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The Wind That Shakes the Barley

March 11, 2011

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a 2006 Irish war drama film directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty. The events set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923). Widely praised, the film won the Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

The film was particularly appealing to me as it seemed an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the components and workings of the seemingly intractable problem of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

My work in advocacy gave me the chance to meet Palestinian and international intellectuals and activists and many used to say that Palestinians can learn a great deal of lessons from the South African and Irish experiences. I could understand the similarity with the South African struggle for equality and against racism and discrimination but the analogy with the Irish problem has always been vague and mysterious and unanswered questions loomed large. I usually judge my knowledge regarding a certain issue by how much I read about it. Thus, I guess I can attribute my poor knowledge of the Irish to the lack of books and articles narrating the history of that part of the world that I was exposed to in my recent years.

When I knew about the intention of the Gazan organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week to present the film “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” and hold a discussion afterwards to comment on key similarities between our own struggle and theirs, I got possessed by curiosity and intense appetite. Watching a film featuring that period of time was the best way to start my pursuit of a better knowledge of Ireland and the correlations with Palestine.

The plot as found on Wilipedia: ” The film opens in 1920 as Damien O’Donovan (Cillian Murphy), a young doctor, is about to leave Ireland to work in a London hospital. His brother Teddy (Pádraic Delaney) commands the local flying column of the Irish Republican Army. After a hurling match, Damien witnesses the fatal beating of his friend, Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, by British Black and Tans. Damien rebuffs his friends’ entreaties to stay in Ireland and fight for independence from Britain, saying that the IRA is too outnumbered to win. As he is leaving town, Damien witnesses British soldiers beating a railway guard for refusing to allow the troops to board, as well as the subsequent resistance of the train driver (Liam Cunningham). Damien decides to stay and joins Teddy’s IRA brigade.

In retaliation for Micheál’s murder, the brigade raids the local Royal Irish Constabulary barracks for guns, then uses them to assassinate four British Auxiliaries. In the aftermath, Anglo-Irish landowner Sir John Hamilton (Roger Allam) coerces one of his servants, IRA member Chris Reilly (John Crean), into passing information to the British Army Intelligence Corps. As a result, the entire brigade is taken prisoner. In their cell, Damien meets the train driver, Dan, a union organizer who shares Damien’s Marxist views. Meanwhile, British officers interrogate Teddy, pulling out his fingernails when he refuses to name names. Later, Johnny Gogan (William Ruane), an Irish-Scots soldier in the British Army, helps all but three of the prisoners escape. After the actions of Sir John and Chris are revealed to the IRA, both are taken hostage. As Teddy is still recovering, Damien is temporarily placed in command. News arrives that the three remaining IRA prisoners have been tortured and shot. Therefore, the brigade receives orders to execute Sir John and Chris. Despite the fact that Chris is a lifelong friend, a shattered Damien summarily executes both him and Sir John. Later, Damien tells his sweetheart, Cuman na mBan courier Sinéad Sullivan (Orla Fitzgerald), about the shame of facing Chris’s mother. After the IRA ambushes and defeats an armed convoy of the Auxiliary Division, another detachment of Auxiliaries loots and burns the farmhouse of Sinéad’s family in retaliation. Sinéad is held at gunpoint while her head is shaved. Later, as Damien comforts her, a messenger arrives with news of a formal ceasefire between Britain and the IRA. While the village celebrates, Damien and Sinéad steal away for a romantic interlude.

When the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty are announced, the IRA divides over whether or not to accept it, as it only grants Ireland Dominion status. Teddy and his allies argue that accepting the Treaty will bring peace now while further gains can be made later. Others within the Brigade oppose the Treaty, proposing to continue the war until complete full independence can be obtained. Dan and Damien further argue in favor of the collectivisation of industry and agriculture. Any other course, declares Dan, will change only, “the accents of the powerful and the colour of the flag.” Not all Anti-Treaty Republicans are depicted as agreeing, however. Later, as the new Irish Free State replaces British rule, Teddy and his allies begin patrolling in Irish Army uniforms. Meanwhile, Damien and his Anti-Treaty comrades feel betrayed and join the Anti-Treaty IRA. After the Irish Civil War breaks out, Damien and Dan’s column begins a guerilla war against the new Irish Army. As the violence between the two sides escalates, Teddy expresses fear that the British will return if the Free State fails to solve the problem on its own. As a result, he decrees, “They take one out, we take one back. To hell with the courts.”

Ultimately, Dan is killed and Damien is captured during a raid for arms on a Free State barracks commanded by Teddy. Sentenced to death, Damien is held in the same cell where the British Army imprisoned them earlier. Hoping to avoid executing his little brother, Teddy pleads with Damien to reveal where the IRA is hiding the stolen rifles, offering him full amnesty and the vision of a life with Sinéad. Damien responds, “I shot Chris Reilly in the heart. I am not going to sell out.” Devastated, Teddy leaves the cell in tears.

Writing a goodbye letter to Sinéad, Damien declares his love for her, saying that he knows what he stands for and is not afraid. At dawn, Damien is marched before a firing squad. As both brothers fight back tears, Teddy gives the order, the squad fires, and Damien crumples to the ground. That afternoon, Teddy delivers Damien’s letter to Sinéad. Enraged and heartbroken, she physically attacks Teddy and shouts that she never wants to see him again. She then falls to her knees screaming for Damien.”

At the beginning of the film, we see the brutal killing of Micheál with the subsequent employment of reason made by Damien that it is insane to leave his career as a doctor to join the armed resistance. Damien thought that Michael would’ve lived if he hadn’t insisted on saying his name in Irish and that the IRA is too outnumbered to win any confrontation with the British. In Palestine, there are still voices that refuse to see the whole picture and choose to blame the victim arguing that acts of resistance cannot be of any good and that only further killings and suffering will be brought upon the people. It is true! Successful resistance, armed or non-violent like BDS, will bring more hostility from Israel but that is understandable by the people who cannot and refuse to live in persistent humiliation, stripped of their liberty and dignity and subjected to physical, psychological, economic and cultural oppression. The struggle is not about food, jobs and decent housing. It’s about freedom and freedom has its price. Period.

The Irish and Palestinian conflicts have taken place on opposite sides of the world, in vastly different cultures and in different political and historical contexts. But both are characterized by a long history of struggle for independence and just rights. Both peoples have witnessed uprisings, revolutions and attempts to partition their land, and both have maintained a strong original identity.

Torture of political prisoners, assaulting women and elderly, burning down houses and more are practices seen to be committed in the film by the British. I needn’t mention how that is similar to the way-more-brutal atrocities of the Israeli forces against Palestinian civilians. If you’re not familiar with what I mean, then please try to google “Jenin 2002”!

In both settings, the methodology of oppression is as described by the Machiavellian philosophy: “If your subjects submit, reward them with partial freedom and allow them to get low-paying jobs. But if they defy you, clamp down and have no mercy. Otherwise they will rebel too often. If you push them until they ride up against you, don’t back down. Fight back. Close down their schools, uproot their trees, burn downs their farms, block their streets, isolate their cities, demolish their homes, throw them in jail, keep them under curfew for weeks, deny them clean water, electricity, and basic supplies.”

Furthermore, both sides experienced divisions between military and politically oriented leaderships; in both conflicts, the national movements have engaged in a guerrilla military struggle, leading to diplomatic negotiations. And in both cases, to a great extent, the same leaders are in power who have been in power for decades.

In Palestine, the makers of the Oslo treaty with Israel were once considered the leaders of the liberation movement and nowadays are perceived as mere tools of Israel and the United States. The recent revelation of the “Palestine Papers” made it clearer than ever to what extent these, previously respected leaders, are collaborating with the occupation forces against their own people.

“Teddy expresses fear that the British will return if the Free State fails to solve the problem on its own.” This is exactly the same concept presented by the PLO: It’s us doing it or the Israelis. Under the title of necessary security coordination, information about figures of the armed Palestinian resistance were handed over, hundreds of Hamas and Jihad members were detained and the guns and weapons of Fatah’s military wing were confiscated.

The film comprises events of striking similarity to the Palestinian situation on the internal level more than on the occupied-occupier level. The internal division symbolized in the film by the transformation in the relationship of the O’Donovan brothers has its equivalent in the Palestinian community as the division between two camps, one adopting the negotiations as the sole path to a sustainable state and the other believing in the absurdity of “peace talks” and implicating armed resistance in the struggle. The new Irish government assumed the role of the servant to the British empire and the Palestinian equivalent, the PLO, is seen likewise.

It was the third day of the Israeli Apartheid Week in Gaza. That day was windy and clouds were expected to storm us with rain. After finishing my lectures, I couldn’t walk straight because of the wind and I broke a heel for the first time in my life! I had no time to grab new shoes and the glue didn’t work. I wanted to watch the film so bad that I ignored the broken-off heel and got there just in time. Luckily for me, no one noticed! Some of my friends who attended were touched by the scenes and some got into tears. In moments of high tension the characters stuttered and hesitated; that added volumes of reality and weight to the scenes. I didn’t cry and didn’t tear but it was hard to watch how Teddy ordered the killing of his own brother,Damien.


Damien and Teddy O’Donovan

The audience agreed that it is a top priority for us Palestinians to get rid of collaborators and work out our differences, that we still have battles to fight and that the need to restore faith in our leadership is more crucial than ever. We should protect the resistance, armed or not, and ensure its viability. BDS has managed to gain global support and was successful in showing that Israel cannot convince decent ordinary people that it has moral grounds to stand on. All Palestinian parties are ought to stand with the Palestinian civil society and youth, appreciate the role of the BDS movement and not hesitate in declaring full support to the movement.

Long live the resistance. Long live Palestine.



One Comment
  1. Sam P permalink

    Excellent post 🙂 “The struggle is not about food, jobs and decent housing. It’s about freedom and freedom has its price. Period.” Wow – to see such determined fortitude from you despite the years of blockade, despite the lifetime of occupation, it is so inspiring. If the Palestinian leadership were as principled as your writing, justice would be much nearer.

    Long live Palestine..! ❤

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