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My Neighbourhood: An Israel-Palestine Documentary Review

31/03/2013 09:30 | Updated 29 May 2013

My Neighbourhood is a short documentary film that records four different stories at crossroads between Israeli West Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian town of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. It is not the sole Palestinian town to be occupied by Israel against international laws; it is the two unforeseeable forces of change converging, along with one antagonistic force of occupation bringing slow revolution in this town that directors Julia Bacha and Rebekah Wingert-Jabi have captured.

If I were to rename this film, I would call it 'It is my home; I won't leave it', an uncompromising message used by Sheikh Jarrah's people to hold nonviolent demonstrations against the illegal occupation and forced-eviction from their own homes. But Bacha and Wingert-Jabi achieve much more than merely one-sided view of the conflict. As filmmakers, they exhibit an exemplary approach to examination of reality in the face of this decades-long political conflict by offering an equal stage to all perspectives, from Palestine and from Israel. In this documentary and through its title, 'My Neighbourhood', they bring together the contradictory forces of occupation, resistance, powerlessness and indifference, which is what West and East Jerusalem represent.

It could be said that this film is about Mohammed El Kurd, a boy around thirteen years old who has grown up watching Israeli settlers with court orders to occupy his neighbours' homes and also his own home that his grandmother, Rifka El Kurd, has inhabited for 54 years. He has many unanswered questions such as how can people be violently thrown out of their own homes so that the police can let people from across the border to settle in. Perhaps his questions do not have any answers because whilst there are laws that protect the rights of Israeli people and allow occupation based on their belief that the bible states East Jerusalem as a Jewish land, there are no laws that protect Palestinian people. Rifka's silence and mistrust against Israelis speaks what many Palestinians feel; powerless on their own land and in their own homes.

Mohammed comes of age, learns about left and right politics, participates in nonviolent demonstrations and transforms his hatred of the Israelis as brutal settlers into the understanding that there are all kinds of people in countries, good and bad ones. His hatred is also transformed into hope and trust after meeting Zvi Benninga, his sister and others from West Jerusalem, who choose to give up being bystanders to injustice caused by their own government and awaken their conscience to the violence against Palestinians. Zvi and his sister also manage to convert their father from a person who fears challenging the system to someone who now participates in demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah in support of Palestinians. Their father, who is a child of holocaust survivors, recalls that it was righteous people who saved his parents and declares that 'just and righteous and brave people can make a difference' as he chooses this path himself in the backdrop of his children being arrested several times by the Israeli police for carrying out nonviolent demonstrations.

In this film, we are questioned to think why would Israeli politics allow the on-going and ever expanding occupation of Palestinian towns and cities? Perhaps it is too hard to believe that such a thing could happen. At this point, Bacha and Wingert-Jabi uphold responsible filmmaking and facts-reporting by giving an equal stage to Yonatan Yosef, one of the Israeli settlers in Sheikh Jarrah, who fondly stands over a hill, points out to the town and wishes that one day all of East Jeruslem will be occupied by the Jewish. A record of this storyline shows Palestinians being forcefully pushed out of their homes and Israeli men chanting slogans 'in blood, in fire, we will kick out the Arabs'.

The film ends by reflecting upon a revolution happening in Sheikh Jarrah. On one hand, it is a revolution happening for Israelis like Yonatan Yosef, for whom the dream of occupation is constantly being materialised. On the other hand, it is a revolution happening for Israelis like Zvi Benninga who are increasing in numbers against their own country's injustice. Meanwhile, the most important of all nonviolent revolutions continue in Palestine; a revolution in the life of Mohammed El Kurd, a young boy who dreams to be a lawyer one day so that he can fight for his family's right to claim back half of their house occupied by Israeli settlers.