Young Canadians, Israelis, and Palestinians came together to learn filmmaking. In the process they also learned about peacemaking.
The Peace it Together Society in Vancouver has given a voice to young people from Palestine, Israel, and Canada, by inviting them to film camps in the Gulf Islands, where they made short films about conflicts in the Middle East.
The films, which were made in 2006 and 2008, range in length from three to fifteen minutes. The films also vary in genre, including documentary, animation, drama, and docudrama.
Some of the youth made films about how the media portrays Middle Eastern conflicts. Turning the Lens is one such film. In it youths explain how images they have seen in the media shaped their perceptions and misconceptionsof the conflicts between Palestine and Israel.
One of the makers of this film is Zahida Rahemtulla, of Burnaby, BC, who said, “What I realized at the camps is that most Palestinian and Israelis don’t get to know each other.” On the first day of the camp the youth discussed a history time-line to figure out how much other participants knew about the conflicts. Even though details such as dates and places were agreed upon, exactly what happened during those events sounded completely different, depending on who you were talking to. Zahida says it was “as though there were two different versions of history on the same page.”
Zahida also learned that, “like many things in life, this conflict did not have a right and a wrong. The very problem was that there were two rights, two claims to one piece of land.”
Among the issues that were addressed in Turning the Lens was the misconceptions of youth regarding the living conditions of Palestinian and Israelis. She was surprised by how sociable all the young people were with each other and that it was often difficult to tell which delegation each person represented. Participating in the film camps helped all of them — Palestinians, Israelis and Canadians — realize they are not very different from each other. In the film, one Palestinian youth states, “The picture I got from the media was incomplete in regard to Israel and what happens there. So when we came here and saw the Israelis, saw how they act, saw what their ambitions were, and saw that they like peace the same way we like it, my opinion changed.” He adds, “Actually it didn’t change, it completed a picture that had been incomplete.”
Another youth featured in Turning the Lens is a young journalist from Palestine. Mahmoud Jabari, who is 18 years old, runs his own journalism website called Lens for Change (www.lensforchange.weebly.com) and knows first hand what reporters go through to cover such conflicts as the ones between Palestine and Israel. He covers clashes in Hebron, using his website to share what people experience during these conflicts.He also uses it to spread the more important message: Find peace amongst each other.
Mahmoud has been a peace activist with Global Teen Leader and Global Change Maker. He has even founded a group for young journalists called Young Reporters Across Borders. This group, ranging in age from 12 to 17, started out with 15 members, but now has grown to over 95.
“I tell the members of YRAP that one day every one of us will be able to achieve his or her dreams,” he says. “We all have a dream as Palestinian youth, which is to have peace and a normal life, and we will live to see it happen.”
Mahmoud’s interest in journalism began at age nine and at age 15, he was introduced to a friend of his father’s, Hazem Bader, who began to train him as a photo journalist.
“He taught me how to work in the Palestinian territories,” says Mahmoud, who now works as Bader’s assistant.
Even at his young age, Mahmoud has faced many of the hazards faced by seasoned journalists who cover clashes, such as being beaten, choked by gas in the air, or just being frightened by what goes on around him, but he says it will not stop him from doing his work.
The media may show a lot of images of violence in the Middle East, but when asked what living in Palestine is really like for him, he says, “Living in Palestine is beautiful, especially if you live in an old city such as Hebron, Bethlehem, or Jerusalem. People are generous, especially with guests. They want to live normally.” He adds that political views that are expressed by the Palestinian government do not necessarily represent to the people’s views.
Despite what he saw in the media about the Israeli side of things, he says he has felt that they were “an unknown people.” At age 13, in an effort to learn more about them, he started a news magazine in his school covering Israeli and Palestinian peoples’ lives as a result of the conflict. “My mom was helping me understand more about the Israeli life, since she speaks Hebrew. She was telling us what she was hearing and watching in the Israeli media.”
Mahmoud faced obstacles with this magazine. Teachers and students sometimes argued against what he put in his publication. He was pressured to stop, but his supporters were his motivation to keep going with the project.
The film in which Mahmoud was involved while attending the peace camp was called Inspired. It explored what the youths learned from each other; who inspired them; and how they hoped to make a difference in their own communities. He describes the making of this film as, “More than great for me, because it included my two best friends and partners, Jeremy and Avner, who really inspired me every moment we were at the camp, and even afterward.”
Now every day, he keeps in mind something that Avner said: Everyone is a person before he is anything else.
While Avner, who is from Israel and worked on a film called Burdened, was giving his new friends words of inspiration, he learned a lot himself. He says the camp was scary for him at first, because he didn’t know anyone, but he was quickly put at ease by the welcoming and warm people he met.
He talks warmly about his friendship with Mahmoud, with whom he still keeps in touch. “I hope to meet him in person again and to have this friendship preserved a long time, and that we can accomplish things together.” Now he realizes that, “friendships could be forged anywhere.”
The camp, he says, made him believe in educating others about peace and nonviolence. He will keep these ideas in mind throughout his military service.
Avner also speaks highly of Ofek Ravid, a young Israeli who is very active with volunteer work involving children and youth in the city of Petah Tikvah. He too is interested in cinema, film making, and promoting peace.
“The camp looked to me like an excellent way to bridge these two passions of mine,” Ofek says. He was involved in the making of the film Inspired, which received positive feedback from its audiences. Ofek’s hope was that the film would, “help change people’s minds about the conflict and give them new angles to see it through— not just black or white.”
He says that “the films opened me up to the idea of person-to-person peacemaking and of instilling change through unconventional methods such as film, as opposed to conventional ones, such as formal education.”
David Ozier, who was a film mentor to the youth in 2006, says he feels their sense of accomplishment happened in three levels as they watched the film screening: personal, interpersonal and relief. “There was a personal level in the sense of, ‘Wow, I made that!’; there was the interpersonal level, as differences of opinions came up; and then there was relief to see their films up there. They had done something significant, and they did it together.”
One of the greatest, lessons the young filmmakers learned was “how important is to listen, and to be listened to,” says the executive director of Peace It Together, Reena Lazar.
Many of the films have themes of breaking down walls between them, both figuratively and literally. They touch upon their inner conflicts when trying to build friendships, while back in their home areas, clashes between their people are rampant.
The friendships formed at the Peace It Together film camps will always be cherished because these youth understand that no matter who you are or where you come from,“every person is a person before he is anything else.”
Jennifer Hansford is a freelance journalist based in Sudbury, Ontario.