I arrived in the West Bank the afternoon of Saturday, June 7, and hit the ground running. The next morning we starting filming for a film on Palestinian nonviolent resistance I am working on this summer. That Sunday, we did a long interview with Daoud Nassar, whose family owns a plot of land in the Palestinian village of Nahalin, just a few kilometers south of Bethlehem. The legal documents to the land date back to 1916, yet the family has been battling in Israeli courts for more than 15 years to have their ownership recognized by the Israeli state. The land lies on a hill surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements. The neighboring settlement of Neve Daniel already has a master plan to expand across the land of the Nassars and their neighbors.
Parallel to the legal battles, the Nassars have done everything to prevent the confiscation of their land. In the summers they host children's summer camps and nonviolent resistance training camps. They also continue to come up with creative ways of resisting Israel's intention of removing them from their property by gathering winter rains when they are not permitted to connect to the water system of the nearby village, and digging out old caves because they cannot legally build above ground. Israeli land annexation is occurring all over Israel, yet the Nassar's case reveals a rare example of perseverance and creativity, and they have achieved international support to persist in fighting for their land.
On Thursday, June 19, after months of back-and-forth movements, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas finally came into effect. With this rare time of calm between Israel and Gaza, many Palestinian farmers with land on the border areas are taking the chance to begin clearing their fields of the damage from recent Israeli incursions. The Egyptian-brokered agreement entails a gradual prisoner exchange and an immediate loosening of the siege that was intensified after Hamas' takeover of power in the Gaza Strip one year ago. Gazans who over the past year have experienced a severe shortage of all sorts of building materials, such as cement, wood, and glass, are hopeful that the agreement will actually be carried through in order to revive some local businesses. In recent months, the most vital commodity to be cut from the Gazan market is petrol. With insufficient supplies, life has been slowed to an excruciatingly slow pace. In such dire days, there is hope that the cease-fire will improve life, yet four days after its start the agreement has allowed for little change to be felt on the ground.
The day prior to the onset of the cease-fire, I had the longest day of filming in my life, from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. In the village of Ghwein, the last Palestinian community before the border between the West Bank and Israel, lies a small community whose inhabitants live in caves as their ancestors have for hundreds of years. In 1948, such farming communities all over the country were forcefully displaced by Israeli troops, the inhabitants of Ghwein also were pushed out of half of their village in the valley. Since that time more and more land has been confiscated, dividing the village from access to much of their farmland and even more vital wells. In these forgotten village lands, Israel will destroy any home that is built, so life in the caves remains frozen in time. Having experienced a dry rainy season, they have barely sufficient water to make it. Life is becoming increasingly unsustainable. If the families leave, tempted by the luxuries of city life, Israel is certain to annex their land for the construction of another settlement, like it has in so many other locations around them. So the families of Ghwein are remaining steadfast in resisting the occupation.
In Ghwein, Abu Mohammed told us of the realities of growing up as a farmer under occupation. Life is suddenly whittled down to the very basics: land and water. This Palestinian Life takes an oral history approach to the Palestinian experience by featuring farmers such as Abu Mohammed, rather than the "expert" opinions of journalists, historians, and political analysts.
Together with a Palestinian film crew from Bethlehem, producer Julie Norman and I have just a week left to capture stories of resistance in the West Bank. Next week I will travel to Gaza to film a final sequence connecting these stories to those of a Gaza under severe siege.
Philip Rizk is an Egyptian-German Christian who lived and worked in Gaza from 2005-2007. The film project is still underfunded -- check out the film site and make a contribution at thispalestinianlife.blogspot.com.