Israeli film director Udi Aloni divides his time between New York City, where he makes films, and the Jenin Refugee Camp, where he has recently moved in order to help his friend Juliano Mer-Khamis establish a school for film and multimedia production. He is currently writing a biweekly column called, Brooklyn – Jenin, about this experience for the popular Israeli news website Ynet. Mondoweiss is excited to be able to present English translations of these columns.
It has been more than three months since I accepted the invitation to deliver a master class to cinema students at the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp. At the time, I could not imagine the Camp would become my second home
A sort of preface: without justice there is no peace. As my first post was about to be published, the murderous terror attack near Hebron took place. For a moment I thought I should postpone publishing the post to the following week, but then I realized that postponing meant collaborating. In the original version, a few days earlier, I wrote that as soon as the first terror attack took place the right wing would be more than happy to sink its teeth into the theater actors [boycotting the Ariel theatre], as if they themselves were the murderers. And indeed, those quick to rant immediately forgot about the occupation, and about the relationship between cause and effect, which preserves the cycle of violence. Therefore it is important and touching that the “refusenik actors” strive, within the limits of their capacity, but with a great deal of courage, to prevent the next murder, and the one after that, and the one after that.
Some things are difficult for Israelis to comprehend. One such example, is that those who support the Dromi Law, which enables someone to shoot and kill a Bedouin coming to steal a cow from a Jewish household, also legalizes, in a case of even clearer circumstances, the act of a Palestinian shooting and killing a Jew who has robbed his entire household. I belong to a group of Palestinians and Jews who oppose the killing of civilians – Arabs or Jews – even if they are land robbers. We conduct our battles by means of words and actions: cinema, music, writing, joint solidarity demonstrations on robbed lands, and also international boycott of goods.
So here is a diary from Jenin. A diary with faith, which tries to show that there is another way. While the right wing is celebrating its casualties, our diary mourns all victims of occupation and racism, regardless of ethnicity, religion, race and sex. A diary that seeks to explore another option.
Now we can talk about the matter at hand.
It has been more than three months since I agreed, at the request of my friend, Juliano Mer-Khamis, to come to the Jenin Refugee Camp and deliver a master class to cinema students at the Freedom Theatre. At the time, I was on my way to board the Gaza Flotilla, but at the last moment I changed direction, and arrived in Jenin. I could not imagine then that Juliano’s offer would change my life, and that the Camp would become my second home.
On the first day of the seminar in Jenin I showed my film “Forgiveness“. Just before the screening, one of the students made it clear to me, with a bitter smile, that for her it made no difference: as much as I would try to be a “pet Jew”, as an Israeli Jew I did not belong in the Camp. Out of respect for her sentiments, I ignored the insult and continued with the screening. Only toward the end of the film, witnessing the scared reactions of the girls in the class to a certain scene with actor Itay Tiran, I realized that I understood nothing. I think there is no better starting position than this to begin a wonderful friendship.
Our class consists of ten diverse students: boys and girls, all across the political scale from the communist left to traditional Islam. There are Palestinians from within Israel’s 1948 borders, from cities, from the Camp and from the diaspora. There is even one anarchist Jew, who has been trying to teach me Arabic, without much success.
At least here at the Freedom Theatre they have succeeded in momentarily neutralizing the merciless dissection of the Palestinian society into separate cantons which are not allowed to exist together, like organs without a body. And because of the siege, a student from Gaza will participate through Skype. God willing – inshallah.
Jenin Says “Ahlan Wasahlan”
We spent the entire week watching short films made by the students. One way or another, they all dealt with women’s position in the local society. I slowly understood from them that the struggle for the liberation of Palestine should be closely intertwined with the struggle for the liberation of women. The religious girl in the class defined this as “feminism with a hijab”.
Having had a thorough discussion, analyzing the films and commenting on the analysis, we reached the conclusion that what we all truly share is the passion for cinema. A personal, yet belligerent, cinema, loyal to society and at the same time rebelling against it. A cinema that would share the strong experience of being a young Palestinian struggling to break free from the chains of occupation imposed from the outside, while also struggling to break free from the chains of a society that assimilated the occupation which burns and disassembles it from within.
At the end of the seminar the same student who reproached me on the first day approached me with a similar defying tone, this time on behalf of the group, and asked me if I would be willing to stay with them for the next couple of years in order to help to position and stabilize the department for multimedia and cinema using my experience.
Later on Juliano told me that Jenin says to me ahlan wasahlan – welcomes me warmheartedly – which is a rarity, considering the fact that I am an Israeli Jew. And I, like an excited child who has just received a big present, started my affair with Jenin and with a youth group that is going to change the space between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Here in Jenin only very few have seen the sea – but I hope that many will join our Mediterranean odyssey.
The Other Side of the Green Line
During the next few months I will try, among other things, to reflect current events which you hear about on the daily news, through the gallery of personalities I slowly get to know here and through the eyes of the people of the Camp in Jenin – one of the most complex places created by a hundred years of conflict.
So what did we have this week? Truth be told, here in Jenin no one was really interested in the story of the Israeli actors who refused to perform in Ariel. For the binationalists the apartheid starts in Lod and in Jaffa. We support a total boycott of Israel until Israel ends the occupation, grants equal rights to Israeli Palestinians, and acknowledges the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. This is our joint non-violent struggle for justice and freedom. The other option is a violent non-joint struggle, a struggle in which a citizen of Israel – Palestinian or Jewish – has no moral right to participate, and which today in any case only serves the Israeli government and global jihad.
What is hard for Israelis to grasp is that it is not going to be an internal dialog between left-wing and right-wing Jews that will end the conflict and bring about a new era, but only a dialog between all based on the values of justice and absolute equality.
The Green Line, which the refusing actors are trying to mark by their actions, is a miraculous line, which is transparent and passable for Jews on both its sides, but opaque and impassable for Palestinians from the east. When a Palestinian in Jenin looks west, the Green Line is a clear line separating him from the sea. It is a cruel line which separates the 1948 Palestinians from the West Bank Palestinians culturally, materially and mentally, and prevents the Freedom Theatre of Jenin from performing for the Palestinian audience in Haifa and the Zubeidi family from returning to its home in Caesarea. It is the line that prevents families from uniting and the two sides from marrying and loving like free human beings.
On the other hand, when an Israeli from Tel Aviv looks east, there is no sign of the Green Line. He sees a wall that hides the Palestinian from his view, locking him in a pen, so that he could go perform in Ariel, Ofra or Shavei Shomron, but a green line is nowhere to be seen.
And so the Green Line, with its miraculous optical feature, turns the entire Israel into one racist colonialist unit. And so, until we can erase and destroy the Green Line and establish an equal state from the River to the Sea, the least that decent Israeli Jews can do is seal the Line from both its sides.
I believe that Israeli-Jewish support of the non-violent Palestinian struggle is the only way to form a bridge for building a joint future, where the Zubeidis will be able to return to Caesarea and sing “My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,” and Ariel will be able to stay put in order to watch “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.”
But until that day, the believers in the two-state solution must boycott any Israeli-Jewish activity, economic and cultural, beyond the Green Line. Who knows if they will proliferate in Israel. Maybe you will, in spite of my dream, succeed in establishing two states for the two peoples.
Does the True Zionist Alone Possess the Freedom to Speak?
Devious racism silently infiltrated even into one of the petitions supporting the actors, which was signed by thousands on the Internet. It says: “and here a brave group of actors, true Zionists, who seek the country’s good and securing our children’s future, has come and committed an act – they refuse to perform in Ariel”.
It is clear to me that these things were written out of good intentions (which pave the road to hell), in order to protect the actors from the nationalistic populism. But that petition implies that only a true Zionist has the freedom to speak, and that one may silence a Palestinian or a non-Zionist actor. It is also implied, that only our children’s future should be secured. But what about the future of all of the children? The future of the children of the victims of occupation? Why does the arrogant ingratiating spirit of the national left always eventually succeed in darkening any justice doing?
Do not defend our actors with nationalistic words. Imbued with faith, and without compromise, we will stand against any manifestation of racism. For the headhunters have spanned their nets, and the mob at the town square is eagerly waiting for the actors and actresses who are led to the pillory.
This time, for a change, let us not ingratiate ourselves with the mob and with the greedy theater directors. Let us not fear. Let us establish a glorious theater, stand together few against many, Jews and Arabs, refuse any kind of discrimination and indulge in the battle for full equality. What a magnificent theater that might be!
And maybe the miracle will occur and the mob will applaud, and the directors of the theaters will remember that they too were once human beings. And then, even if we fail, as my favorite actor once told me: “I know it would be a glorious failure.” And so, at the end of the day, Jenin too will know that the cross-nationality revolution started by Juliano’s mother, Arna Mer-Khamis, at a tiny little theater in the Refugee Camp of Jenin, has finally reached Tel Aviv.