Sam Bahour: Return to Palestine (2006)

Reviewed by Sam Bahour

The hour-long abridged DVD version of Return to Palestine by Ed Hill is a sombre account of the slow and painful process of ethnic cleansing that Palestinians are dealing with, in full view of the international community. Documenting this horrific reality, Return to Palestine is a genuine effort to witness and disseminate the realities of Israeli occupation, and even more so, to do it in an activist way that aims to get people not only to shake their heads in shame but to act to bring this man-made tsunami called Israeli occupation to an end.

From the informative DVD cover, through each segment of this eye-witness report, and all the way through to the ending, Mr. Hill provokes the viewer to pick one of the many facets of Palestinian non-violent resistance to support. The film opens with a blunt narrative of the terminology that best depicts the 40+ years of Israeli occupation, most notably the concept of “ethnic cleansing.” Through the lens of Palestinian olive farmers, the documentary systematically walks the viewer through the oppression that Palestinians are facing daily. The narrator explains that his take on the situation is that of an “embedded activist,” which gives him and his team deeper insight into Palestinian society.

Typically, village life in Palestine is not adequately depicted even when the issue is covered, but this film can take pride in its focus on the authentic rural-life reality that the majority of the population under occupation lives. The footage depicts the beautiful Palestinian landscape in the northern West Bank and around Bethlehem while explaining how this very landscape is being threatened by Israeli settlements, the Apartheid Wall, and Israeli policies.

Two segments show footage that is very difficult to find elsewhere: inside the new Israeli checkpoint terminals where filming is strictly prohibited. The viewer will see hidden camera shots from the infamous Kalandia (Atarot) and Bethlehem pedestrian checkpoints. This cold, barren reality that controls all Palestinian movement is seen from the inside, a view that tourists will rarely see on the ground as they pass the concrete, walled-in “terminals” that are made to look humane to the untrained eye.

The film ends with a rapid review (slightly too rapid for newcomers to the issue) of Palestinian history, from the days of the British Mandate. I guess it’s a timely reminder as we now have former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the ground learning about the occupation firsthand after his country opened the door for it to be created decades ago.

Staying true to its activist nature, the film closes not only with a list of all the organizing efforts in which the viewer can get involved but also with a bold quote from South African Bishop Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

If you are planning to present the Palestinian issue to foreign audiences, plan to use this film as your visual aid to reveal the true meaning of the occupation: organized state terror.

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