David Osit’s entertaining, at times funny, but essentially serious documentary focus on Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah, opens with a refreshingly normal vision of a popular city leader greeting locals as he makes his way around his patch fixing problems and encouraging cooperation.
When the curtain rises on the first act after this preamble – literally, in a magnificent long shot of the mayor standing at a big desk, as an automatic blind slowly rises up behind him to reveal a panoramic view of the park in front of Ramallah City Hall – we are given a glimpse of the stolidity and power of a man whose job is to run a major city successfully for a people without a country.
Many documentaries – perhaps most – set in Palestine focus on the violence and humiliations of the Israeli occupation. It is not often that Palestinians are viewed through the lens of their everyday lives and governance. Images of stone-throwing youths and lethally armed heavily swaddled Israeli conscripts launching tear gas attacks, and worse, are ubiquitous. Osit does not shy away from showing such images – they are, after all, part of reality for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories3 – but he does so only within the context of the mayor’s daily work.
Osit inadvertently chose a historic moment to begin his close shadowing of Hadid, whom we see in the office, during meetings, out and about on the streets, and at home with his family. It is December 2017 and US President Donald Trump suddenly announces that he is recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moving the US embassy there. It is a decision that is in breach of numerous international treaties, offensive to the Palestinian claim to the city as their capital, and sparks an outbreak of lethally violent clashes between Palestinians and the occupying forces.
Hadid’s daily concerns – overseeing a beautification programme for Ramallah’s Old Town, dealing with sewage leaks (frequent because the Israeli’s will not permit the city to have its own sewage treatment plant), and planning Christmas celebrations for a city with a big (25%) Christian minority – have to be conducted against a background of rising tensions and growing clashes with the occupying forces.
Driving to inspect a sewage leak, Hadid finds the way ahead blocked by Israeli troops fighting it out with . . .
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