Saturday, November 5, 2022

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: H2: The Occupation Lab

I’m delighted to be returning for the eighth time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of thought-provoking and often difficult, complex, Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 16th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually and in-person November 3rd-10th, 2022.

H2: The Occupation Lab
Directed by Idit Avrahami and Noam Sheizaf
Ticket Information

While there are many subjects probed in the films selected for the Other Israel Film Festival, one of them stands out most: the experience of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. Just as there are many justifications for Israel’s existence and the need for security that make it difficult to enact an equitable society that affords all people the same privileges, it is also a reality that the Palestinians live under occupation. “H2: The Occupation Lab” looks at one city, Hebron, as a model for how Israel continues and evolves the system that it has set up.

This documentary provides a comprehensive history of the city of Hebron and its multi-religion significance due to the presence of the Cave of the Patriarchs. It charts the establishment of Israel as a county in 1948 and the entry of the army into the territory. Its beginnings are surprising cooperative, with government figures like Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres intent on supporting a mayor they think would be best for the community, though ultimately the incumbent, Muhamad 'Ali al-Ja'bari, is replaced by Fahad Qawasimi, who is later deported by the Israeli government following an outbreak of violence.

It’s that catalyst which takes center stage in this disturbing chronicle of events, particularly in how the Palestinian population bore the brunt of the punishment for violence of which they were in some cases the victims. The 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre, in which an extremist Jewish settler killed 29 Muslims and injured many more while they were in prayer, was a horrific event that resulted in a lockdown of Palestinian residents rather than the Jewish settlers to whose community the murderous perpetrator belonged.

Additionally, this film makes a clear case for the problematic nature of settlement expansion. The arrival of Jews in Hebron begins with them returning to a specific area of the city, and at one point women and children take over the former Hadassah House to establish a Jewish presence in that part of the city, and remain unchallenged, thereby turning their temporary occupation into a permanent one. Jewish heritage tours of the area focus on the 1929 massacre of Jews, while Palestinian Human Rights tours emphasize that guides can’t even return to their lifelong homes and must pass through twenty-two checkpoints that exist within the city boundaries. This film underlines and accepts that there are always multiple narratives, but this presentation makes an extremely harrowing defense for the need for change based on how this example currently stands.


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