I first made contact with Palestinian documentary filmmaker Mohammed Alatar on Friday, March 30, 2007. I still have the email that I sent him to thank him for producing The Iron Wall, which at the time was the highest selling Palestinian documentary ever. The film caught my attention from the opening screen where he displayed this quote from the father of the Zionist right, Vladimir Jabotinsky, written back in November 1923:
“Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population. Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population – behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach. That is our Arab policy; not what it should be, but what it actually is, whether we admit it or not.”
In 2008, Mohammed outdid himself. He released a new documentary titled “Jerusalem…the east side story,” one of the most-viewed political documentaries on Palestine. It presented the effects and injustices of, what at the time was, 42 years of Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. The documentary raised the eyebrows of many Israelis and Jews living abroad who had little insight into the dynamics of how right-wing elements inside Israel were entrenching the occupation in a fashion that could only lead to permanent occupation.
As the world awaits President Donald Trump’s long-touted “Deal of the Century” to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, conditions on the ground are worsening by the day and permanent occupation has become an acceptable path forward for many, except those persons on the receiving end, Palestinians.
Palestinians and Israelis alike are collectively holding their breath for what may be a prelude to yet another round of bloody violence, leaving a resolution to the conflict, or even a mere step in the right direction, a remote thought.
Filmmaker Mohammed Alatar is back.
One physical element of the deterioration on the ground is the building of what has become known to the Palestinian as the “Separation Wall” and to the Israelis as a “Security Fence.”
Beginning construction in 2002, the Israeli government set out to build a 700 kilometer-long wall (about 420 miles) in the West Bank, predominantly on the Palestinian side of the “Green Line”. US President George W. Bush once described this monstrous eyesore as a “problem” and went on to state while on the White House Rose Garden back in 2003 that, “It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and the Israelis … with a wall snaking through the West Bank.”
This very same “problem” may have buried within it a way forward that has exponentially better chances for success than Trump’s yet-to-be announced “deal.”
Two years into construction, the establishment of the Separation Wall brought with it a case heard before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that resulted in the landmark 2004 Advisory Opinion that not only declared that the construction of a wall within occupied Palestinian territory is contrary to International Law, but also called upon Israel to desist from construction, and to make reparations for all damages caused by its construction. The Advisory Opinion was crystal clear; it also admonished all States to refuse recognition of the illegal situation, to render neither aid nor assistance in maintaining it, and to ensure compliance by Israel with International Humanitarian Law. Immediately, the General Assembly asked the UN Secretary General and the member states to implement the Opinion.
Today, more than a decade later, Israel has not desisted or made reparations; on the contrary, the Wall is nearing completion, and most States have made little effort to secure compliance.
Although much has been written about the Wall, few efforts have sought to dig deeper into why States turned a blind eye to all its illegalities, which were clearly ingredients for a troubling road ahead, as we are now witnessing. Mohammed Alatar has taken this aspect of the Wall head on in a newly released documentary titled, “BROKEN.”
“BROKEN” takes a direct and factual approach to the story of the Wall. It does not shy away from showing both narratives surrounding the debate but remains grounded in the one that is neutral to the parties, international law. This same legal reference point provides States with a way out of the coming collapse.
Filmmaker Alatar is fanatic about being accurate, and it shows. The lineup of interviews in “BROKEN” is proof that a veteran filmmaker is at work behind the scenes. The story is supported by a very distinguished group of characters: judges, diplomats, experts, United Nations officials as well as Israeli and Palestinian voices.
Personalities with significant stature are featured in their own voice, such as Colonel Danny Tirza, Israel Defense Forces Reserves (IDF), West Bank settler, former head of the military body charged with planning the route of the Wall (Rainbow Operation Administration) 1994-2007; Judge Theodor Meron, President of the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (the Hague), former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), former Professor of International Law at the Geneva Graduate Institute of International Studies, former legal counsel to the Israeli Foreign Ministry; Judge Thomas Buergenthal, former Judge at the International Court of Justice (2000-10), Professor of Comparative Law and Jurisprudence, George Washington University Law School (United States); Judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, former Judge of the ICJ and former Prime Minister of Jordan; and Ambassador Nasser Al-Kidwa, former Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations (1991-2005), until 2014 United Nations Deputy Mediator on Syria, among others
International Law is the elephant in the room that States have shied away from to base their actions on. Holding both Israel and Palestine legally accountable, proportionally as dictated by law, has the potential to bring at least common sense in to the conflict, if not a resolution.
Short of introducing common sense into State actions, Palestinians will be left to invest in two wooden ladders, one propped up on each side of the wall and each costing approximately $42, to get to the other side of the Wall. Israel will be left to foot the nearly $2B bill for the Wall’s construction, and Palestinian and Israeli youth will continue to seek a life elsewhere, leaving the deterioration to further and ultimately turn deadly.
“BROKEN” was produced by AdvocacyProductions Sàrl, a Geneva-based film production company. The trailer may be viewed here.
Sam Bahour is a board member with Just Vision, a policy analyst with Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network and a secretariat member of the Palestine Strategy Group. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Twitter: @SamBahour