THE IMAGE OF A LONE MAN standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square was one of the defining images of the last century. For many it represented one man's stand against tyranny and yet the same image, transported to the Occupied Territories has become in some people's minds, synonymous with those who support terrorism. British filmmaker Katie Barlow in her documentary Visit Palestine, sets out to explore this dichotomy, and in the process exposes the daily hardships of those who live under occupation.
The film focuses mainly on the experiences of 23-year-old Caoimhe Butterly, an Irish peace activist who decided for a period of her life to make her home in the Palestinian village of Jenin.
Barlow had only recently made a documentary on the growing phenomena of the suicide bomber in Israel and the shattering impact it has had on Israeli society. However, she decided that while in the area, she would also look at the problem from the point of view of Palestinians. She explains: "I had heard stories and seen footage of Butterly blocking Israeli Defence Force (IDF) tanks as they fired over her head and heard stories of her standing in the line of fire between soldiers and Palestinian children. I wanted to meet her but I think I also wanted to explore the idea the West has of peace activists, that they are somehow fanatics. I wanted to film an articulate intelligent young woman and show these events from her perspective."
Butterly is indeed an articulate, compassionate presence throughout this often harrowing film. It is her voice that we hear throughout, charting personal experiences and those of the many families who now see her as a personal friend. She gives her reasons for living in the area as being part of a process of, "Bearing witness to the pain of occupation ... I think it is also crucial to give Palestinians an alternative view of the West, to show that we do care." Through Butterly's eyes we see the running street battles and assassinations which are now part of daily life, as well as the constant wail of the sirens as ambulances arrive to pick up the bodies that are left behind in the almost constant conflict. Butterly feels her presence and that of other westerners helps to at least reduce these levels of violence. "Westerners are seen as being perhaps less expendable than those who live here."
She also feels a sense of duty to the Palestinians. "One has, I think, a responsibility to stand with them as they face a level of pain...