She was one of the members aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla carrying 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid that was raided and gunned down by Israeli forces in May 2010.
She also smuggled and released one hour of unadulterated video footage of the massacre at the UN headquarters as testimonial evidence against the assault that resulted in the death of nine humanitarian aid workers.
Born and raised in Brazil of Korean descent, Iara Lee is a human rights activist and filmmaker who proclaims to have a “Palestinian heart” with the belief that “there will not be peace in the world until there is peace and justice in Palestine.”
Lee is the founding member of Cultures of Resistance — a global network devoted to mobilizing activists, artists and change makers to spread the message of peace, and express solidarity through creative projects under the banner of Make Films Not War, Make Music Not War, Make Food Not War, and Education Not War.
Her latest documentary on the ongoing Syrian conflict “The Suffering Grasses: When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”, premiered in June this year in Kuwait. Shot amid restricted access to camps on the Turkish and Jordanian borders, the film is an insight into the displaced lives of thousands of angry Syrian refugees who fled the Assad regime, and meditates the diabolical question of armed resistance versus submission to a non-violent approach. Allegiance to the common cause of toppling an unrelenting, tyrannical state power is but a united and organized effort for peace by the Syrians.
Lee is currently in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, from where she spoke about her struggles.
How was Cultures of Resistance (CoR) founded?
While I was living in Beirut in 2006, the Israeli military shelled the city with cluster bombs. It seemed as if no one in the US noticed, even though I knew they were watching the attacks on cable news. I was infuriated by the reality of my adopted nation’s cover for the Israeli government, which effectively granted the nation’s leaders impunity. But seeing the determination and hope of those around me who had the courage and perseverance to keep struggling for justice, I started a campaign called Make Films Not War. This was an effort to support daring, young filmmakers who tackle the most difficult war issues. Later came additional, separate project areas: Music, food, and education. On top of this, we made our own films and coordinated an activist network. Together, these formed what we refer to as Cultures of Resistance.
Do you think that creativity can actually tie the frayed ends of disharmony in our world today?
Existence is resistance. It’s what makes us alive and unique. While corrupt governments and greedy corporations use weapons and exploit loopholes to oppress us and exploit our environment, we have our own creativity and determination. These are the ever-powerful tools that we must use to provoke change.
What impact has CoR had through its various creative projects?
We humbly understand that no matter how much we pour into our efforts, change will not come instantly. Though at moments there are flashpoints when immense changes occur, we understand that these are only possible through the determined long-term work that goes into organizing and creating. We hope our work will continue to inspire more people to take part in the movements that matter most to them.
How did you feel about the offense launched by the Israeli naval commandos against humanitarian aid workers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in 2010?
I was outraged that the Israeli government would violate international law as brazenly as it did, and that it would not be held accountable for its crimes. Over two years after the unjustified killing of nine aid workers on our vessel, the Israeli government remains unpunished for its actions. Yet, instead of getting desperate or burning out, I am only more motivated to fight for stronger international laws and justice in Palestine.
Your latest documentary “The Suffering Grasses…” is a social narrative expressed from the exiled Syrian refugees’ perspective. Can you tell us what the atmosphere was like at the camps?
I went to the refugee camps in Turkey that houses tens of thousands of Syrians in exile, only with the expectation of making a short film and bringing some attention to the situation. However, it soon became clear that the issues were too complex and the diversity of opinions too great to capture in a brief piece.
Although I had fully expected that the camps’ residents would be frustrated and angry, I could never have guessed how polarized people’s opinions would be. Though I can sympathize with those who turn to armed uprising out of despair and frustration, I stand resolutely for a nonviolent resistance. In my opinion, putting weapons in the hands of angry people cannot result in a positive long-term solution — it will only escalate the cycle of violence, and in fact it already has. I fear that we are descending into a black hole of sorts, out of which will come horrible scars that will not easily heal.
What is CoR’s inspirational message in these times of political distress?
I have had the privilege of meeting many incredible people who even in the most extreme circumstances, risk their lives for what they feel is right. These people are my inspiration and keep me going. The least we all can do — those of us who do not face such repression — is to support these brave activists in any way we feel equipped: By making films, writing stories, singing songs, demonstrating outside embassies and by lobbying elected officials.
I hope that my work on the Syrian crisis continues to inspire people to get actively involved in movements for peace and justice. We all need to work together and focus on the vision we share of how the world could and should look one day.
We hope that by sharing the film with as wide an audience as possible, more people will proactively engage in supporting the Syrian people who are being mercilessly massacred by state forces.
To learn more about Culture of Resistance, watch the trailer of “The Suffering Grasses...”, and find out where it’s screening at www.culturesofresistance.org.