Last night at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, I had the opportunity to view the fruit of an important film project entitled Jerusalem Moments (2008). I was impressed by the entire collection of ten short films, which provide diverse perspectives on difficult issues about living together – Israelis and Palestinians – within the same city.
The project brought together filmmakers from both sides of the divide to provide insight into the complexities of life in Jerusalem through shorts – dramas, docs, and experimental films. The project initiator and producer, Adva Rodogovsky, representing Ir Amim, introduced the screening by talking about the importance of exposing different aspects of Jerusalem, showing the side of Jerusalem which is not holy, and expanding the public discourse dealing with issues of the city.
We have more in common than you might thinkPerhaps the most impressive film in the collection is a film that deals with two families, one is evicted and one is facing demolition. In the opening scene of the documentary Home, directed by Marwah Jbara Tibi, we meet Ilanit, a single mother of four who is lighting Shabbat candles in an Arab home. She was unable to make her mortgage payments and, as a result, was evicted from her home. Ilanit and her children are living with the family of Ahmad in Sur Baher, also a family with four children. Ahmad, who had the compassion to open his home to a woman in need, is himself living under the shadow of losing his home. He built his home without a municipal permit, because it is almost impossible for an Arab family in East Jerusalem to obtain one, and he is living under the threat of a demolition. This is an insightful film into the difficulties of providing your family with a roof over their head.
In the film, Bus Station by Lily Sheffy, two women are at a bus stop – both wear black scarves, both are carrying vegetables from the market, both seem weary. When the tomatoes fall all over the ground, and both women stoop to pick them up, a conversation begins. The ultra-orthodox Jewish woman is interested in tomatoes bought from an Arab vendor because this is the shmita or sabbatical year and she is not permitted to buy fruits and vegetables from a Jewish vendor. She offers her tomatoes to the Arab woman. The Arab woman tries to pay for them and slips some money into the other woman’s bag. Right away, a Jewish man comes running. Having caught the Arab woman with her hand in the other’s bag, he is ready to accuse her of stealing. When matters are straightened out, the two women share pictures of their sons – one is called Ibrahim and one is called Abraham. The film -- a chance encounter on a Jerusalem street about two similar women, each with a son whom she loves – puts a human face to the conflict.
Hardships due to the Separation Wall
In Children’s Stories by Daniel Gal, we meet three youngsters who support their families by selling chewing gum at busy traffic intersections in the Jewish neighborhoods of the city. This is a touching film, told with humor and pathos. Since the construction of the separation wall, the children’s parents are unable to cross the checkpoints in order to find work. So, the boys make the trip alone everyday, illegally crossing fields and crawling through sewage tunnels, bringing home money to their families. This is a hard-hitting film about these kids, who they are, and their dreams and their desires to be like other kids. I don't chew gum, but I certainly will buy gum from these youngsters next time they approach my car at a red light.
The bulldozer has become the symbol of house demolitions, which is a cruel and inhumane form of punishment for Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem -- those who have built without permits, for those who are charged with security crimes, and for the families of suicide bombers. House demolitions are not used against Jewish citizens who build or add on to their homes without permits. The Largest Mammals in Jerusalem by Nitsan Shorf Domidiano is in the style of an ethnographic film that humorously looks at the lives of bulldozers – their courting, their migration, their feeding habits, and how they hunt their prey!
The right of return
In the film, Two Houses and a Longing, filmmaker Dorit Naaman looks at two buildings in Jerusalem. The first, located near the Mandelbaum Gate, used to be called the Turjeman Post and today houses the Museum on the Seam. The house originally belonged to Andoni Baramki who fled in 1948 and lived not far away on the other side of the armistice line, dividing East from West Jerusalem. After 1967, he tried to reclaim his home, to no avail. The narrator suggests a revision of the dedication plaque at the Museum on the Seam, in order to fully recognize the true and historical story behind this building. The second building is located in West Jerusalem and is used as a kindergarten. The building was originally owned by Khalil Sakakini, who was forced to leave in 1948. Although the filmmaker seems to be in favor of the recognition of rightful ownership of these buildings, she skirts the explosive issue of the right of return for the owners themselves.
These films can be used as triggers for discussion dealing with so many of the issues that we face in contemporary Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city that too many of us see in black and white terms. Things are not so simple here! It is important for us to grapple with the hard issues, to understand them in all their complexity, and not to ignore them due to the sensitivities involved. The initiative for this project came from Ir Amim, a non-profit organization working “for an equitable and stable Jerusalem with an agreed political future” with funding from the German government. http://www.ir-amim.org.il/