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Producing Education, Circulating Solidarity: The Association of Arab American University Graduates’ Educational Filmstrips of the 1970s
The filmstrip Palestine is the Issue begins with a set of images that would have been familiar to US viewers of the 1970s: commercial airline passenger planes standing out of place in the vast expanse of a landing strip in the Jordanian desert. Small figures stand in the shadow of a plane’s wings. A Palestinian flag flies just below the plane’s tail. A psychedelic symphony of string and horn instruments plays over the still images. The music is simultaneously familiar yet not immediately recognizable: it is a thirteen- second sample of “A Day in the Life,” the final track on The Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. The lo-fi recording gives the music a degraded sound quality, and when paired with the images on screen, this sampled cacophony gives the impression of a jet engine accelerating for takeoff. The narrator begins: “In September 1970, four luxury passenger jets made emergency landings in the Jordanian desert. For the first time, the world at large paid heed to the Palestinians.” By the time this filmstrip began circulating in the US in 1975, the stereotype of the Palestinian as terrorist- hijacker had become hegemonic in US culture through the contextless repetition of this kind of imagery on the news and in entertainment media. Palestine is the Issue utilizes this ripped-from-the-headlines sensationalism as a dramatic hook to draw viewers into the narrative before flipping the script: “Let us now look at the root causes of Palestinian anger.” Based on archival research using the Association of Arab American University Graduates (AAUG) special collection at the Eastern Michigan University Archive, this paper examines the AAUG’s production and distribution of educational filmstrips in the 1970s and 1980s. Through the formation of a mail-order media rental program, the AAUG conceived of and utilized filmstrip production, exhibition, circulation, and spectatorship as a strategy through which to disseminate the organization’s academic discourses on Palestine and Zionism to wider audience outside of higher education, including churches and public schools. In addition to filmstrip production, the AAUG served as an alternative media distributor in the 1980s and 1990s for a number of independent documentary films, including David Koff’s famously censored Occupied Palestine. The AAUG’s methods and goals with regard to media are exemplary of early Arab American activist attempts to leverage media for the purpose of mobilizing Palestine solidarity activism.
Media Arts
Geographic Area
North America
West Bank
Sub Area