I finished filming with my cameraman, Chris Romeike, yesterday and I will just follow-up this week with a few bits and pieces. It was very intensive, lots of interviews, lots of locations, lots of travel. Chris was great to work with though, very helpful and really into the surroundings and soaking-it-all-up. I am exhausted at this point, looking forward to returning home for a bit and putting all the pieces together again, mentally and otherwise.
Yesterday Chris and I were at the Kalandia crossing near Ramallah and it seems the soldiers were particularly nasty and brutal. They were harassing some woman and her 15 year old son as he did not have the proper permit to cross the checkpoint, Chris and I went to see what was happening and as we came with the camera, they left them and swarmed around us, yelling no camera, no filming. I told Chris to keep rolling as we worked-out whether or not they had the right to tell us not to film. I argued (of course!) and they were pretty unfriendly. One young soldier told me he could arrest me, bring me in for questioning blah, blah. I have learned from Ezra, not to let them intimidate. They talk a lot of bullshit, without a lot of authority behind them. Of course this is how they function daily to the Palestinians, but without any monitoring, they run lawlessly to some degree. They make threats, they invent rules and then they do as they please to the population. It is actually amazing to watch democratic principles be thrown out the window at will.
I have been witnessing a great deal of this occurring within both Israel and Palestine of late. The use of the excuse the situation and for security seems to supersede all, and not just at the high court levels where decisions are made daily in relation to security concerns overriding civil rights, but in the street, in these meetings with soldiers or anyone wearing a security badge. I was working on an interview, following one of my subjects to her workplace, and it so happens that as we were filming her walking, we passed the back of the American Embassy, to get where we were going. An Israeli security guard comes racing over demanding our ID's, practically our tape, what we are doing etc. I just said, what are you talking about? This has nothing to do with you, or the embassy. And, if the embassy has a problem with anyone with cameras in the vicinity, it should have a sign saying no filming, not that we were filming anything related to you anyway This seemed to be of no consequence to this guy who continued to demand out ID's. Chris and I handed him our Canadian passports and he turned and said I'll be back in a few minutes. I said No way, you're not going anywhere with my passport and I don't have time for your issues. I told him to give me the passports back right away, he looked at them, hesitated and handed them back, after a five second check. But if I wasn't aggressive, who knows how long we would have waited. We were talking about it afterwards in relation to the US's Homeland Security regulations overriding civil rights as well. I suppose what feels significant is how one experiences these things here daily, it is quite blatant and the Middle East's only democracy is quite far from that in so many ways.
We traveled a lot with Ezra, to Hebron area again this week and the closures of Palestinian roads connecting villages to towns are endless. A farmer can't get to his field, and certainly not with a tractor, people can't get to medical centres, crossing the Jewish road results in fines and punishments. I saw all these people running across the road, one after the other, as if they were running from someone chasing them, lots of people. I asked Ezra what he thought was going on? He told me that they were simply running as they were not allowed to be crossing the road. Can you picture it? Working people of all ages, running across a highway, fleeing. They are indeed being chased.
And for a drastic contrast, Chris and I went from there to Tel Aviv (about an hour and a half drive). We had dinner at a Nouvelle Cuisine Yuppie restaurant and then off to a gay bar for some filming. What a contrast from sitting in a tent in the Hebron hills with a family that could barely afford to feed itself and are not allowed to graze there sheep in most of their old grazing lands as they are surrounded by hostile settlers and are cut off by the roads they are not allowed to cross. The shepherds seem to be walking in circles. These people shared their food with us, as we walked around looking at the destroyed caves that they used to live in. The army had come and blown the caves to bits because they represent a permanent residence, yes, a cave, and they are not allowed to build there. They tried to put some rudimentary housing together after that, but those have been destroyed too, permanent structures you see. They have been allowed to reside in tents although this has been a problem for them as in the winter it is too cold, unsheltered, and the snow leaks into the tents. The meal they prepared for us was much better than the one in Tel Aviv, honestly.
I won't bore you with the details of the gay bar, it looked like every gay bar in the Western world; lots of tank tops, lots of cruising etc. I met one young guy who was happy to talk to the camera as Chris behind it seemed to be of interest to him. He was a soldier he told me, and Israelis just wanted peace and love, and that they would love the Arabs if only they could know which ones are good and which ones are not, so many are terrorists, so we cannot have peace. Luckily, I met some more engaging guys across from him who were lawyers it turns out. We talked about gay marriage in Canada for a bit but the conversation of course turned to Israel Palestine. One stayed on to talk, the other left for another gay bar. The one who stayed was telling me that he was currently trying to get out of his upcoming reserve duty which was to be at an army prison (for Palestinians), in the North. He told me how horrible it is, how the reserve soldiers, as they tend to be nicer and more civilized, are forbidden to engage at all with the prisoners. He is to be kept in a guard tower. Tel Avivians may try to stay far mentally from the Occupation but it seems you can't really run too far in the end.
I have been thinking a lot about the separation, the general ignorance between average Palestinians and Israelis, and while the gap is indeed large, the ignorance is a choice that functions as an excuse to do less. This is also one of the reasons so many Israelis support the wall/fence, not for security reasons, but just because it will allow them not to have to deal with the Palestinians; while they hardly see them now, you can't see through walls.
Well, that's this week's update and my last. I should be home by Sept 8th. I suppose this means summer is officially over, I feel relieved this time.
Peace to you all,