ملح هذا البحر

Finally I was able to see Annemarie Jacir’s brilliant new film last night, Salt of This Sea / ملح هذا البحر. I have been following this film for several months and was hoping it would come to Palestine, although I had my doubts because earlier this summer I had received many emails about the Zionist state denying Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir into Palestine, a little bit of life imitating art in terms of the themes of her film. Here is the email that was circulated:

*SENT MAY 7, 2008*

Israeli Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit
The Knesset
HaKiryah
Jerusalem 91950 ISRAEL

Dear Minister Sheetrit:

We are writing to express our dismay and disapproval concerning the
Israeli Ministry of the Interior’s decision to temporarily detain
Palestinian-American filmmaker, Annemarie Jacir, and to deny her
entry into the West Bank either to complete the shooting of her new
film, Salt of this Sea, or to attend its world premier in Ramallah.
We deplore Israel’s calculated infringement of Ms. Jacir’s civil
rights at this particular historical moment, as Israel celebrates
its 60th anniversary as a nation on May 14. Ms. Jacir’s film will
play at the Cannes Film Festival alongside Israeli entries, and your
deportation of her from her historic homeland only serves further
to blight Israel’s reputation in the world community interested
in peace and justice for the Palestinian people.

As you may know, Annemarie Jacir is an internationally renowned
filmmaker whose works have twice been selected for screening at the
prestigious Cannes Film Festival and have won numerous funding
grants and festival awards. Recently, our organization, Society for
Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS, the premier such organization in the
world), decided to honor Ms. Jacir by screening three of her most
important short films at its annual conference in Philadelphia, USA.
The films played to a capacity audience. Unfortunately, due to the
actions of your ministry, Ms. Jacir herself was unable to attend
the screening, insofar as she was tied up trying to complete the
shooting of Salt of this Sea outside her preferred–and
appropriate–filming location in Palestine.

We hereby request that your ministry communicate transparently to
the world community the grounds on which Ms. Jacir was told by the
Israeli security agent who denied her entry into the West Bank that
she has “spent too much time” in the Occupied Palestinian
Territories. How is this possible? Surely you know that denying entry
to Ms. Jacir, a descendent of Palestinian refugees, violates her
internationally mandated right of return (UN Resolution 194). It also
violates Israel’s treaty with the United States regarding the equal
treatment of mutual visitors, insofar as Ms. Jacir is a U.S. citizen and holds a
U.S. passport.

Ms. Jacir’s unfounded treatment at the Israeli border and while in
Israeli detention is a travesty of your ministry’s charge to defend
the internal security of Israel, as demonstrated by the pettiness of
targeting for deportation an individual whose work involves the
cinematic depiction of her historic homeland and national culture.
For your country to violate the civil rights of any Palestinian is
deplorable, and is particularly inane when done to an artist.
Jacir’s film represents ethical aspirations of her people; your
ministry’s attempt to disrupt its production was an act of
cowardice. Jacir herself, as any artist, should be respected as a
broker of justice, hope, and peace.

As members and supporters of the international community of
filmmakers, artists, and intellectuals, we denounce the actions of
your ministry and request that they cease and desist not only with
respect to Annemarie Jacir but to all filmmakers, artists,
journalists, and anyone else who seeks peacefully to enter or remain
in Palestine.

Sincerely,

Middle Eastern Caucus of the
Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS)
(76 members)

cc: Tzipi Livni, Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs
Galeb Majadle, Israeli Minister of Culture
Yoram Morad, Consul for Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Israel in New
York

Don’t Play Israel also publicized this earlier the summer in relation to the boycott campaign. But although Jacir couldn’t enter her own country to show her own film, the Zionists could not keep her art from being shared with Palestinians.

The film was screened not in a theater, not even indoors, but on the Apartheid Wall that strangles Aida refugee camp in Beit Lahem. Al Rowwad Cultural Center has been sponsoring a film series on a section of the wall that they painted white this summer. It’s a brilliant idea and my friend Abed who runs the organization talked about this film project as one method of resistance, a way to turn this ugliness into something beautiful by asserting their presence in the camp and their will to return to their villages in historic 1948 Palestine. Before the film there were a few speeches and performances: someone read a statement from Jacir about her being denied entry; some of the kids from the camp made some speeches about the role of art, particularly the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish; there was a brief dabke performance and a couple of songs from a hip hop duo in the camp. The movie finally began at 9, after a brief bit of an electricity snafu (we were, after all, in a camp, in Palestine). I’m not sure if you can see this but the way they hooked electricity up outside was to string cords from an apartment above and across the street to the area in front of the wall where we were (sorry for the lousy photos, but I had to use my camera phone last night).

I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed by a film starring the extraordinary poet Suheir Hammad. When I first heard she was in this movie I was surprised as I had never thought about her as per formative, but then if you watch her read her poems on Def Jam Poetry you can get a sense of what she is capable of beyond her brilliant gift with words. The small trailer on Youtube (will post again below for those who are interested) barely gives you a sense of the scope of this film. Although my friend Sahar kept nudging me and saying “this is going to end badly… it is, after all, a film about Palestine…” I ignored her cautioning because I wanted to live in the fantasy world of the protagonists, Soraya and Imad, and their journey to their original homes in 1948 Palestine. This idea that one character who returns to Palestine from the U.S. and the other from Al Amari refugee camp returning to his village is just brilliant and beautiful in every way.

Of course, it is not easy to watch parts of this. The character Soraya, played by Hammad, finds a Jewish woman living in her Yaffa house. She’s your typical bulls**&^ Israeli “peace” activist (we see mugs and such object in her home giving us a sense of her) who invites Soraya and her friends from the camp to stay as long as they like. But when Soraya first requests to buy the house back–the house that her grandfather built–we learn that she cannot because of the way the Zionist state controls land purchases through the Jewish National Fund. Soraya demands that this so-called “peacenik” acknowledge the nakba of her family’s violent, forced removal (the Israeli Jew just keeps saying, they “left” so it’s my house now; so much for peace…) and she tells the woman that really it is her house and that the Israeli woman can stay if she’d like, but that she’s taking it back. Unfortunately, the Jewish woman calls the police (so much for solidarity and peace…) and so Imad and Soraya are on the run again (there is a whole other caper subplot about Soraya returning to get the money of her grandfather’s that the Jews froze and stole as they did everything else in all the banks after 1948, hence they are on the run after robbing the bank of her family’s money). The scene of having to see this home that her grandfather built and this Israeli woman occupying her home leads Soraya to talk to Imad about the occupation that exists in 1948, but he doesn’t seem to see it having lived under a much more visually, physically present occupation in his refugee camp in Ramallah. It looks different, but make no mistake: both are colonialism.

The second village they arrive in is Dawayamiya, which is Imad’s village, and it is a village that the film is dedicated to the memory of the massacre that took place there at the hands of Jewish Zionist militias during an nakba. We see them arrive at this village and there are some ruins of houses. They decide that they will live there, that they will take it back as no Jews are inhabiting the village now. And this is my favorite part of the movie. These young lovers making a home and taking back their land–this is the fantasy that I really didn’t want to end. It was so very touching and beautiful. But then, of course, this is Palestine as Sahar reminds me, and they are woken up by some Jewish Israeli man who tells them they cannot “camp” there as they are in a national park. (See my earlier posts on this in the summer of 2006 and scattered about: Israelis have planted non-indigenous trees and made parks out of many Palestinian villages and used those trees to cover up the victims of their massacres and demolished homes, though sometimes one can find the remains of these Palestinian villages.) This man is a teacher and he has brought his students there to see the “biblical lands of Israel.” (There was one scene when Soraya vomits after she has to endure the pain of seeing that Israeli woman in her home–this was incredibly difficult to watch. But I found this scene the most disgusting and challenging to see him invade their space and do so with his hateful, disgusting Zionist rhetoric.) This man’s discovery of them means they are on the run once more. to journey through other parts of Palestine.

The film does not end well, though, and this road trip is cut short abruptly. There are Israeli Terrorist Forces, in 1948 in the form of police, who are a constant threat. Soraya’s Brooklyn accent and their Jewish costumes (Imad sports a “don’t worry Israel, America is behind you t-shirt”) they bought to pass as Jewish tourists help to a certain extent. But in the end Soraya is deported from her country and the European Jewish colonists continue to brutally occupy it; Imad is taken away, ostensibly to prison, though we never see him again. And to this Sahar says: well, yes, that is what happens; Palestinian men are always disappearing in the middle of the night to be kidnapped away from their families and loved ones. So we see a bit of another layer of forced removal though the film, I think, shows the power of return and gives some hope to what that return could look like in spite of the tragic ending. It is an amazing film and even though I’ve spoiled the plot a bit, you must see it–if you see no other film this year, see this one. Here is the trailer once again:

I’ve got to run, but here are some must-read articles:

How Arab normalization is undermining the boycott movement

BRAZIL: Start of Landmark Case Bodes Well for Indigenous People

ISRAEL: Where the Slave Trade Heads

Detainees in Al Jalama Israeli prison on hunger strike

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