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WATCH: A heartbreaking portrait of life in Hebron, in 9 minutes

By Moriel Rothman-Zecher

What does life under occupation look like for a teenage Palestinian?

A new, powerful short film by filmmaker and activist Yuval Orr attempts to show exactly that, by following 15-year-old Awni Abu Shamsiya as he attempts to maintain some shred of normalcy in his hometown of Hebron.

Hebron, where the occupation is in many ways manifested in its rawest form, is the only Palestinian city inside which there is an Israeli settlement. It is a junction of direct and daily conflict between Palestinian civilians, Israeli soldiers and Jewish-Israeli settlers. It is a city where streets are segregated between Jews and Palestinians,and one of the places where freedom of movement is most restricted. It is the site of some of the worst civilian-led massacres, on both sides, since the beginning of Jewish-Arab conflict. No single work can summarize this city and its machinations, in nine minutes or nine days, but Yuval’s film, in zooming in on one day in Awni Abu Shamsiya’s life, gets as close as anything I’ve seen recently.

Maybe it’s the throat-clench of absurdity or the dull-throb of heartbreak, but “Khalil Helwa” (Hebron is Beautiful) is one of the most powerful films about life under occupation in Hebron that I’ve seen in years. The film leaves room for the viewer to come to her own conclusions, while maintaining a clear, humane and empathetic view of the gallingly unfair situation.

But forget what I have to say. The work speaks for itself, whether you’ve been to Hebron 50 times or only know the vaguest contours of its story.

Watch the full nine-minute film:

Moriel Rothman-Zecher is a writer and activist, based in Tel Aviv. He blogs independently at thelefternwall.com. Follow the filmmaker (@yuvalorr) and the author (@Moriel_RZ) on Twitter.

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    1. Gerard Louise

      This is tough but dont you think that reign of terror is a bit overstatement in this short film?

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        It is interesting what the film does not show. It does not show the large scale security sweep of Southern Hebron by Palestinian Force Unit 101. One might ask what is the crack Palestinian force doing in the Israeli controlled zone? It is cracking down not only on Hamas and on the serious criminal element of Hebron but also Palestinian demonstrators against Israel who are harming Hebron’s economy.

        For instance, on October 16, Bilal al-Rajabi, a young man, was shot dead by Palestinian security forces in Sourthern Hebron. He was one of Hebron’s wanted outlaws.

        The security forces detain protestors at Tariq bin Ziyad School or in the Bab al-Zawiya area. The website Uprooted Palestinian reports that the dignitaries of Hebron released a statement praising the crackdown in Bab al-Zawiya:

        “All signatories stress the need not to protect law-breakers, and denounce the irrational, destructive, and negative campaigns against the Palestinian Authority, while praising the actions of the security forces in Bab al-Zawiya to rein in subversive elements in the area”

        Bab al-Zawiya has been a major violent clash zone by Palestinians against Israelis. Uprooted Palestinian calls Southern Hebron a riot zone. The quality of life in such a zone created by the Palestinians themselves is not likely to be secure or good.

        The film does not show or discuss the high unemployment rate (26%) in Hebron or the criminal and terror element there. Hebron is a Hamas stronghold planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, such as the killing of 3 Israeli teens in June and the planned mega attack on Teddy Koleck Stadium.

        Palestinians themselves have caused much of their own suffering in Hebron.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Such respect he showed his father, that was heart-warming, and buying the melon from the merchant. The rest was so dismal and heartbreaking.

      Reply to Comment
    3. More heartbreak from Hebron –

      Military blocks main entrance to Hebron neighborhood for 3 weeks, penalty for torched checkpoint.

      16 Dec 2014 B’tselem

      After Palestinian teens torched the Bab a-Zawiya checkpoint in Hebron on 22 November 2014, the military closed the checkpoint for three weeks, only reopening it to Palestinians on 13 December. The checkpoint, which lies at the entrance to a-Shuhadaa Street in the heart of Hebron, monitors passage of Palestinians from the neighborhood of Tel Rumeidah to downtown Hebron and the city market. Even when the checkpoint is open, they may cross only as pedestrians and Palestinian vehicular traffic is forbidden. This means Palestinians must go on foot from the market, carrying their purchases.

      The checkpoint was completely closed for several days after the torching. Then, sporadically and at their discretion, soldiers began allowing the elderly and the ill to go through the checkpoint. In addition, there were six days that the military granted passage to students of a nearby school. Most residents of Tel Rumeidah were not allowed through the checkpoint for three weeks.

      When the checkpoint is closed, there are basically two alternatives to getting from Tel Rumeidah to the market and to downtown Hebron on foot. One is a 10-minute route that traverses a private yard, and the other requires clambering over a hill full of holes and obstacles, an undertaking trying enough for people in good physical condition and impossible for those who are not. The closing of the checkpoint disrupted the routine of hundreds of people who work, study, shop, and run their daily lives in downtown Hebron. People who are not fully mobile and do not have a car were hard put to get out of the neighborhood.

      Like the other harsh restrictions imposed by the military on movement of Palestinians in Hebron, the checkpoint serves no security purpose. These restrictions have been in place for twenty years as part of the policy of separation in Hebron. The policy enables a handful of settlers, who took up residence in the heart of Hebron with the support of Israeli governments, to dictate daily life for tens of thousands of Palestinians in the city. Certain main streets – where most of the settlements in Hebron were established – are completely off-limits to Palestinians and many others are closed to Palestinian vehicles. These drastic restrictions have rendered life impossible for Palestinians in central Hebron, forcing many to leave their homes and workplaces.

      Closing the checkpoint was collective punishment meted out to hundreds of people for the deed of a few individuals. The military must remove this and other unnecessary checkpoints in central Hebron, and stop its ill-treatment of local residents. As long as the checkpoint is in place, the military must enable residents to cross it regularly and must not punish an entire population for the actions of individuals.”

      Reply to Comment
    4. Baladi Akka 1948

      “Khalil Helwa”
      The name of the city is al-Khalil (الخليل)
      It’s clearly written in the beginning of the film, the boy says it various times, and it’s not just a detail.

      Reply to Comment
      • Thanks for the information.

        Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        What is the name of the village you are going to build? Lol.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bruce Gould

      There is an Israeli-Palestinian human rights group that monitors behavior at checkpoints – Machsom Watch. It’s Alabama around 1900….


      Reply to Comment
    6. Danny

      Today John Kerry decided to veto the Palestinian resolution in the U.N.S.C. that calls on Israel to end its occupation. The boy in this film has more courage in his little pinky than John Kerry and Barack Obama put together.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Andi

      Sorry, but did i watch the right clip? I can neither see something heartbreaking nor atrocities from the IDF soldiers. Am i missing something?

      Reply to Comment
      • Most definitely, yes.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Matej

      Great editing

      Reply to Comment
    9. Robert Jonas

      Markets are full of food. He is getting an education and seems to be enjoying it. He does not seem to have been really mistreated by the Israeli soldiers, who, of course would also prefer to be living in a normal country and studying and working and going out for a drink at night, but are forced to serve in order to protect Israelis from Arabs who want to destroy them
      Maybe this boy should go with his family to one of the surrounding Arab countries where freedom is absolutely top of the agenda

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Maybe all Jews should go to a Jewish state where they will have safety and security, can go out for a drink at night and won’t have to perform military conscription, and can live with easy consciences that they are the most ethical country in the world, which fully respects gay rights (apart from a few fundamentalists), fully respects women’s rights (apart from a few fundamentalists), fully respects human rights (apart from a few fundamentalists) and fully respects freedom of religion (apart from a few fundamentalists) and allows secular marriage. Or perhaps it is a natural love of the land in which you born, and where your family lives, and where there are less fundamentalists that keeps over half of world Jewry wedded to Diaspora existence, with its wonderful freedom and justice for all.

        Reply to Comment