With a special screening of Jeremy Hardy versus the Israeli Army, a packed hall at London's Greenwood Theatre paid a fitting tribute on Tuesday to the late Jeremy Hardy, the British comedian who passed away from cancer earlier this year at the age of 57. The star of BBC Radio and acclaimed stand-up comedian was renowned for his passionate campaigning for human rights and his staunch support for the Palestinian cause.
Presented by Open Bethlehem and Medical Aid for Palestinians, the feature documentary follows the work and activities of the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied Palestinian territories through Hardy's "extraordinary journey to free Palestine" at the invitation of Palestinian-British filmmaker Leila Sansour. She had challenged Hardy to join the ISM during the 2002 Israeli invasion of her occupied home town of Bethlehem; he accepted. "The alternative was spending Easter in Florida with my in-laws," he told her later. "Palestine won."
The memorial screening began with a long, standing ovation for Hardy. "The screening tonight is to honour Jeremy," the host and fellow stand-up comedian Mark Thomas told the audience. "It's to honour his memory and what he did."
Thomas read out messages of support before a short film showcasing the work of MAP in Palestine, with the active support of Hardy who visited the occupied West Bank with the charity in 2017 to witness the impact of fifty years of occupation on the Palestinians living there.
One message read out was from Palestine's Ambassador to the UK. "I am sorry not to have been able to join you to celebrate the contribution made by my beloved and cherished friend, Jeremy," said Dr Husam Zomlot. Having gone to attend a leadership meeting in Palestine, the ambassador assured the audience that, "I'm thinking of Jeremy and you there."
Jeremy's journey to Palestine in 2002 to engage in direct action against the world's fourth biggest military power with other ISM volunteers was the focus of the evening. The full house watched the 75-minute documentary which sensitively, yet somehow comically, tackled one of the world's longest-running conflicts.
A Q&A session with Leila Sansour, the film's director, followed the screening. Sansour was joined by Jeremy's wife, filmmaker Katie Barlow, who recounted their first encounter while working on the documentary.
ISM activist Chris Dunham, who featured in the film, was also present for a panel discussion, as was the CEO of MAP, Aimee Shalan, along with Jocelyn Hurndall, the mother of young British photojournalist Tom Hurndall who was shot by the Israeli army while reporting on the ISM in 2003 and died months later, never having regained consciousness. The panel spoke of Jeremy's "sheer decency", his empathy, sense of justice and "incredible loyalty to the Palestinian cause". However, action towards advocating the rights of Palestinians and ending the occupation of Palestine was also a focus of the discussion.
"It is a remarkable film and it's a film that inspired a lot of people including myself to become more involved," explained Mark Thomas. "It's designed to get greater global engagement with the issue of Palestine."
Informative yet funny, the film was indeed a reflection of Hardy's life as both a comedian and political activist; a light-hearted, genuine man who spread laughter in any room that he entered, but still managed to leave behind a strong and passionate message calling for justice and respect for human rights.