There is no other region in the world that has been so exposed in the media as Gaza and the West Bank. Yet I can’t say I had a real understanding of the escalating violence in this region. The media’s slaughter scenes left by car bombs were completely incomprehensible to me. The more news clips I saw, the less I felt I could relate to this conflict. Then I noticed two new films on this difficult topic. The Palestinian, The Invisible Policeman by Laith Al-Juneidi and the Israeli movie, The Law in These Parts by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz. To my surprise, I found that these two movies complimented each other.
If you want to understand the structure of the conflict in this region The Law in These Parts provides an all-time breakthrough experience. The complex and well-hidden history of the legal apparatus is revealed. The film dissects the foundation of the legal system that was constructed in order to justify the occupation of the region. At one point the archive footage starts with today’s violence and goes back in fast tempo with the sound of fast reverse from an old film editing table. The history goes backwards to the first simple protests from the Palestinian farmers back in the 70s. We understand that this is a spiral of violence and we should not be afraid to look at the source for this aggression. It all began in 1979, when a group of Palestinian farmers filed a petition with Israel’s High Court of Justice claiming their land was settled illegally.
The court ruled in their favour, saying that land being seized for a civil rather than a military need is a blatant violation of international law. It was at this point that the Israeli legal advisors got together to find out how to circumvent this ruling and make the legal basis for continuing to practise their transgressions. The film itself was shot in a mere nine days in the studio. There is a desk, a chair, some documents and a green screen. This simple set becomes the most powerful court I have ever seen, more powerful than any international war crimes court in The Hague. We the viewers are the jury. With fascination, we watch an hour and a half of cross-examinations of a handful of Israeli legal officials, including Supreme Court judges. At first they are rather relaxed, maybe even sentimental, when they get into their hands the old documents of their court cases. Some remember very well, others don’t. It takes some time before they realize that they have just taken the witness stand.
The power is with the director, Alexandrowicz, who has the role of advocate. Sometimes he repeats aloud the last statement uttered by the subject, just to make sure that we, the jury, got the point. The camera is at all times on the subjects during the “interviews.” The subjects’ slow dawning awareness can be traced in their facial expressions. Some get defensive, others make admissions. The green screen at the back is visible at all times and sometimes shows archive material. This becomes the visual “evidence”. The first sets of archive film are from the late 60s. The expressions of the Palestinian farmers are open with childlike innocence. After the first set of detainments and severe court convictions, we see the change in their faces; we see a growing based on secret evidence not even made known to the accused. While interviewing a
«the topics were either about the Holocaust, conflicts with Arabs, conflict between religions or identity search in every possible aspect»
rather sympathetic attorney, Mr Pesseson, on how he could make convictions in court based only on the witness statement of one secret agent, the director gives us an example of this false perspective by filming this interview in a specific way. It goes like this: the sound of Mr Pesseson’s answers are faded out but the camera continues studying his face. An inter-reflective music begins along with the voice-over from the film director. The effect is that we get an intellectual distance from the scene we’re watching. The calm voice of the director says: “The interview with attorney Pesseson lasted almost three hours. He told me many more things. For example, that he volunteered to hear these appeals, because many military attorneys didn’t want to do it…”
18 israeli soldiers burst into the house and drag out their 13-year-old daughter
While listening to this we see (as if back in time) the construction of the set: the empty studio, the director preparing his notes, Mr Pesseson being brought into the studio by a film assistant, Mr Pesseson sitting behind the desk and waiting with anticipation. The viewer cannot ask Attorney Pesseson what he thinks about how the interview was edited. The viewer is free to judge what he hears. Through this Godard-like film language, where the director creates this distance by commenting to us directly on what we see, we don’t even realize how easily we are manipulated when we only hear the story from one source. Yet, this is his point. Attorney Pesseson admits: “One burden I can’t avoid is the heavy feeling of that I am not being told the truth from the beginning to the end. But… my obligation is to make a ruling.” It would be wrong, however, to leave the movie theatre with a dislike of the Israelis in general. Israel has a very strong documentary community and from what I hear, all their film stories are generally critical of Israeli politics.
At the east Doc Platform in Prague I talked to Mikael Opstrup from EDN, who had just arrived from a workshop in the area. He had read over 100 potential film projects. He said: “One can see how the projects reflect the soul of the country. The topics were either about the Holocaust, conflicts with Arabs, conflict between religions or identity search in every possible aspect. In general, no film was about love, unemployment or other more ordinary social issues. Their history is so dramatic that you don’t get normal stories there.” Maybe this is just why The Invisible Policeman by Laith Al-Juneidi stands out. Besides being a beautifully made film, here the story takes us into the real lives of one Palestinian family (living under the pressure of Israeli forces). We get close to this family, following them through ups and downs. The father, Abu Sa’eedis, is the main character. He is a Palestinian policeman who is proud of his job. He lives a strange paradox. As soon as his shift is over and he returns home to the old town of Hebron – which is controlled by Israeli forces, he has to remove his badge. Here he has neither status nor power. He never comments on his lack of power, but we see his despair when he hears that his son has been detained for throwing stones at the Israeli soldiers. Abu is only concerned about getting his son out. He takes on a loan and waits patiently at the detention centre, and is full of joy at his son’s release.
They never discuss politics or what just happened, they just drive happily back home. Here Abu’s wife surprises them with the news that she is pregnant again. Now the story follows the pregnancy and the birth of their tenth child. We see ordinary life, which we usually don’t get to see from these parts. For me this is what makes the film different and interesting. One can immediately feel that the crew has spent a long time with this family in order to get that close to their ordinary lives. The footage is cinematically shot by Chris Weaver and the director himself. The film gets so close to their lives that we feel we are a part of the family, and then it happens. In the middle of the night, 18 Israeli soldiers burst into the house and drag out their 13-yearold daughter. Because of the absurd rules, Abu Sa’eedis is completely helpless and cannot protect his own children in these situations, but on crossing the border he becomes a man of law and order again. While The Law in These Parts shows us the structure of the judicial setting in the land of no logic, The Invisible Policeman gives us a taste of how it is to live by such an absurd legal system.
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).