By Ben White
In the interests of transparency, I should declare that Philip Rizk and I are personal friends. Having already seen his documentary, This Palestinian Life, before being asked to review it, I was happy to accept the offer, knowing that I would only want to commend this excellent short film to readers.
The strength of This Palestinian Life is hinted at in the title; what Rizk explicitly sets out to do is share the personal, everyday stories that do not feature in media coverage of Palestine/Israel. As Rizk comments in the film, the Palestinians he talks to do not represent ‘the severest cases’, in terms of experiences of Israeli occupation, but are the kind of stories ‘most rarely told’.
These are glimpses of lives lived in defiance of Israeli apartheid rule, examples of sumoud, of steadfastness. The concluding sequence of shots feature the Palestinians we have met during the previous half hour going about their work; building, milking goats, harvesting crops. Not a rousing speech or narrated provocation – just the persistency and willpower of people whose voices are not heard in Congress or the CNN studios.
Viewers will undoubtedly have their own personal reactions to the film, but for me, there were a number of moments that impacted emotionally. One of them is seeing the home video footage of Abu Eid Salah, in Beit Hanoun, stricken with grief on his knees in the dust, after the Israeli military has bulldozed over his farmland. We see the Salah family picking over the remains of their property, mourning the loss of their trees like as a bereavement.
Aside from Beit Hanoun, Rizk visits the rural West Bank communities of Susya and Ghwein near Hebron, and Al-Jiftlik, Al-Fasa’il, and Al-Hadideya in the Jordan Valley. These are villages struggling for survival, threatened by settlements (and settlers), and choking under Israel’s regime of control. Here we see the reality of what ‘Area C’ means; Jewish settlements flourish with building permits and abundant water supplies, while alongside, Palestinians see even simple shelters demolished and taps run dry.
While the focus is very much on the day to day existence of these Palestinians under Israeli military rule, conversation naturally turns to politics, and here, Rizk’s interviewees speak with more clarity than most of our diplomats. Ali, who in the Jordan Valley is on the receiving end of Israel’s policies of segregation and discrimination, asks rhetorically, ‘Where is the democracy?’ ‘No’, he affirms, ‘this is racism’. Abu Musa, in Ghwein, has no time for the ‘media talk’ of peace and independence. Israel can take anything they want, he says, even President Abbas’ house if they felt like it.
Through its short running time, This Palestinian Life maintains a sense of unfiltered immediacy, with only light editorial touches such as the use of music by the likes of Marcel Khalife and Khalil Jubran. The one-on-one interviews with Rizk in frame can make you feel like you are lucky to be listening to a private chat.
What runs right through the film, and what stays with the viewer afterwards, is the Palestinians’ refusal to give up, their steadfast insistence of sumoud – from those promising to rebuild their homes every time the army destroys them, to the declared intent of Abu Sagr in Al-Hadideya that ‘we are staying on our land until they get frustrated and leave us alone’. This Palestinian Life is a beautiful vignette of what perhaps might become in the future, ‘a people’s history of Palestine’.
– To learn more visit: http://www.thispalestinianlife.org.
– Ben White is a freelance journalist and writer specializing in Palestine/Israel. He lives in the UK and his new book, ‘Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide’ is published by Pluto Press (2009). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.benwhite.org.uk.