Mustafa (Ali Suliman) is a construction worker, a loving husband, and a father of three. From the shared home with his mother, he can see the windows where his wife Salwa (Lana Zreik) lives with their children. There are 200 meters and a wall in between them, the wall separating Israel from the Occupied Territories. Mustafa could obtain a permit allowing him to live in Israel, as his wife and children are citizens, but to him, that would mean legitimising the divide and rules, something he cannot accept. Instead, he uses a permit to work in Israel and see his family every day.
It takes an average person about 7 minutes to walk two hundred meters. Covering this distance, however, means Mustafa has to through detours and checks. Every day, those seven minutes turn into hours, a back and forth that could be a commute, but weighs differently under the heaviness of its meaning. It also puts an unavoidable strain on Mustafa’s otherwise loving marriage. The distance is more than a line connecting two points, but an identity mark pressing on Mustafa’s principles, a tangible reality, a wall in itself.
Things become even more complicated one day, when crossing this border, Mustafa discovers his work permit expired and now cannot enter Israel. It is the weekend, so he cannot renew it quickly. In these circumstances, he approaches a smuggler, but the man asks for the equivalent of $100 for the journey. He decides not to go but then Salwa tells him their son, Majd, is in the hospital. In the face of the emergency, Mustafa doesn’t have a choice but to take the risks and the alternative route.
Crossing the wall that is not only a massive concrete structure but also a deep crease between territories, takes away chunks of people’s lives. More than that, it also does something to the mind – a constant reminder of where the power resides, of who has the upper hand. The need to cross is life as it is and the newly appeared emergency makes it urgent. Though the distance is short, the risks turn it into an adventure.
It takes an average person about 7 minutes to walk two hundred meters.
Ali Suliman makes a wonderful and strong character, adding emotional depth to what is essentially a film about a risky car ride. A mix of fellow passengers joins, most notably a young man looking for work (Rami), an alternative type of young man (Kifah) together with his German filmmaker girlfriend (Anne) – who documents the journey trying to capture the whole experience, an almost stereotypical character defined by obliviousness and naivety.
The journey is filled with dangers and obstacles and also the tension each feels in face of being discovered. The attempt has no ill-intention, driven by necessity and demand – the need to find work, to take part in a family event, the smugglers themselves an answer to the other’s needs.
With each delay and detour, that short distance expands, and time too. Eventually, the trip takes a whole day, but it feels longer, a trip across countries in a climate of tension and unrest.
The story gives dimension to what separation, a climate of uncertainty, and distrust do to people’s minds. Educated or not, with families or not – the confinement, the rules, the limitations, and the arbitrary to which Palestinians are exposed every day define the general climate and people’s way of bonding and trusting in others. The character’s destinations are close yet far, and they themselves are trapped in a bubble, whether in a car, a confined territory, or their own mind. In this context, access and movement are commodities. The wall itself is a commodity, as its weakly guarded points of crossing can be exploited by people who ask for money from the ones who want to climb it.
Such a life is covered in a layer of individual distrust, of needing to know who is who and where they sit in this ongoing conflict. There is no space for grey zones, for the in-between. One can either be Palestinian or Jewish, or they can be an outsider, but not a mix of two – a mixed identity turning trust into distrust and even the smaller suspicions of one’s intention turn dangerous, as is the case of the German filmmaker whose identity is more complicated than just «coming from Berlin».
Part family story, part road trip, what makes Ameen Nayfeh’s first feature film memorable is not only the way in which it combines warmth, heartbreak, and adventure but its insightful portrayal of a world. By telling the story of one man divided by principles and love, it tells a universal story of the realities of Palestinian life.