Tomorrow's Freedom: Documenting the life and imprisonment of Marwan Barghouti, 'Palestine's Nelson Mandela'
Tomorrow's Freedom opens with an extreme close-up. It's a symbol of witnessing. Both in terms of the audience observing the story of Marwan Barghouti that is about to unfold, and, those family members, friends and acquaintances who have had to watch it take place in real time.
They are asking you, via filmmakers Georgia and Sophie Scott, to not look away. To bear witness to the injustices of occupation through the eyes of one political prisoner representing the approximately 7,000 unjustly incarcerated by brutal oppression.
"Occupation imprisons our bodies, but our minds are free"
Shot in 2017, the documentary takes an elastic band approach to storytelling, flashing back and forth in time to moments in Barghouti's life that put him on the path to where he is today: serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison after being convicted of five counts of murder by directing terrorist attacks against civilians during the Second Intifada.
Yet as French International Criminal Lawyer Simon Foreman points out, it is “impossible to regard it as a fair trial."
Foreman was tasked by the Inter-Parliamentary Union to discern the legitimacy of the case against Barghouti and illustrates a corrupt picture of the Israeli justice system that takes a "guilty until proven innocent" approach to Palestinian prisoners.
The filmmakers highlight the inhumane treatment of prisoners and detainees, many of whom are arrested under bogus military orders designed to control and suppress Palestinian expression and advocacy.
Many, like Barghouti, are tortured, placed in solitary confinement for prolonged periods and have minimal visits with their family. They have also been thrown into Israeli prisons like Hadarim, north of Tel Aviv, a move that contravenes international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention: occupying powers are not allowed to transfer an occupied people from the occupied territory.
However, even behind bars, Barghouti's influence has not dulled. As he and one former inmate declare: "Occupation imprisons our bodies, but our minds are free."
Born in 1958, in Kober village near Ramallah, Barghouti was nine when Israel took military control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war.
Just a few years later, he witnessed IDF soldiers shoot and kill his dog. It's a story his brother Moqbel mentions while showing the filmmakers around his father's childhood home. “This was the story of the occupation – taking things that he loved away from him," he says. "The things he loved the most.”
It also speaks to the experience of most if not all Palestinian children; the bubble of youthful innocence is popped early on. For Barghouti, it opened his eyes to the violence carried out against his people and inequality, forcing him to grow up too early.
"Tomorrow's Freedom demands your attention for the sake of Barghouti, his family and every Palestinian denied their autonomy and human rights"
In his teens, he joined the Fatah movement and became a political activist in search of peace throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s for the Palestinian people.
During this period, he was arrested many times, and jailed, receiving his high school diploma while serving four years and becoming fluent in Hebrew. Barghouti was even exiled for an extended period to Jordan until the 1993 Oslo Accords afforded his right to return.
Despite his attempts to work with Israeli politicians and figures to secure Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the broken promises of the Israeli regime led to Barghouti's disillusionment and motivated his leadership in the First and Second Intifada.
As many of the expert talking heads make clear during the film, such as Israeli-American author and anthropologist Jeff Halper and Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, Barghouti's cross-party popularity made him a target. In April 2002, after a failed assassination attempt, IDF soldiers abducted him from his own home and he has been imprisoned ever since.
Without access to Barghouti to tell his own story, the Scotts paint a vivid portrait using a vast array of archival footage and images, expert interviews testimonies and quotes from his book 1000 Days of Solitude.
They present a lively man of the people who lives up to his nickname as Palestine's Nelson Mandela. The late South African president and former political prisoner makes frequent appearances; from his picture hanging in the offices of Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan's lawyer wife spearheading his campaign for freedom, to footage of Mandela linking the Palestinian struggle to the Black South African fight against apartheid.
He, like Barghouti, was deemed a "terrorist" but ended up a statesman. With such supportive sentiment towards Barghouti across Palestinian political movements, organisations and its people, the documentary details the hope that one day he could win the presidency of the Palestinian Authority and finally be released to carry out his revolutionary mandate.
It would also return Barghouti to his family whose testimonies bring an intimate perspective of the man behind the figure. The complex personal cost of political advocacy is articulated heartbreakingly through his children Sharaf, Qassam, Arab and Ruba who have been kept from their father for years.
For decades they have struggled with the anxiety of never seeing him again as his activism in prison – he led a hunger strike that garnered global attention – threatens his life.
Then there's Fadwa Barghouti, an inspiring presence proving that behind every great man, there is an even greater woman. Tomorrow's Freedom demands your attention for the sake of Barghouti, his family and every Palestinian denied their autonomy and human rights.
It's a film the Israeli regime doesn't want you to see – that's why you must watch it.
Hanna Flint is a film and TV critic, writer and author of Strong Female Character with bylines at Empire, Time Out, Elle, Town & Country, the Guardian, BBC Culture and IGN
Follow her here: @HannaFlint