‘My Neighborhood’ Prompts Discussion of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
From time to time, the Palestine Center distributes articles it believes will enhance understanding of the Palestinian political reality. The following article by Stacy Perman was published by The Wall Street Journal on 19 April 2012.
By Stacy Perman
The tender scenes of Mohammed’s home life, however, are abruptly interrupted as Israeli police and settlers descend upon the house where the El Kurds have lived since 1956, forcibly evicting them. “I saw a lot a lot of angry faces,” declares Mohammed, afterward. “I hate them.”
While “My Neighborhood” puts a lens on the court-sanctioned campaign being waged by Israeli settlers to expel Palestinians from East Jerusalem, this is not an account that follows the conventional narrative regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, it represents only part of the story.
Unsettled by the events taking place in Sheik Jarrah, Zvi Benninga, a 26-year-old, quiet, self-effacing Jewish-Israeli medical student, and his older sister Sarah, an artist, both living in West Jerusalem, link arms with the Palestinian residents to protest the evictions. At first, a small group of about 20 to 30 joins them during weekly demonstrations, and the movement soon swells to 3,000 Israeli and Palestinian protestors who come to demand an end to the evictions.
The documentary, shown at a private screening this week hosted by the Paley Center for Media in New York City, is the latest production by Just Vision, an award-winning group of filmmakers dedicated to challenging the monolithic chronicle of the violence, extremists, politicians, and the status of the peace process that dominates Middle East coverage. The film tells the surprising, often-ignored story of individual Israelis and Palestinians working together, asserting non-violent means to end both the conflict and the occupation.“This is not part of how you talk about Israel-Palestine,” said Julia Bacha, one of the filmmakers. “It is not ‘Israel-Palestine.’”
“My Neighborhood,” premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 21, brought together a group of more than 200, provoking a lively discussion regarding the intersection of art, politics, and the impact that such documentaries can have to not only influence the dialogue but to bring attention to those stories often neglected by the media. Among those in attendance were Queen Noor of Jordan and Rula Jebreal, the Palestinian-Israeli journalist whose memoir, “Miral,” was made into a film last year by Julian Schnabel.
Drawn to Sheik Jarrah after spending time with Palestinian farmers in the West Bank denied access to their lands, Zvi Benninga, who came to the screening, explained how he was roused out of a sense of complacency. “It was the first time that I saw what the Palestinians have to battle. I didn’t know the meaning of occupation. When I saw that, for me it was clear I had to be involved.”
In the film Zvi and Mohammed strike up a friendship resulting in a profound shift in perspective. “When I saw the Israelis coming to protest with us my first reaction was, ‘These are Jews?’” Mohammed says in the film.“Some people say that these are Jews and Jews won’t do us any good. But I disagree…”
Queen Noor, a longtime activist in the region, said, “there has been little mention of non-violent protests in the Western, Israeli, or Arab media.” Such documentaries, she noted, can play an important role. They “cross Israeli -Palestinian conflict lines and shine a light on people’s dreams and hopes for an end to the conflict.”
The film itself offers both a sense of urgency but also unresolvedness. “It’s not easy for me to watch this,” said Ronit Avni, an Israeli producer of the film. “I’m not proud to see what is going on but I recognize how fragile and urgent the situation is in Jerusalem. My hope is that more people will pay attention to this.”
In a panel discussion following the film, Zvi expressed his skepticism, although evictions in Sheik Jarrah have largely stopped. “I can’t help but think about what is not shown in the film,” he said. “What it gives in depth it lacks in scope. This is part of a system across East Jerusalem and the West Bank. I fear the Sheik Jarrah evictions will resume. If it stops in Sheik Jarrah it will continue elsewhere."
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.
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