A short documentary film looks at three Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and their struggle to build homes. Filmmaker Omri Shenhar: ‘They drive us in their cabs, build our houses, and collect our trash. But when it comes to their rights we shutter our eyes and hide behind a wall.’
By Omri Shenhar
A few months ago I spent an entire weekend in Jerusalem. On Friday I went with my whole family, guided by my grandfather, to the Har’el Brigade monument located next to the Israeli Supreme Court. My grandpa told us about the battles that he took part in. It was fascinating – breathtaking stories I had never heard before. My grandpa was really excited, and it made me feel good that he could share his stories with us.
On Saturday I went to the other side of the city, to the neighborhoods of Ras Khamis and Ras Shahade, for the first shooting day of the documentary “3 Houses.” There I met the descendants of my grandpa’s rivals and I heard their stories.
Their defeat didn’t end in July 1949. They live it every day. These families had to escape from their villages in 1948, finding shelter inside the Old City of Jerusalem under Jordanian rule, only to be exiled again in the mid-1960s to the Shuafat Refugee Camp. A short while after they moved to the camp the 1967 war broke out, and the area came under Israeli rule, in what would become East Jerusalem.
Today, the families are still struggling to build their lives in the camp and the neighborhoods that sprung up around it, yet the Israeli authorities won’t let them. Slowly they push them away, again, toward the unknown. They’ve been cut off from the city by the separation barrier, whose route in northern Jerusalem was completed in 2008. Despite the fact that they reside inside Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, they stopped receiving elementary services such as garbage collection, road repairs, education and sometimes even water.
That took me a while to internalize; this area beyond the tall concrete wall is not the Palestinian Authority. It is Jerusalem, a city that was united triumphantly 47 years ago. Jerusalem that still hasn’t found a decent solution for the residents of the other side, the occupied side of the wall.
The people I met want to live in peace. They don’t talk about getting back to their ancestors’ villages. They just want to live with honor and dignity. They are part of Israeli society whether Israeli Jews want them to be or not: they drive us in their cabs, build our houses, and collect our trash. But when it comes to their rights we shutter our eyes and hide behind a wall.
Today I sent the film to my grandfather. Here’s what he said: “That’s one of the injustices caused by the occupation that you read about in the papers but just can’t understand. The gaps between the two sides of Jerusalem in the 21st century are unbearable. Please don’t ask me what’s going to happen, I’m not very optimistic about it.”
Omri Shenhar is a film director and a graduate of the Tel Aviv University film school. The film ‘3 Houses’ was produced by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
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