“H2: The Occupation Lab”, a documentary by Israeli filmmakers Idit Avrahami and Noam Sheizaf, describes the impact Jewish settlers and military occupation have had on the Palestinian city of Hebron and how the repressive methods of control there are widely applied in other areas. of the occupied territories.
The film will be screened in the Border Lines sidebar of the Zurich Film Festival, showing works dealing with territorial and social conflict and humanitarian issues.
Avrahami and Sheizaf had long wanted to collaborate on a project about the West Bank. “We both believe that the occupation is the most pressing issue facing Israeli filmmakers,” Sheizaf said.
Ultimately, it was the shocking murder of a young Palestinian man in 2016 by an Israeli soldier that led Avrahami and Sheizaf to focus on Hebron. A video of the incident taken by Imad Abu Shamsiya (pictured) showed the soldier, Elor Azaria, executing 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif as he lay wounded in the street and shot him in the head at close range.
“We started thinking about this and Idit had an aha moment when she said, ‘The story is not the incident. The story is the location,’” recalls Sheizaf. , the history of the place.”
Both Sheizaf and Avrahami also have personal ties to Hebron. Sheizaf served in the city when he was an officer in the Israeli army in the 1990s, while Avrahami comes from a family that has lived in Hebron for generations.
The film largely focuses on a once-busy street in central Hebron that used to be full of bustling markets and shops, but is now empty, a ghost town, due to the strict security measures and the division of the city that followed the Jewish settlers. who have moved to the city center for decades.
“This was the heart of the city,” explains Sheizaf. “It is a city that is very old. Hebron has been around for three to four thousand years.” Hebron’s center was comparable to the busy urban districts of other West Asian cities, such as Cairo or Istanbul, he adds. “It was one of those places where it’s almost impossible to walk because of the traders and the traffic and stuff. There was also a main bus station in the city with buses to Jordan, to Jerusalem, to everywhere.
“In 50 years of military control, the place has undergone a unique transformation,” said Sheizaf.
The film explores that control and its impact: how Hebron became the dystopian nightmare it is today – a city divided into two sectors, H1, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and H2, under Israeli control. H2 is further divided by fences, barriers and military checkpoints that large segments of the Palestinian population have left in their own homes.
“It’s about the life being sucked out of the place,” Sheizaf says. “Life was sucked out of the street and it became this political theater where people talk about politics and fight for every inch. We wanted to show this process.”
Hebron is a 90-minute drive from Tel Aviv, but in a different world. People visiting Hebron are shocked and wonder how such a place can exist, Avrahami says. “This is the place where you see apartheid in everyday life.”
“And you see it now in West Jerusalem; you see it in other parts,” she adds. “Hebron was the first place Jews entered the Arab city and look what happened 50 years later: Arabs are behind bars, locked up, soldiers enter their homes in the middle of the night “The same is happening in Jerusalem. The same is happening in other villages in the West Bank. So the method that was used in Hebron is now being applied in other parts.”
During their research, the filmmakers came across a wealth of archival footage, which they used to build the film’s story, Avrahami adds.
They also tried to show the occupation in a cinematic way without being pedantic about the subject, she notes.
Indeed, Avrahami and Sheizaf emphasize that they were careful in the way they presented the settlers.
“We didn’t want to downplay them; we didn’t want to humiliate them in the movie, like they do in some movies,” explains Sheizaf. “These are people who put a lot of effort into this. But the reality is that they live under these conditions as the privileged community. If there is a curfew, they are exempt. They don’t have a curfew. They can move freely. Living in this reality creates a lot of violence and tension.”
“We see the settlers as an arm of the state,” Sheizaf says. “As people they are extreme, they are radicals, but they couldn’t have done it alone. They are an arm of the state. Maybe they are avant-garde – they are moving forward, but the state is catching up and agreeing to what they are doing and helping them. They wouldn’t stay without the military.”
Avrahami and Sheizaf recently signed the petition against Israel’s Shomron Film Fund, which is restricted to Jewish settlers in the West Bank and inaccessible to the 2.5 million Palestinian residents of the occupied territory. “We signed the petition saying that we will not get any grants from this fund because it is an apartheid fund,” Sheizaf said. More than 300 filmmakers have signed the open letter.
“The profession is a cancerous tumor,” he adds. “Everything is contaminated – wherever you look. It’s not just about knowing what’s happening in Hebron. If you’re a filmmaker here in Tel Aviv, you have to make those decisions.”
“H2: The Occupation Lab” is also screened at the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in South Korea, the Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Sydney and the Other Israel Film Festival in New York.