“We will stay on our land”

“We will stay on our land”

For two weeks now, the Israeli attack on Gaza has been reminding the world of the ongoing plight of the Palestinian people. These wake-up calls occur from time to time, causing a brief period of international outrage in which funds are raised, pledges are made, and people soothe their guilty consciences by joining Facebook groups or donating money.

But what happens when outright war ends and is replaced yet again by the more subtle violence of occupation? What happens when cameras are put away and Palestinians are left alone while the rest of us go about our lives?

“This Palestinian Life,” a beautifully conceived short documentary by Philip Rizk, provides a window into the spirit of the “sumoud” or steadfastness, that lives in every Palestinian, and that has allowed them to overcome the daily humiliations of occupation, to stay determined on their land over 60 years of occupation.

Stunning shots of Palestine’s rocky hills and green farmland accompanied by melancholy oud melodies are the only embellishments that can be found in this film whose power lies in its lack of adornment and raw portrayal of the extraordinarily painful everyday life in Palestine. 

Many films made about the conflict rely on statistics to send a message; Rizk’s film, on the other hand, lets the stories of his characters speak for themselves. Traveling throughout the West Bank and Gaza, he meets persecuted farmers whose lives and livelihoods, if not their spirits, have been nearly destroyed by Israel’s tireless efforts to force them from their lands.

The Salah family of Beit Hanoun sees their fields bulldozed, their home demolished and their men imprisoned. The cave-dwelling communities of Hebron accommodate Israel’s oppressive policies against building, digging wells, and much more while living under constant threat of attack by local Israeli settlers. Zeinab, Ali and their neighbors in the Jordan Valley construct homemade bricks in order to be ready to rebuild their lives all over again after Israeli bulldozers finish their houses.

Yet, somehow, these extraordinary citizens are determined to stay put and their message is clear: “We will stay on our land.”

The other unspoken message that Rizk captures through his lens is a creed of nonviolent resistance that each of the individuals portrayed in the film have made part of their daily lives. In continuing to cultivate fields, rebuild destroyed homes and simply refusing to yield their places on the land to others, these Palestinians embody a relentless steadfastness, shunning the weapons of their adversaries that would’ve automatically allowed the world to question their moral authority had they been employed.

For Rizk, showing the rootedness of nonviolent resistance in the lives of his characters was a central aim of the film.

“We wanted to address the fact that violent forms of resistance, widely reported by international media outlets, overshadow more common non-violent forms of Palestinian resistance like sumoud, longsuffering and perseverance in the face of Israeli occupation,” he explained.

While Rizk acknowledges that international media possesses complete authority to portray the conflict any way it chooses, he holds out hope that films like “This Palestinian Life” can give voice to little-heard stories, and, in so doing allow the world the opportunity to witness the methods used by the majority of Palestinians to resist the occupation — strategies that have nothing to do with the stories of terrorist extremism most commonly seen and heard around the world. 

As inspiring as these stories are, in the present situation characterized by a total disregard for international law, the rules of war, and the basic humanity of the Palestinians, it is easy to feel that non-violence has not accomplished anything during 60 years of occupation.

And yet Palestinians remain on their land — a fact that requires no help from stirring music or flowery commentary in the frames of “This Palestinian Life.” The film’s no-frills presentation is intentional and devastatingly effective in pointing out the facts.

This is not a drama with a beginning and an end, this is reality that will continue to exist for Palestinians regardless of who is watching, or caring, at the moment.

Catch “This Palestinian Life” tomorrow, 6 pm, at Al Afaq Al Ishtariqya, and on Saturday, Jan. 17, at Sawy Culture Wheel at 5 pm.