Sabah Haider
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Palestine through the prism of Pakistani cinema
Imagining sameness and solidarity through Zerqa (1969)
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In 1969 Pakistan was experiencing two separate insurgencies: in East Pakistan a democratic uprising was in full swing; and in Baluchistan separatists were engaged in a violent war against the Pakistani army. The government regularly implemented media blackouts to keep the nation in the dark about the country’s troubles. That year, Pakistan’s popular ‘Lollywood’ film industry released Zarqa, a feature film about the Palestinian cause that tells the story of the violent and unjust Israeli occupation of Palestine and rise of the Palestinian liberation movement.

Zarqa became a mega-hit and became the first film in the country showing in cinemas for over one hundred weeks straight. Across the country, Pakistanis were singing the Urdu language revolutionary Palestinian anthems composed for the film. During this period the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) held a special relationship with Pakistan, the PLO’s leader Yasser Arafat visited often, and student solidarity groups were active on campuses. Throughout the 1970s, thousands of Pakistani civilians volunteered as fida’iyeen fighters with the PLO, ready to die for Palestine. This chapter uses original testimonies from former Pakistani fida’iyeen and those who knew them. Despite representing different ethnicities, geographies, education and social classes all expressed they were motivated by a popular ethical imperative. This chapter explores the narrative and political imaginary of the film in terms of how it created the context for widespread solidarity and Palestine as a popular movement in Pakistan, and strategically redirected the national gaze away from domestic politics and towards Palestine as the central moral conflict.

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