Friday, June 14, 2024

Palestinian, Israeli Activists Talk ‘No Other Land’ Doc

The arid area of the West Bank known as Masafer Yatta, which in the 1990s was designated as a live-fire training zone where the Israeli military exercises full control, is home to Basel Adra, a young Palestinian activist who has been fighting the mass expulsion of his community by the Israeli authorities since childhood. “No Other Land,” which screens in Berlin’s Panorama section, documents the gradual demolition of houses and entire villages by the military in the region using bulldozers. The documentary was made by a Palestinian-Israeli collective of four young activists: Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, Rachel Szor and Adra. It screens Feb. 17.

Variety spoke to Adra and Abraham about the challenges of chronicling the escalating expulsions and their hopes that raising awareness will help end the occupation.

How did you start collaborating on this doc?

Basel Adra: I personally grew up seeing Israeli and international activists here all my life in our village and the surrounding communities. Then when Yuval and Rachel, who are Israelis, came five years ago to write about things — Yuval is journalist — we met and we became friends but also activists together, working on articles about the area. And then we got the idea of doing this, of creating this movie.

Yuval Abraham: For me, it started when I learned Arabic and it really changed my life. I feel as though I’d had one eye closed and learning Arabic opened the other eye. I started to meet Palestinians and I started to understand the reality of life under the military occupation in the West Bank. And I remember specifically I was writing a journalism piece in Jerusalem and I witnessed a guy in Jerusalem, a Palestinian, whose home was demolished. And I remember him and his 4-year-old daughter looking at it. I was shocked to see this, demolishing a home in front of a person. So I began researching this phenomenon. When I was growing up, people around me told me Palestinians were building illegally and that is why we were destroying their homes with bulldozers. But when I did my research I realized that actually there is a law that systematically prevents Palestinians from getting building permits, and that this law is part of taking over their land. And that’s how I got to Masafer Yatta. And I met Basal and we connected in this fight against injustice and created the collective.

What were the practical aspects of filming and gathering materials?

Abraham: First of all, Basal’s family and neighbors had a huge archive of videos that were filmed over the course of 20 years. And then we as activists, we were there on the ground together, working together for almost five years, and we filmed a lot. We had Rachel, the cinematographer and co-director of the film, who was shooting us. So there was an abundance of footage. The military entered Basal’s home twice and confiscated computers and cameras. So we were always very, very stressed. It was complicated logistically and quite stressful, but in the end we managed.

Given that the Israel-Hamas war is raging on, does this film takes on special significance?

Adra: To me it represents what we always wanted the world to be aware of. It shows what we have been suffering for a long time. It’s very important for us as Palestinians — I’m speaking about myself as a Palestinian — to tell many people in the Western world what’s really happening on the ground. It’s very important to tell the world that we are the victims of this brutal occupation and they should do whatever they can to support us in ending it.

Abraham: For me, as an Israeli, the film represents the need to address the political roots of the situation, basically. Because I believe that we are now more than ever at a breaking point. Take me, for example, I’m living under civilian law. I’m in Jerusalem right now and Basal cannot even come to Jerusalem because he’s a Palestinian under military law. And I believe it’s crucial if we want to have a future here — if we want to be able to imagine a future — to touch on the political roots and find the political solution and end the occupation. I believe that perhaps now more than ever, this should be clear to people all over the world. And I hope our film emphasizes that and shows how unsustainable the current system is.

Has the situation in Masafer Yatta gotten worse since the war started in October?

Adra: What’s happened since October is that the settlers who used to attack us with sticks and stones are now the actual soldiers who are controlling everything around us. So they’ve been able to make us sit in our homes, and prevent us to go out with our sheep. And made it very hard for us to go to the city to provide to our needs by closing roads.

Abraham: The film shows the process through which the Israeli state and the military and settlers are gradually forcing Palestinian communities to leave their lands, so they can basically be used for Israeli settlements. This is a plan, as you can see in the film, that is being carried out gradually.

And the Hamas attack and the war in Gaza and all the killings, the chaos that was created, has been an opportunity for the Israeli settlers in these areas of the West Bank. It’s been an opportunity for them to try to accelerate this forced eviction of villages.

Since October up until today, there are 16 entire villages in the West Bank that have been depopulated. In one village, the settlers burned houses. In another village, they shot somebody and people got scared, so they started leaving. I think that if this is not stopped, and if there aren’t more international sanctions against settlers who are using violence, then this process will continue.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Courtesy Berlinale

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