It’s a normal day in Jerusalem. The famous Jerusalem sesame-seed round loaf of bread, all kinds of people, from all religions worship God in their own way.
There’s the traffic, the Old City shops, Jewish kids playing, Muslim kids playing, Christian kids playing, and… you can’t decipher who is who. If it were not for a few juxtaposed shots in between like soldiers, weapons, checkpoints, settlements, arrests, confrontation, house demolitions, and other pointers of a military occupation — one could falsely imagine that coexistence and normal life already exists in the holy city.
“Nobody is protecting Palestinians in the face of the onslaught they are facing in Jerusalem and that will only worsen under this right wing Israeli government,” says Dr Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the chairman of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), in a special address at the Third Line Gallery called Al Quds in Dubai. Mohammed Alatar’s new film was also screened here. “At PASSIA, we regularly document the house demolitions, the revocations of Palestinian residency rights, the evictions and the many other hardships Palestinians face in Jerusalem, whether in their daily lives or in trying to reach and defend their holy sites. Palestinians are being uprooted on a daily basis without anyone defending them or even portraying their suffering in international forums.”
Alatar’s documentary Jerusalem… the East Side Story reveals the policies that aim to take over and convert the Holy city into Judaism and control Palestinian demographic growth. The result is how the Palestinians are being punished as a part of a larger scheme to pressure them into submission or flight. The whole film squeezes nearly one hundred years of history into an hour or so of cinema. It mainly exposes the past forty years of Israeli military occupation policies in Jerusalem and their devastating impact on the city and its peoples.
Before taking on each issue, the historical context and footage from the archives are used — the United Nations hall and the partition of Palestine in 1947; the battles fought in 1967 and Israel occupying East Jerusalem and later Palestinian refugees fleeing to Jordan.
Jerusalemites tell their stories first hand. Nahla Assali, walks towards her home which her family fled in 1948 with only a tablecloth as souvenir. She comes back after the war to find a Jewish family living in it in a plush Israeli neighbourhood replacing every inch of her childhood home. “We live in fantasy, they live in denial, and one day we should both come to reality,” she ends her somber story.
The tune that lingers, I Still Haven’t Found What I’ve Been Looking For by the Irish band U2, is a relevant choice for anyone looking for peaceful co-existence in Jerusalem in the 21st century.
There are voices from both sides. That’s of Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli political scientist, Teddy Kollek deputy mayor of Jerusalem (1971-1978), bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, the Rt Rev Munib Younan and President Mahmoud Abbas who talks of the Israeli policy of “ethnic cleansing.” The boundary walls, illegal demolitions, Jewish-only settlements… the truth is there for all to see. Those who desire justice will leave the film seething as Bush sputters — “the wall is... uh… a problem” (on Israel’s illegal separation barrier) or will have tears streaming down their faces as a mother recounts how she sat on the rubble waiting for her daughter to return from school, while a little boy plays, building blocks, not Legos, of course, but bricks from his wrecked home. “In Jerusalem, Palestinians are unable to fight but equally unable to accept any imposed solution. Five years down the line, I’m afraid the situation will be exactly the same,” says Dr Hadi, adding, “Each of us just needs to ask ourselves — what are we doing for Palestine? What is your answer?”
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