Screening Very Early Rough Cut

Marhaba min masr,

From a few weeks ago...

Filming ended July 20th just a few days before my visa for Israel ran out. After two weeks of real vacation in Damascus and Lebanon I am now back in Egypt. Since August 8th I have been holed up in Saint Kathrin’s where my lovely sister Jeannette lives and works. Associate Producer Iris Ichishtia and I have been locked away in what we claim to be the first state of the art studio of its kind in these mountains.

After almost two weeks of editing we had the first screening of a rough-cut version of the film. The location was an arched, roofless building still under construction that is part of the project Jeannette is working on here.

The workers who had been working on the site during the day were the first to fill our small open-air theatre space. Next to show up were a herd of children who probably were expecting a cartoon, not a film about Palestinian non-violent resistance. After some technical difficulties the screening was a great success with Bedouins, Egyptians and some foreigners in the audience to make up an audience of about 50. A lively discussion followed the screening that provided Iris and me some critical questions and comments to consider as we try to wrap up this stage of post-production.

We have two days left here in the mountains before heading back to Cairo. Hopefully by the end of the month we will have the film “picture-locked”- this I am told is film talk for having the actual footage and sequence of the film set in stone. Then begins the long process of setting the film’s score, color correction, recording narration, working on subtitles in various languages and working out a strategy to get this film screened in film festivals, then hopefully on TV, then eventually to tour with it in universities, schools, cafes, churches, mosques, synagogues, bookstores, whatever- please do send me suggestions and contacts of people who would be interested or would help.

Gaza Filming

At the end of my visit they started asking me to take pictures for their brothers, uncles, sons and fathers in Israeli prisons for over four months… a picture of a new born not yet seen by the imprisoned father, one father’s favorite girl and a picture of the detainees’ pictures hanging on the wall to let the prisoners know they are missed, they are celebrated.

On March 19th Israel rounded up Assad Salach and his sons Fahmi and Salach and Assad’s brother Sa’id and his son Ghassan along with over 300 men ages 16 and above along its northern border with the Gaza Strip. It is not the first time that Israel arrests the male members of the Salach family.

These days when homemade Qassam rockets are launched from the Gaza Strip they are usually launched from within the cities, not these border areas. Thus, it makes little sense for these men to be arrested solely for security purposes. Rather, it seems to be a method of pushing the families inhabiting the border areas into the cities and deserting their only source of income, their land. Israel is successfully destroying the potential of the fruit basket of the densely populated Strip. The once luscious green land is now reduced to an arid no-man’s-land, easily overseeable by Israel’s security towers and drones overlooking it all. But more importantly the economic crisis caused by this ongoing intentional de-development of Gaza’s economy is destroying the society’s makeup.

The Salach’s main family home was destroyed in 2001. On March 25th eight Israeli bulldozers crossed the nearby border and flattened the fields. Shortly thereafter they came back and flattened the home with some family members still inside. That day the Abu Assad, the Salach family grandfather had a stroke, he and his wife, Om Assad were taken to the hospital. By the end of the day Om Assad had lost her husband, her home and the trees that had adorned the family’s fields. She moved half a kilometer down the road to her other son’s home. Today, Israel has taken him as well.

Assad and Sa’id used to collect the tank shells, things of ugliness, which Israel fired on them as they tended to their goats and fields. They would paint them and fill them with flowers and turned them into vases, things of beauty. “The day they started doing that the Israelis almost completely stopped firing at us,” Assad’s wife told me. As soon as the media spread pictures of their act- turning death into life, ugliness into beauty- the shells stopped falling. When the men were detained so were the vases, Israel did not want such a story to continue getting out.

Despite a cease-fire five of the Salach family members remain imprisoned without even a court case, their fields still lie in ruin as the Israeli army fires at them when they try and approach it, their old home remains demolished while the memories of the past continue to haunt them daily. But today, the case-fire allows them to host a guest.

Some Weeks In

I arrived in the West Bank the afternoon of Saturday June 7th and hit the ground running starting filming the next day. That Sunday we did a long interview with Daoud Nassar, whose family owns a plot of land in the Palestinian village of Nahalin, just a few kilometers South of Bethlehem. The legal documents date back to 1916 and yet the family has been battling in Israeli courts for over 15 years to have their ownership recognized by the Israeli state. The land lies on a hill surrounded from all sides by Israeli settlements. The neighboring settlement of Neve Daniel already has a master plan to expand across the land of the Nassars and their neighbors.

In parallel to the legal battles the Nassars have done everything to prevent the confiscation of their land. In the summers they host children’s summer camps and non-violent resistance training camps. They also continue to come up with creative ways of resisting Israel’s intention of removing them from their property by gathering winter rains when they are not permitted to connect to the water system of the nearby village and digging out old caves because they cannot legally build above ground. Israeli land annexation is occurring all over Israel, yet the Nassar’s case reveals a rare example of perseverance and creativity and achieved international support to persist in fighting for their land.
Click on this link here to read my good friend Ben White’s article about the Nassar’s land.

Days later I had the longest day of filming in my life, from 4am to 10pm. In the village of Ghwein, the last Palestinian community before the border between the West Bank and Israel lies a small community that inhabits caves as their ancestors have for hundreds of years. In 1948 such farming communities all over the country were forcefully displaced by Israeli troops, the inhabitants of Ghwein also were pushed out of half of their village in the valley. Since that time more and more land has been confiscated, dividing the village from access to much of their farmland and even more vital wells. In these forgotten village lands Israel will destroy any home that is built, so life in the caves remains frozen in time. Having experienced a dry rain season they have barely sufficient water to make it by. Life is becoming increasingly unsustainable. If the families leave, tempted by the luxuries of city life, Israel is certain to annex their land for the construction of another settlement like it has so many other communities around them. So the families of Ghwein are remaining steadfast and fighting the onslaught of occupation.

In Ghwein Abu Mohammed told us of the realities of growing up as a farmer under occupation. Life is suddenly whittled down to the very basics, land and water. This Palestinian Life takes an oral history approach to the Palestinian experience by featuring farmers like Abu Mohammed rather than the “expert” opinion of journalists, historians and political analysts.

Together with a Palestinian film crew from Bethlehem producer Julie Norman and I have 2 weeks left to capture stories of resistance in the West Bank. At the start of July, I will be moving on to the Gaza Strip to connect these stories of resilience to those of a Gaza under severe siege.

I want to thank many of you who have supported this project financially and with the volunteering of your time and skills. As of now we are still waiting to hear back regarding grants we have applied for and thus the project is still under-funded. If you are so inclined use the paypal link to make a contribution.


The Film

The root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is closely tied to an unspoken chain of events in history. In 1948 Israel carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign of hundreds of villages, which would lead to the uprooting over 700,000 people from their homes and work. This act, no longer significantly debated even within Israeli academia, was not so much a reaction to opposing Arab armies but a strategy to clear Palestinians of land on which the immigrant Jewish community sought to build their state. The atrocities the Jews had faced in Europe brought them to the land of Palestine to build a new future for their people. It would come at the cost of the native Arab inhabitants of the land.

This Palestinian Life is a film about the Palestinian nonviolent struggle in the face of Israel’s occupation and annexation of their land. Israel maintains control over a majority of Palestinian land. Surrounding the valleys of many Palestinian villages lie Israeli communities, called settlements, a majority of which according to international law are illegally built on Palestinian village land. The Israeli army protects Jewish settlers as they violently attack school children, prevent Palestinian shepherds from tending to their flocks of sheep, or raze ancient trees. This system threatens the very way of life of Israel’s Palestinian neighbors.

Some Palestinians return violence with violence. Most Palestinians don’t. Nonviolent struggle often takes the shape of demonstrations, boycotts and civil disobedience to counter illegal methods of expansion. Among Palestinians this struggle more often resembles sumoud (steadfastness) and perseverance, as they find creative and bold ways of remaining on their land and in their villages despite the opposition.

The international media frequently covers the conflict that exists between Israel and Palestinians. Palestinian violence makes news as it fits the image of the worldview that drives much of the international media, men in masks and guns with bad intentions. The media misses the real story of the Israeli state’s suppression of Palestinian existence, these measures are faced by a Palestinian resolve to maintain their way of life rather than flee the relentless pressure of occupation.

This film seeks to expose the rarely told story about a resistance that is nonviolent against the unjust policies of an occupying state.