Last weekend, at the American Museum of Photographic Arts (AMPA) in San Diego, Southern California, the tenth annual Arab Film Festival began in the shadow of the recent clashes between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. Surprisingly and coincidentally, Palestinian films dominated the festival.
Films shown were from countries that included Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, UAE, Qatar Iraq, Sudan, France, the USA and the UK.
For example, from Morocco, “The Unknown Saint” by Ala'a Eddine Aljem; from Lebanon, “The Broken Keys” by Jimmy Keyrouz; from France, the Algerian “Honey Cigar”, by Kamir Ainouz; and from Sudan, “You Will Die at Twenty”, by Amjad Abu Alala.
Other participant films included: Cherin Dabis' "Amreeka"; Elia Suleiman's "Divine Intervention"; Michael Khleifi's "Three Lost Jewels"; Annemarie Jacir's "When I Saw You"; Hani Abou Assad's "Paradise Now"; Tawfic Abdul Wael's "Atash"; Maha Haj's "Personal Affairs"; Suha Arraf's "Villa Touma"; Sameh Zoabi's "Man with a Cell Phone"; and Mai Masri's "Children of Chatilla".
Palestinian Najwa Najjar participated with three films and easily dominated not only in quantity, but also in quality. All three films had won prizes in other international film festivals; She presented: "Between Heaven and Earth”; “Pomegranates and Myrrh"; and "Eyes of a Thief".
Because of the Coronavirus, there were both online and in-person, viewing, and the AMPA required attendants to wear masks, and confined them to 50 percent of the theater’s capacity.
The festival was sponsored by Karama, which, in its website, describes itself as "an independent, non-partisan organization seeking to promote understanding of the issues facing the Arab and Islamic worlds, and of the Palestinian issue in particular."
Najjar's “Between Heaven and Earth," was presented as "a love story about divorce", because it was about "Tamer,” son of a famous revolutionary Palestinian who was killed by the Mossad in Beirut, and “Salma”, a Palestinian woman from Nazareth, inside Israel.
They met, fell in love and married, when “Salma” moved from Nazareth to Ramallah, in the West Bank.
But after five years, problems started between the two of them, and when they couldn’t solve the problems, they agreed to go to court and file for a divorce. But because “Salma” was from Israel, they had to cross the borders into Israel.
Since entering Israel has been, throughout the decades, a complicated job, it became more complicated for the two married Palestinians, one a citizen, and the other a non-citizen, of Israel.
More complications: “Tamer” was driving an old Mercedes that was registered in Israel under the name of a man who happened to be the father of “Salma”.
But entering Israel was far easier than complying with the complicated system of the Israeli courts. Moving from one court to another – simply to authorize a divorce – illustrated the reality of the secular/religious state, a dilemma for the Israelis themselves, let alone for the Muslims and the Christians who lived among them.
Add to that Israel’s security system, and its fatal animosity towards the Palestinians, when they learned that the father of “Tamer” was a famous revolutionary Palestinian who was killed in Beirut – by no other than the Mossad.
Court after court insists on additional information which brought additional complications: the father of “Selma” was in Israel’s security list because he was, like the father of “Tamer”, an intellectual revolutionary Palestinian.
As the film nears its end, the absurdity of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians involved - a couple seeking divorce, two fathers, two mothers and two generations.
Najjar commented that the couple “rediscovered themselves. And discovered the country that they have been in many ways divorced from. Therefore, it's a divorce on many levels. It is love under occupation. It is our lives in many different ways.”
“The Hollywood Reporter” said the film was about “a handsome middle-class Palestinian couple’s need … just to obtain documents from an Israeli court.”
“The San Diego Union-Tribune” said that the film was shown against the “backdrop of another crisis: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which recently re-erupted into an armed fight -- and, once again, brought Arab issues to the global stage.”
Larry Christian, president of Karama, said: “Our community, and our festivals, are affected by events in the Arab world, Events in Jerusalem, the attacks on worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, the attempt to expel Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah, and the attack on Gaza, have all energized and activated the community here.”
He added: “Part of our interest is in presenting films that are hard to come by, and which challenge the audiences.”