Even though I hadn’t had anything to eat for 12 hours and my stomach was growling – not even any coffee – I couldn’t resist taking in a 10 am screening of a film called The Inner Tour. The film is structured a bit like a travelogue, presented in 7 chapters or routes, as a diverse group of Palestinians take a tour bus through Israel, one of the few ways non-Israeli Palestinians were allowed to get visas and see their former homeland. Some of them were returning to a land full of memories; others, like the children, had never been to Israel before and were obviously in awe of it.
There are several heart-breaking scenes, gently observed. A handsome young man keeps a video travelogue addressed to his sister who lives in France. When the bus nears the Lebanon border he meets his mother whom he has not seen in two years; however, their meeting is through 200 meters of barbwire, military fencing and a 10m deep trench. Eventually more of his family shows up. They yell for awhile across the distance, eventually trading packets of snapshots tossed over the fence.
On their journey back to the Israeli border an elderly and quite articulate Arab man consults his notes and finds the bus is near his former village. He’d been driven out years and years before and had no hope that it was still standing. He finds only rubble overgrown with cacti, just like all the other Arab villages whose names are still on the map the tour guide uses but about which only the former inhabitants can remember. This scene caps the video poignantly.
If you think you know what ordinary Palestians think about Israel and about the seemingly never-ending conflict there then you’re in for a surprise. Almost everyone on the tour has an opinion and they frequently argue with each other about the meanings and the possible directions for their people. One strange conversation takes place – strange because it’s almost unbelievable that the lives of ordinary people contain such extremes – between two women about their husbands. The older woman’s husband was killed in the Intifada. Another is in prison for killing an Israeli soldier. The younger ask the older what she would do if she found the solider who killed her husband. She replies that “Me and my children would eat him alive.” The younger pauses, smiles and says, paraphrased, ”I love my husband and I believe in our struggle but I wonder what the wife or mother of that soldier feels about me, what she would do if she found me here.” There’s a short quiet; the older woman strokes the head of her grandson, who seems not to be listening, looking out the window at the gleaming sights of Tel Aviv. Ultimately, there is no single Muslim, or single Palestinian position, unless that position is a more emotional one, dictated by the alienation and sadness of displacement.
I saw another effective and affecting documentary, this one specifically about the Iraqi elections, called My Country, My Country but I need to make a screening in 5 minutes. Back in a couple hours.