Life is cheaper in the camp

ISRAEL / On average, two kids a day are arrested somewhere in the occupied territories.
Director: David Wachsmann
Producer: Gum Films
Distributor: First Hand Films
Country: Israel

Panoramic shots of the Aida refugee camp from above. The Israeli so-called separation wall is clinging to the houses. Children are seen in the narrow street along the wall. They throw stones. The Israeli soldiers in the watch tower are not seen.

This is the mindboggling opening of Israeli filmmaker David Wachsmann’s new documentary about Palestinian kids in a West Bank refugee camp. It tells the story of a small group of kids or youngsters and what happened on one fateful day. The kids were in the street; they played, threw a few stones, and one was killed when the soldiers suddenly opened fire.

At the funeral, things escalated. «I was not afraid. On the contrary. We started throwing stones», says one of the kids, now a young man at 17, to the camera.

The usual arrests followed. Nocturnal raids at private homes in the camp, where young boys were taken in for questioning. The arrests during the night are harsh and degrading, but there is no obvious brutality or torture. There are rules in this terrible game, and they are being respected, but that being said, this is a piece of cold and efficient machinery working towards a goal without much consideration for human feelings. One former chief military prosecutor says that, of course, there is a difference in the treatment of Israeli and Palestinian kids because this is occupied territory, and that has other legal definitions.

Two Kids a Day David Wachsmann
Two Kids a Day, a film by David Wachsmann

An evil system

«It is very difficult for those involved to see the minors as children. First of all, they are detainees, Arabs, terrorists, defendants, bombers», says Neri Ramati, human rights advocate at the military courts.

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There are good and bad judges, like in all legal systems, but how these kids are treated creates an evil system. Nobody is pulling the strings. The system is evil because of the situation. I do not believe there are any evil people in the system that want to hurt the kids. But this system cannot be administered without being evil.

There is a thought-provoking scene where Adam, a 14-year-old kid, sits with the interrogator. They are small talking before the actual interrogation, probably to lull the arrestee into trusting the situation. They exchange views on prices. A falafel in Israel is 25 shekels; in the camp, only two. Life is cheaper in the camp, says Adam with a smile. Probably an unintended remark, but with a stinging double meaning.

On average, two kids a day are arrested somewhere in the occupied territories.

This is what this documentary is all about. On average, two kids a day are arrested somewhere in the occupied territories. Sometimes the kid has done nothing, but the arrest might help the authorities catch an offender, whatever that word means. Because when we see the actual videos from the interrogations, the absurdity of the situation is screaming to the heavens. We see a 13 years old boy sitting there, scared and bewildered, and when pressed for words, he claims he is throwing stones for his homeland. Does this boy understand what he is saying, or has he been caught up in a system called occupation?

According to the rules, no Palestinian kid under 14 can be jailed for more than 6 months. So when a boy close to that age sits in front of the interrogator, he might very well be tempted to come up with some confession just to get it over with. Because if the confession falls after he has become old enough, he might land up in prison for a very long time.

Two Kids a Day David Wachsmann
Two Kids a Day, a film by David Wachsmann

New culture minister

As an interesting byword, the film was partly funded by Mifal HaPayis, the Israeli state lottery. Moreover, it was produced with the Israeli Ministry of Sports and Culture blessing. That in itself makes the release of the film a pointed commentary on present developments. On December 29th, another Netanyahu government took charge, being the most right-wing cabinet in the country’s history.

Human rights organizations are already feeling the heat and conditions for the Palestinians on the West Bank and fear for the future. The new culture minister, Miki Zohar, a lawyer with a career in real estate, has threatened to take back the financial support Wachsmann’s film has received. In addition, he is expressing his anger that the film will be screened at the HUMAN International Documentary Film Festival in Oslo this March.

«The Ministry of Culture and Sports under my leadership will not finance works that harm the good name of the State of Israel, both in Israel and in the world», says the minister!

‘Two Kids a Day’ screens as part of the HUMAN idff Oslo International Competition.

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Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Modern Times Review.

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