Just Vision: Is Non-Violence Possible in East Jerusalem?
Directors Julia Bacha and Rebekah Wingert-Jabi recently received the George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished achievement in electronic media for their film Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighbourhood. The film shines a light on forced evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and on efforts of Palestinian residents and Israeli activists to confront the phenomenon. Israeli settlers, often with local government support, are using laws skewed in their favor dating back to the 1970s to force evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. That Ms. Bacha accepted the Peabody award on the same day the Israeli Supreme Court began to deliberate on the fate of the Shamasneh family, facing immediate eviction, highlights the ongoing importance of the issue.
Summer Walker caught up with Just Vision’s Creative Director Julia Bacha to discuss the film and activism in East Jerusalem.
The film Sheikh Jarrah, My Neighbourhood follows up with the film’s activists in 2011. What is currently happening in Sheikh Jarrah and East Jerusalem?
As of mid-2013, protests involving Palestinians and Israelis in Sheikh Jarrah are continuing. The El Kurds, the family featured in the film, await a final decision on whether they will be allowed to stay in the remaining part of their home. Many other court battles are ongoing and dozens of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem are currently under threat of displacement.
The events in Sheikh Jarrah are part of a broader process of Israeli settlement-building and Palestinian displacement occurring throughout East Jerusalem. In most cases, these processes are led by well-funded Israeli settler groups working in close coordination with Jerusalem municipal and Israeli government authorities. Private settler groups, often funded by large donations from Americans and other international supporters, have accelerated the land expropriation process by initiating a series of court-mandated evictions of Palestinian families, hoping to establish new settlements in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods. Along with Sheikh Jarrah, these include the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, Beit Hanina, Silwan, Abu Dis, and others. In Sheikh Jarrah, some evicted families have moved in with relatives, and relations between the neighborhood residents and settlers are increasingly tense, with occasional outbursts of violence.
At one point in My Neighbourhood there were 3000 Palestinian and Israeli protesters in one march in Sheikh Jarrah. What is happening with the movement now?
While ongoing protests are now less frequent and smaller than in the past, the recent threat of eviction for the Shamasneh family has re-galvanized the campaign in the neighborhood, bringing out hundreds of Palestinian and Israeli supporters. On May 20th, after several appeals and delays, Israel’s Supreme Court began debating the Shamasnehs’ case, but has yet to issue a final verdict. Major protests in the neighborhood and at the Supreme Court in the lead up to the hearing helped keep the case in the public eye. Activists have pledged to continue to protest and run media and public attention campaigns so long as the threat of displacement exists for dozens of Palestinian families in the neighborhood and elsewhere in East Jerusalem.
The film shows change agents existing in many layers – within each side of the conflict, even within one family. Do you believe depicting this helps people see where they might fit into non-violent resistance movements?
Our hope with all of our films is to channel attention and support to nonviolence leaders and grassroots activists on the ground, so that they can be more recognized and influential in their work. One aspect of this is certainly highlighting the different paths that our protagonists have taken towards their own activism, so that these activists’ personal motivations can be understood more clearly.
While we do not directly urge our audiences to take part in any particular campaign on the ground, we hope that our films encourage viewers to become more informed about the context for these initiatives and more aware of the broad range of individuals who choose to take part in these actions. We’re hopeful that a more personal and nuanced understanding of nonviolent organizing in the Israeli-Palestinian context will help audiences more easily identify with and show support for those involved in activism on the ground.
In your opinion, is activism influenced by proximity — does the proximity of Israeli settlers coming closer into view in East Jerusalem versus the West Bank help mobilize Israeli activism?
The fact that the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah were happening literally minutes away from well-established Jewish neighborhoods in West Jerusalem certainly had an impact on the numbers of Israelis who participated in the protests, as well as their background and political orientation. The proximity of the neighborhood, the shameless nature of removing entire families from their homes in broad daylight, and the fact that attending protests in Sheikh Jarrah was considered safer than taking part in those in the West Bank all helped widen the circle of Israeli protestors.
How do the elements of attention and audience relate to Just Vision’s mission?
This was a major focus of a TEDTalk I gave in 2011. Looking at other nonviolent movements from the past several decades, whether the civil rights movement in the US or the recent Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, we see that nonviolent movements (much like violent movements) require sustained public attention in order to thrive and grow over time.
A common thread running through all of our films (Encounter Point, Budrus and My Neighbourhood) is a desire to use storytelling to allow audiences in the Middle East and abroad to better understand the potential of nonviolent action to end the occupation and the conflict, as well as to illustrate the challenges faced by those who practice it.
We also work with a range of community leaders, educators and public intellectuals to ensure that bottom-up nonviolent activism is included in conversations about the future of the conflict, which often tend to be dominated by a discourse that focuses exclusively on top-down political maneuvering, extremism and militarism. When nonviolence initiatives are continually talked about and noticed by audiences in the region and abroad, they are increasingly seen by the Palestinian and Israeli publics as credible paths forward towards positive change.
The film can be viewed here on Just Vision’s website.
Photos courtesy of subject.