‘H2: The Occupation Lab’ examines the impact of Israeli control over Hebron

‘H2: The Occupation Lab,’ a documentary by Israeli filmmakers Idit Avrahami and Noam Sheizaf, chronicles the impact that Jewish settlers and military occupation have had on the Palestinian city of Hebron and how repressive methods of control there are widely adopted in other regions. occupied territories.

The film is screened in the Zurich Film Festival’s Border Lines sidebar, which features works dealing with territorial and social conflicts and humanitarian issues.

Avrahami and Sheizaf had long wanted to collaborate on a project involving the West Bank. “We both believe that the occupation is the most pressing issue facing Israeli filmmakers,” says Sheizaf.

It was ultimately the shocking murder of a young Palestinian by an Israeli soldier in 2016 that led Avrahami and Sheizaf to focus on Hebron. Video of the incident taken by Imad Abu Shamsiya (pictured) shows the soldier, Elor Azaria, executing 21-year-old Abdel Fattah al-Sharif as he lay injured in the street, shooting him in the head on end wearing.

“We started thinking about it and Idit had that aha moment when she said, ‘The story is not the incident. The story is the place,” recalls Sheizaf. “And we started digging into the history of the place, the history of the place.”

Sheizaf and Avrahami also have personal ties to Hebron. Sheizaf served in the city when he was an officer in the Israeli army in the 1990s, while Avrahami comes from a family that had lived in Hebron for generations.

The film largely focuses on a once-bustling street in central Hebron that was once lined with crowded markets and shops but is now empty, a ghost town, due to tight security measures and the division of the city ​​that followed the Jewish settlers who moved into the city center over the decades.

“It was the heart of the city,” says Sheizaf. “It is a very old city. Hebron has existed for three to four thousand years. The center of Hebron was comparable to bustling downtown areas in other West Asian cities, such as Cairo or Istanbul, he adds. “It was one of those places where it’s almost impossible to walk because of the traders and the traffic and all that. There was also a central bus station in the city that had buses to Jordan, to Jerusalem, everywhere.

“In 50 years of military control, the place has undergone a unique transformation,” says Sheizaf.

The film examines this control and its impact: how Hebron became the dystopian nightmare it is today – a city divided into two sectors, H1, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, and H2, which is under Israeli control. H2 is further divided by fences, barriers and military checkpoints which have left much of the Palestinian population trapped in their own homes.

“It’s about the life being sucked out of the place,” Sheizaf says. “Life has been sucked from the streets and it has become this political theatre, where people talk about politics and argue every yard. This process is what we wanted to show.

Hebron is a 90 minute drive from Tel Aviv, but another world. People who visit Hebron are shocked, wondering how such a place can exist, says Avrahami. “It’s where you see apartheid in everyday life.”

“And you see him now in West Jerusalem; you see it in other parts,” she adds. “Hebron was the first place Jews entered the Arab city and look what happened 50 years later: Arabs are behind bars, locked up, soldiers come into their homes in the middle of the night. The same is happening in Jerusalem. The same is happening in other West Bank villages. Thus, the method that was implemented in Hebron is now used in other regions.

In their research, the filmmakers came across treasure troves of archival material, which they used to construct the film’s narrative, Avrahami adds.

They also sought to show the occupation in a cinematic way without being pedantic on the subject, she notes.

Indeed, Avrahami and Sheizaf point out that they were careful in how they portrayed the settlers.

“We didn’t want to trivialize them; we didn’t want to humiliate them in the film like they do in some films,” says Sheizaf. “These are people who are extremely dedicated to this. But the reality is that they live in these conditions as a privileged community. If there is a curfew, they are exempt. They are not under curfew. They can move freely. Living in this reality creates a lot of violence and tension.

“We see the settlers as an arm of the state,” Sheizaf said. “As people they are extreme, they are radical, but they couldn’t have done it alone. They are an arm of the state. Maybe they are avant-garde – they are moving forward, but the state is catching up with them and accepting what they are doing and helping them. Without the army, they wouldn’t stay.

Avrahami and Sheizaf recently signed the petition against Israel’s Shomron Film Fund, which is restricted to Jewish settlers in the West Bank and inaccessible to the 2.5 million Palestinian residents of the occupied territory. “We signed the petition saying we don’t take grants from this fund because it’s an apartheid fund,” Sheizaf said. Over 300 filmmakers have signed the open letter.

“Occupation is a cancer,” he adds. “Everything is contaminated – everywhere you turn. It’s not just about knowing what’s going on in Hebron. If you’re a filmmaker here in Tel Aviv, you have to make those decisions. »

“H2: The Occupation Lab” also screened at the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in South Korea, the Antenna Documentary Film Festival in Sydney, and the Other Israel Film Festival in New York.

Michael A. Bynum