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Small bits of beauty

Regissør: Garry Keane Andrew McConnell
(Tyskland, Irland og Canada)

EVERYDAY IN GAZA / The film portrays the resignation that is, in effect, a desire to find life and happiness in the midst of all the tragedies.


"I was born by the sea, I will stay by the sea and I will die by the sea!"

The words come from Ahmad Jamal al Aqraa. He is 14 years old and dreams of becoming a fisherman, just like his father. But the circumstances are not easy. He comes from al-Shati, one of the major Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, and we meet him while he is wearing strong coveralls to stand at sea.

He is the first of a series of human fates in the movie Gaza that panoramicly describes the lives of the nearly two million Palestinians on the narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean. The Israeli blockade has been a hard fact for more than ten years, and for most of the population, distress and misery is a more or less permanent condition.

The dream of freedom

It is poignant to experience how the Palestinians each find clues to safeguard their brutal everyday lives. For Ahmad Jamal al Aqraa, it is the sea. The space conditions in the home are tight. He has 13 brothers and 22 sisters, so when the weather permits, he often goes down and spends the night on the beach, which for most people on the Strip has great symbolic significance.

Only a few of the Gaza Strip's young people have ever seen the world outside, but they all dream of it. There are only two border crossings – Rafah to Egypt and Erez to Israel – and both are hermetically sealed to ordinary people. There is a third resort, says one of the film's characters, and it is the sea, but if you get too far, you meet death.

"I was born by the sea, I will stay by the sea and I will die by the sea!"

That is the reality for the fisherman. They know it is extremely risky to sail more than three miles out. This is where the water gets deep and the great fishing hours go, but it is also where the Israeli Navy patrol boats lurk. In the film, we meet the old fisherman whose son is on his way home to Gaza. The son had ventured too far out with his nets, leading to boat breakdown and several years of Israeli prison. The old man is preparing for his young grandchildren to meet with the father they hardly know, and as the big day comes, the released fisherman is accompanied on the trip from Erez to the al-Shati home by armed men from the PFLP, that shoot in the air and make the day a national highlight. The old fisherman says time and time again that the son has never been politically engaged and just wants to live his life as well as it can now.

To choose the joy

Gaza. Directors Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell

One can believe that the film postulates a lack of Palestinian will for resistance. It probably does, but it is interesting. The film goes behind the journalistic news stories by not focusing on resistance in the usual sense. Instead, it portrays a resignation that is, in effect, a will to find life and happiness in the midst of all the tragedies.

It is a typical feature of the taxi driver, which on the surface looks like a satisfied man. He drives in a well-maintained Mercedes and apparently has the profits to be well dressed. He says he sees people who have lost everything, and feels privileged by having his family around him. And just below the surface are all the worries. He has great difficulty getting the economy connected, and at one point chose to serve 20 months in jail as a result of unpaid bills. There he met very thoughtfully a number of the Gaza Strip businessmen, who turned out to be just as indebted as he himself.

The film depicts a resignation that is, in effect, a desire to find life and happiness in the midst of all the tragedies.

At one point he gets a customer who turns out to be a theater director. This one breaks into happy singing in the back seat, despite the fact that he is also buried in trouble. But the theater man chooses to be happy, because the alternative is to fall in with a heart attack.

Cultural heritage

Of course, the conflict is pressing. The film's two directors joined in as the major protests along the fence to Israel peaked in May 2018. The bloodiest day in Gaza was on May 14, when Israeli soldiers on the other side of the fence killed 60 protesters. About 2000 people were injured and the camera is in the ambulance documenting all the frustrations.

As an almost absurd parallel, we follow the young girl Karma, who will be the film's narrative counterpart to the poor fisherman boy Ahmad. She is the daughter of wealthy parents and the home seems like a peaceful haven in the midst of chaos. The mother says that as a teenager she had plans to join the armed struggle herself and that her biggest dream was to kill Israeli soldiers. As she got older, she realized that conflict is not resolved through violence, so today we see her express her opposition through culture. Together with a few other women, she collects Bedouin dresses, which she is ready to send to world shows to show that Gaza also owns beauty. Agreements have been made with exhibitors in the US and France, but the sea, the ubiquitous sea, is standing in the way. Despite her privileged situation, she is unable to ship her dresses and models to the world.

Meanwhile, Karma cultivates his music. She plays classical cello and dreams of an international career as a musician, which she knows deep down is an impossibility. She calls the ocean an invisible barrier. Torture. In one of the film's strong scenes, she brought her instrument to the beach. In the background you see the sea and a shattered house while she sits in the dunes and plays. At one point, someone says that in Gaza you never know what will happen in the next five minutes, and this insight Karma obviously lives with, too. But like all the others, she sticks to the present and uses it to find little bits of beauty.

The movie is shown on Arab movie days, 20-24. March.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

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