An unusual sensitivity

One of the striking facts of Nabil Ayouch's film is that Israelis love the land and the Palestinians love it too.

A still from "My Land" by Nabil Ayouch.

The new documentary, My Land, on the occupied territories of Palestine by Nabil Ayouch, opens with the statement by the director that his background gave rise to the inquiry his film makes. In the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is almost a statement of the obvious: where you come from defines your position. Ayouch is one of the notable exceptions. The son of a Moroccan Muslim and a Jewish Tunisian, he claims a position of unusual sensitivity to the schizophrenic realities that trouble the region.

The film, which received its UK première this week as part of the fourteenth Palestinian Film Festival, comprises interviews with the former inhabitants of three villages in the West Bank expelled by the Israeli army in 1948 and interviews with the current occupiers.

An original gesture this documentary makes is to film the Israelis watching the interviews with the Palestinians who formerly inhabited the land they now claim as their own. No one is unmoved: some remain unrepentant, some lament their ignorance. Some argue for the desirability of co-inhabitation, and some dismiss it as impossible.

These arguments are all familiar: this territory – rhetorical and real – has a fraught history. The questions are confrontational but never aggressive, and the film justifies its own making through quiet persistence. The cinematography offers a pastoral vision of the Palestinian landscape, troubled by Israeli diggers on a seemingly unending attempt to construct an indestructible justification, rugged scrubland, sparsely populated by farmhouses and elegantly supervised by birds. In contrast, no beauty is sought in the matter-of-fact images of the refugee settlements: interviews are shot in candlelight or the indifferent haze of a strip light.

One young Israeli woman speaks intelligently of her attachment to the area and moral disgust at the army, then says, “I don’t feel guilty [about the Palestinians]; I feel very close to them.”.One of the striking facts this film establishes is a similarity of opinion over the landscape: the Israelis love it, and the Palestinians love it, too. With a cruel irony, some Israeli settlers describe the Palestinian longing for this land as an inability to “move on.” An old man says, “I dream of going back … even for the last day of my life.”

One of the frustrations of this film is that this conflict remains totally Eurocentric – the film does not pursue narratives elsewhere, and Palestine is formulated as a state in which Europe invades the East. It would be interesting to see a filmmaker like Ayouch engage with the complexities of Africa’s relationship with Israel, a state where African Jews face racist discrimination. (Thanks to Nour Sacranie for suggesting the last point; look out for her forthcoming report on the festival over at ibraaz.)

Among the other offerings of the festival, check out Mounir Fatmi’s The Beautiful Language, which stages an intervention in a classic film to explore the relationship between French and racism, and The Problem, which examines the Moroccan occupation of the Saharawi lands.

Further Reading

Goodbye, Piassa

The demolition of an historic district in Addis Ababa shows a central contradiction of modernization: the desire to improve the country while devaluing its people and culture.