube
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” you’ll immediately be reminded of it after watching the newly released short film “Project X.” The basic plot is the same. Except instead of Jim Carrey trying to erase Kate Winslet from his memory, you get an 18-year-old Palestinian who’s having the memory of his girlfriend forcefully taken from him — by a team of Israeli doctors.
Why are the docs trying to rid the Palestinian protagonist of this girl? Because the memory of her keeps him from doing what they so desperately want him to do: enlist in the Israeli army.
The teen is approached earlier on by an Israeli army recruiter (trying really, really hard to sound like a native Arabic speaker — and failing), who tries to sell him on military service by promising it’ll “open a million doors.” In return for his service, he’ll get “a backbone that no one will mess with.” Also: “Land — land that you’ll own.” Imagine!
Still, the Palestinian resists. And because he resists, he ends up on an operating table, where Israeli doctors who specialize in “brain programming” are tasked with making him more amenable to the state’s demands. They succeed: Stripped of the memory of his girlfriend, who was always telling him that “this is not the way for us,” he ends up a soldier in uniform — with his own people’s blood on his hands.
This six-minute movie, directed by Nadim Hamed and produced by the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement in cooperation with Baladna, warrants a lot more than six minutes (or 600 words) of analysis. It’s interesting on a lot of levels. For one, it’s intriguing that a young woman plays the voice of reason. There’s the idea that love has the ability to safeguard people from betraying their authentic identity, their highest self, their truest beliefs. And there’s the striking confidence with which the Israeli recruiter dangles the promise of land in front of the protagonist — as if to say that Palestinians these days are so deprived of secure ownership over their land that nobody in their right mind could turn that offer down.
And then there’s the central takeaway of this didactic yet powerful film: the idea that young Palestinian citizens of Israel should utter a resounding “no” when encouraged to join the army.
That idea’s not coming out of nowhere. Although Palestinians aren’t required to serve in the army (excepting minority groups like the Druze), Israel has been stepping up its efforts to recruit the Christians among them, sending call-up notices to volunteer for service. In fact, the Project X film is part of a larger campaign, titled “I am an Arab; I will not serve,” that aims to discourage Palestinian youth from heeding these conscription notices.
Israel’s recruitment efforts are meeting with increasing resistance — not just among young Palestinians and Druze, but also, these days, among young Jews. As a growing number of Jewish conscientious objectors make their voices heard, you’ve got to wonder: Will they also take to film and other artistic media to discourage their friends from obeying Israel’s army summons? Is a Jewish version of Project X — Eternal Sunshine of the Sabra Mind — next on the horizon?
Sigal Samuel is the former Opinion Editor at the Forward. When she’s not tackling race or identity politics, she’s hunting down her Indian Jewish family’s Kabbalistic secret society. Her novel THE MYSTICS OF MILE END tells the story of a dysfunctional family with a dangerous mystical obsession. Her writing has also appeared in The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, and BuzzFeed. Follow Sigal on Twitter.