Rare Golan Heights movie is highlight of Palestinian Cinema Days festival

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A rare film shot in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights proved a highlight of this year’s six-day Palestine Cinema Days festival that ends on Monday, with hundreds flocking to watch the movie that has Syria’s civil war as its backdrop.

“The Stranger” tells the story of Adnan, a resident of the Golan who feels like an outsider in his own community but finds a new sense of purpose in helping a man who arrives in the territory after being wounded in the Syrian conflict.

Director and screenwriter Ameer Fakher Eldin said Adnan’s experience is that of many Syrians separated from their home country in the Golan, territory that Israel captured in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

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“We live (in the Golan) on the border fence with our homeland. Imagine hearing the echoes of war but not seeing the war for 10 years,” he said of the civil war in President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria that erupted in 2011.

Fakher Eldin told Reuters that that experience had prompted him to ask “who do these wars belong to... and is it a war inside of us or not.”

Palestinians attend the opening of the Palestine Cinema Days festival, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 3, 2021. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinians attend the opening of the Palestine Cinema Days festival, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 3, 2021. (Reuters/Mohamad Torokman)

Unusual festival

At the start of Palestine Cinema Days, now in its eighth year, actors and filmmakers posed on the red carpet outside Ramallah’s Cultural Palace in the occupied West Bank, in scenes typical of film festivals everywhere.

But unlike them, this festival is held across six cities often separated by borders and checkpoints. The films were seen in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, Nazareth and Haifa, and audiences included members of Israel’s Arab minority who regard themselves as Palestinian citizens of Israel.

“We want to reach our audience in the different cities and towns,” said festival spokesperson Khulood Badawi.

“We want to give them this opportunity to go back to the cinema and to revive cinema culture in these cities despite the obstacles that the Israeli occupation is imposing.”

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 conflict and cites security concerns in maintaining checkpoints across the territory.

Among other films screened at the 2021 festival was “Bread and Butter,” which documents the precarious commute, via crowded checkpoints, of Palestinians to jobs in Israel and of those without work permits who are smuggled into the country.

“Cinema is a tool, to raise our voices, to tell our story, our narrative,” said Badawi.

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