Coran School, Berlin
Simone Bitton is no ordinary woman : the daughter of a Jewish jeweller, she was born in 1955 in Morocco, where she used to speak French at school and Arabic at home. In 1966, her family emigrated to Israel, and she learned Hebrew. In 1973, during the October War, she served as a soldier in the Israeli army, an experience which turned her into a pacifist. Afterwards she settled in Paris and graduated from IDHEC (LInstitut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques), the famous French cinema school. Today she is, she claims proudly, "a woman of three countries and three cultures", travelling back and forth between France, Israel and Morocco.
The protagonist of her latest film, which won the prize for the best documentary film at the Jerusalem film festival in July, is an object, namely the Wall Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is building between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
It is quite a challenge to film for 100 long minutes something which does not speak. And Simone Bitton does not make it easy for the spectator, shooting long fixed views without moving the camera. "These frames are not too long", comments Simone Bitton, "on the contrary it is the television which has accustomed people to very short scenes".
"Wall" opens with a scene which summarises the whole film : Cranes are lifting huge concrete slabs and setting them side by side, putting together the various pieces of the Wall, while, slowly but irremediably, the landscape -- a Palestinian village with its towering mosque -- disappears behind it. Like the Israelis living on the camera side of the Wall, the spectator is physically separated from Palestine. Eventually there is nothing left but the Wall which fills the screen.
During this long scene not one word of dialogue is spoken, only the loud noice of machinery is heard, the clatter of the crane and of the lorries, a noice which pervades the film.
Later, Simone Bitton conducts a revealing interview with the architect of the Wall, Amos Yaron, the director of cabinet at the Israeli defence ministry, a retired general close to Ariel Sharon.
Surrounded by Israeli flags on both sides of his desk, Amos Yaron quietly explains his intentions. The Wall, he says, is an efficient way to stop Palestinian terrorists spreading their terror inside Israel -- and also to prevent them considering Israel as an inexhaustible source of goods to steal, especially cars and agricultural machinery. He boasts that 500 trucks, scrapers, and bulldozers are working daily to move millions of cubic metres of earth. This project, "one of the biggest ever realised in Israel", costs $2m per km, the project costs for the 500 km Wall is 1bn$.
Then Amos Yaron describes in detail how the Wall works, with its sensors and barbed wire fences, a sand strip, and a road. "If somebody comes around, it tells him "Go away", says the general, "but if he insists, it will make it difficult for him to cross, and soldiers will have time to come and catch him". The barrier, when complete, will be 50 meters wide. The retired general uses words like "wall", or "barrier", or "seam zone", which are all unfit to describe the monstrosity that leaves a horrendous scar on the Palestinian landscape -- as the camera shows by filming the beautiful scenery, with olive groves, gardens and villages effectively sliced in two.
"We are the masters"
Claiming that the security fence "more or less follows the green line" (the pre-Wall border that existed between the two states), Amos Yaron admits that it destroys nature, but he claims he tried to limit the damage -- on both sides. "As a matter of fact", he adds, "in reality we consider both sides as ours, we are the masters. For us there is no difference between the two sides". And, he concludes "the Palestinians are responsible for all this. They do not want to negotiate. Without agreement, everybody will suffer. We are strong enough to suffer. But if the other side refuses any compromise, they will suffer more".
This interview is interspersed with scenes of the ongoing construction of the Wall. Simone Bitton also shows the people -- Palestinians and Israelis -- living and working on both sides. The viewer discovers that the Wall is built by Palestinians, along with Turks, Bulgarians and Romanians, begging the question, "How can Palestinians cooperate with building a wall which eventually imprison them? As Abou Hani, a foreman from Nablus points out, "It is good to find a job, and we want to work. But this barrier is useless, without peace, it means nothing, it is wasted money". It is simple economics that force the Palestinian to work on the project. If they dont find a job, they starve.
"Even the Jewish settlements are built by Palestinians who were expelled from their land, because there is no Israeli manpower. It is the cruelty of occupation," remarks Simone Bitton. However, not all the Palestinians are blasé about the way they are obliged to make a living. "There must be a problem, " Simone Bitton confirms, "because one of the Palestinians building the Wall did not want to be identified, "If they film me, the PLO will kill me", he told me".
Foreman Shimon Abraham, a Jew from Erbil, in Iraq, explains that all his workers are Palestinians from the West Bank, because, he says, the Jews "dont want to work. With them, the fence would not be finished in 50 years".
Further along the wall, we hear the voice of Sharif Omar, a peasant from Jayyous, whom we later see driving his tractor. "I have seven children, four boys and three girls," says Sharif. "All of them graduated from university, thanks to the money I got from my land. Now 2.700 of my trees are on the other side of the Wall -- olives, walnut, apple, and mango. The Israelis say that this fence will preserve the security of the two peoples. I do not understand why it does not follow the green line. They have built it 6 km inside Jayyous. Is it for security ? They build it 28 metres from our houses. How can it guarantee their security ? It is a big lie, to hide a robbery, an expropriation. It is an indirect way to force us to leave our villages".
An Israeli living in a settlement does not hide that he is afraid, his wife is afraid, everybody is afraid. "This Wall is just wasted money", he says. "If a wall was the solution, we would have built it 50 years ago. It is ridiculous".
All the voices which rise from the Wall are captivating -- and poignant. Schuli Dichter, an Israeli living in the kibbutz of Maanit, takes Simone Bitton and her cameraman beyond the green line in his jeep. Inside the West Bank he explains how the villagers of Qaffin have been completely separated from their land by the Wall. And now the olives, the only resource of the villagers, are rotting.
"To shut ourselves up, and to shut the others up, that is the basis of our life here", he says. "Our parents came from the ghettos of Lodz and elsewhere, they have always lived enclosed. We live a love story with this land, but it is a mad love. The worst thing about this barrier is that it is consensual; all the Jews of Israel have become mad. We love so much this land that we suffocate it. This barrier destroys the possibility that we integrate ourselves to the region".
Alrhough Simone Bitton, as an Israeli, can move around much more freely than any Palestinian, she was not allowed to take her camera team to Gaza. Instead she filmed a visiophone interview with Dr Eyad al Sarraj, psychiatrist. He revealed that a recent study showed a frightening 24 % of the children of Gaza yearn to become a suicide bomber. "It is a dangerous sign," concludes Dr Eyad, "the Holy Land has fallen in the hands of the Devil".
(The Middle East magazine, November 2004)
Droits de Reproduction strictement réservés © Chris Kutschera 2012