Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

The camera as the weapon

PALESTINE / Receiving both awards and death threats, No Other Land is a poignant exploration of resistance, solidarity, and the quest for justice in a land marked by conflict.

This story is actually more outside the cinema than in.

Inside, it is of Basel Adra, 29 years old, from Masafer Yatta—South of Hebron. Like many Palestinians, his first childhood memory is of a searchlight being pointed at him by a soldier as Masafer Yatta is one of those bits of the world where life looks like an Amnesty International report. In Arabic, it means «nothing» as it is nothing but a bare flow of hills of earth and sand dotted with briers like pinpricks—briers and shepherds’ shacks scattered around and isolated. And for the settlers, there is no easier prey. In 1983, it was declared a Military Zone. And now, there is a demolition order looming over every house of its thousand or so inhabitants. In Masafer Yatta, the battle is not one of M16s or tanks but bulldozers and lawyers. That’s why Basel Adra graduates in law, trusting in justice. But the courts are the Israeli courts. They are a weapon among weapons. «We are only carrying out the instructions,» the army repeats. «It’s all legal.» And from shacks, Palestinians ended up in caves.

No Other Land Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, Rachel Szor
No Other Land, a film by Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, Rachel Szor

A most emblematic area

«I started to film when we started to end,» he says, for he has nothing else: only his camera. He wants his images to become evidence before a different type of judge—public opinion. He runs from one spot to next, one attack to next, «I’m filming you! I’m filming you!» he shouts to the IDF and the settlers, night and day. And when he starts filming, Yuval Abraham, 29 years old, starts filming him. He is from Be’er Sheva#; he is «a human-rights Israeli,» as Palestinians say caustically, basically, and skeptically. And when he is there, in the middle of nowhere, among these Palestinians who, after all, are total strangers and for whom he could be a target, you cannot help but think: he is braver than the entire IDF; than all those who are now on the front line in Gaza.

Masafer Yatta is one of the areas most covered by the media. Israeli and Palestinian activists are shoulder to shoulder—but, above all, because it is a most emblematic area: daily, nothing special seems to happen. A torn pylon here, broken pipes there. Because here, Gaza is not the rule; it is the exception. The rule is this daily drip that exasperates you, causing you to leave of your own free will. Suddenly, there is a fight around a generator. And Harun Abu Aran, its owner, remains quadriplegic because of this—a generator. That’s Masafer Yatta. That’s what Israelis and Palestinians are today. Apparently, they live next to each other; some drive cars with yellow plates, and others with green plates, but Israel controls both. Deciding for both where you can or can’t go. Harun Abu Aran will die due to lack of treatment after two years of agony.

After all, isn’t this the role of artists and intellectuals? Tackling controversial topics?


«Ours is not coexistence; it is co-resistance,» said Yuval Abraham at the Berlinale, where on 26 February, No Other Land won the Documentary Award. Stirring up a storm that is still ongoing. He has been accused of anti-Semitism. A Jew whose family was exterminated in the Shoah.

Between the dead and the missing, 2% of Gaza’s population has now been killed. As if in Europe, we had had 9 million victims. And many festivals found themselves in between the outrage for 7 October, for Hamas, and for the response to them. But the Berlinale has always been political. And so, when its executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeek, on its eve, said that «it doesn’t position itself politically, especially in times when we don’t know where politics is heading,» many were taken aback. It stood with the Arab Spring, against Trump, for Ukraine. For Mahsa Amini. Why not talk about Gaza as well? After all, isn’t this the role of artists and intellectuals? Tackling controversial topics? The problem is that Yuval Abraham did not limit himself to a hollow call for peace. Anyone who lives here knows it is not about peace but justice. That only from justice will freedom come, and only from freedom will security come for everyone. And so, he instead talked of equality. Explaining that once back home, he would be subject to a different law than the one Basel Adra is subject to, civilian law, rather than military law, even though they live just 18 miles away. The result: he never went back home because of tons of death threats.

No Other Land Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, Rachel Szor
No Other Land, a film by Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, Rachel Szor

Europe’s internal conflict

Germany is not just any country, of course. After the Holocaust, unconditional support for Israel is «staatsräson,» reason of state, and any discussion on Israelis and Palestinians has to be based on the so-called «erinnerungskultur,» the culture of remembrance. But it is the same throughout Europe: any criticism of Israel is branded as anti-Semitism. Especially now that the far-right is on the rise everywhere. The AfD, the Alternative for Germany, has 78 deputies out of 736 in Germany. In Italy, Mussolini’s heirs are in government. And anti-Semitism has not disappeared. At all. But it’s marginal. While this undeclared ban on any criticism of the Occupation fuels radicalisation. Germany is also the country of Samidoun, a network of activists strictly monitored by Interpol for their connections to Hamas. Sometimes, honestly, listening to them is like listening to bin Laden. In Berlin, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann spoke of criminal prosecution, yes, but because while Yuval Abraham asked for equality, the fans in the stands called for a Palestine free from the river to the sea. Which means a Palestine without Israel.

Instead of mediating the conflict, Europe has sparked one within the conflict—pro-Israelis versus pro-Palestinians. Or maybe, pro-nothing. Because in the end, in Berlin they talked more about themselves than about Masafer Yatta.

While here, Israelis and Palestinians, together, try to sort this hell out.

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Francesca Borri
Francesca Borri
Italian journalist and writer. She contributes regularly to Modern Times Review.

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