Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Palestinians participate in the Jerusalem Film Festival

By Silvia Boarini - July 24, 2012
Section: [Videos] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Water] [Jerusalem]

It could have been uncomfortable, but instead the unlikely auditorium assigned for Monday’s July 9th screening of short films by Palestinian and Israeli directors on the subject of water, part of the Jerusalem Film Festival, was the perfect backdrop for an evening which both willingly and unwillingly highlighted where the dominating narrative of this conflict hails from.

In a different world order, the Menachem Begin Auditorium Hall might have been named after Yasser Arafat’s. The men after all, lived strikingly similar lives: both fighters, politicians, and Nobel Peace Prize winners. But the reality on the ground dictated that predictably, it was the western man with the two-piece suit who got the state and the Hall; while the Arab one, who wore a national headdress and spoke a different language, received nothing.

As a statement to relativity, the Begin Hall was therefore an appropriate setting for this collaborative effort across 'borders’, which through the language of film attempted to discuss and challenge Israeli/Palestinian understanding or misunderstanding. Initiated by the Film Department of the Tel Aviv University, the project saw two Palestinian directors join a team of Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel to shoot a series of short movies around the theme of water.

Water is a primal need, a core necessity and a privilege. It blurs boundaries between people

“Water is a primal need, a core necessity and a privilege. It blurs boundaries between people,” said Yael Perlov, the artistic director of the project in her introductory note ahead of the screening. “In the time of frozen dialogue,” she continued from the podium, “this started happening: a joint production that has given us the chance to behold a different reality between us. By spending time together, people became eager to express themselves and relations developed underneath everyday reality. This is an example of cinema’s ability to enter forbidden areas and to make us realise that we all yearn for a solution.”

The project evolved over two years during which the participants cooperated on each other’s productions, learned about the problem of water in the territories and made trips back and forth into each other’s worlds. Ahmad Barghouti, one of the Palestinian directors who presented his short documentary titled “Kareem’s Pool”, confessed he thought long and hard before joining the project. BDS, normalization, one state, two-state, were all words twirling in his head as he sat down with himself to make a decision.

“This was a big step to take but I thought it was important to show our reality to Israelis and to audiences worldwide,” he explained. He added, “Between normalization and not doing anything, there is enough room for action.”

Barghouti’s “Kareem’s Pool” turned out to be by far the hardest hitting piece. It follows Kareem, an elderly Palestinian who returned from the USA to his village of Aboud, where he built a pool on the family’s spring. Kareem’s day starts as he opens the pool and we hear the stories of local families, groups of friends and visitors who have come to enjoy a quiet swim. Time idles by, meat is grilled, children scream in the water and Kareem lies down for a nap under the shadow of a friendly tree.

At that point, as if in a nightmare, we cut to footage shot by hidden cameras. A group of about fifty young illegal settlers, some of them armed, enter the pool. They display aggressive behaviour, refuse to pay entry and proceed to ask Kareem whether he is a donkey. Conniving Israeli soldiers watch over the scene, weapons at hand, completely unaware not just of international law but also of common decency. The raw quality and 'out of control’ composition of this section aptly conveys a feeling of helplessness, fear and confusion. The film ends on a dark shot of the empty pool by night and leaves the audience wondering how long it will take before the state of Israel manages to take over Kareem’s spring.

Whereas the Palestinian directors decided to tackle the problem head on, employing the genre of documentary in order to paint a picture of a harsh reality that very few Israelis get to see, their Jewish counterparts approached the subject through the genre of fiction often re-working real life events. The message perceived from these short movies often leads back to the problem of perceptions of a conflict for which neither party has found a common language they agree on.

Between normalization and not doing anything, there is enough room for action

For example, with “Raz and Radja” by Yona Rozenkier, the festival’s audience is confronted with the tale of a soldier on the verge of a nervous breakdown who tragicomically connects with the Palestinian prisoner in his custody. In “Still Waters” by Nir Sa’ar and Maya Sarfaty, a liberal/leftist couple is forced to overcome fears and test new boundaries when they find themselves alone with a group of Arabic speaking illegal Palestinian workers. Both features, although beautifully shot and spotlessly directed, seem to play into the narrative of the conflict and the Arab/Israeli divide which seems highly romanticized and over-simplified and which, from this side of the wall, is utterly irreconcilable with the reality on the ground.

If the short movies presented were a mirror of the two societies, the Israelis would come off as typically western, ready to engage in hours of endless monologues on a psychiatrist’s couch, eager to search for the origin of a disorder and track its development but never really willing to nail a solution. The Palestinians, on the other hand, would appear consumed, imbued and overrun by a chaotic narrative of conflict, occupation and resistance, which has taken over their daily lives, leaving little room for much needed artistic flights of fancy.

If anything, this was a reminder that dialogue and cooperation is indeed necessary in order to strike a balance. Without one or the other groups of directors, the evening would have been an exercise in either hedonistic or political self-indulgence. Still, given the subject of the screening, a little more 'in your face’ politics from the Israeli side wouldn’t have harmed, especially since if it hadn’t been for the Palestinian contingent, the event would have probably gone by without even a mention of the elephant in the room, the 'O’ word.

The duty fell on Ahmed Barghouti, who in his introductory speech on the stage of the mighty Begin Hall, talked about the action of the 'Occupation’ versus the reaction of the Palestinian people and about the last chance for a two state solution. These were the only openly political sentences of the evening. Still, he knew his audience and found room for hope and irony when he added, “A friend told me once that a mosquito can change your life for one night…I hope these films can help change our reality.”

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