Behind the Fronts. Resistance and Resilience in Palestine
Origins of our project
I came to know of Palestinian psychiatrist Dr. Samah Jabr’s chronicles in 2007. I was then working on my latest documentary, Moudjahidate, featuring women’s involvement in the fight for Algerian independence. Back in these days, I held what we could call an anticolonial “position of principle” when it came to Palestine. Dr. Jabr’s chronicles helped me visualize the situation in a more concrete fashion. An heir to anticolonial psychiatrist Dr. Frantz Fanon, Dr. Jabr offers an unprecedented perspective that consists in politicizing what is psychological in order to decolonize mindsets. Her writings have opened a door for me on a complex reality, and led me to Dr. Jabr.
crédit : A. Dols
Presentation of the Movie
“Occupation does not end with a ceasefire.”
The latest Israeli military attack during summer 2014 resulted in over 2 100 Palestinian victims, more than 500 of which were minors. This massacre is one of the critical steps of an occupation that began decades ago.
Day-to-day colonization does not only involve occupying land, homes, the sky or water. It does not seek to impose its rule through weapons only; it molds the minds as well, behind the fronts.
With this film, I have chosen to deal with its invisible forms: intimate occupation, occupation of the mental space. Within this context, mental balance, self esteem, state of mind, the soul: all these become spaces and issues of resistance.
Dr. Samah Jabr
“I don’t believe that national liberation can be achieved by people who are not personally liberated (…). Our allies keep on talking about liberating Palestinian land, but to me, what matters is to liberate Palestinian minds, people and identity.” Dr. Samah Jabr
Born in East-Jerusalem, Dr. Samah Jabr still lives there, in the Shu’afât neighborhood, and works in the West Bank. She was a student in the first batch of the Medical School at the Palestinian Al-Quds University (Jerusalem). She is among the twenty currently practicing psychiatrists in the West Bank.
She is the Head of the Ramallah Community Mental Health Centre. A teacher as well, she trains mental health professionals (Palestinians, Israelis and internationals). She also works with inmates and, along with the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), she collects testimonies on this issue.
In addition to all these activities, she has been writing regularly for international media outlets since the late 1990s.
Using the academic knowledge she acquired when studying both in Europe and at the Israeli Institute of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, she elaborates a psycho-political diagnosis about her society while outlining the links between the resilience of the Palestinian people and their resistance to occupation.
The word resilience was initially used in physics in order to describe the capacity of a material to return to its original shape after being subjected to a shock. In psychology, resilience is the process through which a person develops in spite of trauma or despite an environment that may have been damaging and destructive.
Behind the Fronts is an invitation to engage in a double journey, both within our own minds and on the roads of Palestine.
Extracts from Dr. Jabr’s chronicles are cobblestones paving this road, while her text Dancing to Different Drummers – But Dancing, Nevertheless is leading us throughout the movie.
I have chosen it because it takes us through places where physical and psychological confrontations occur: from the Ramallah Community Mental Health Centre, then waiting at Qalandia checkpoint before taking the road towards Jerusalem.
These chronicles question alienation and the psychological impact of a daily oppression. They made me want to actually meet the mentioned people and places, so that I could see beyond the texts.
Multiple Characters in a Fragmented Palestine
While Palestine is one, Palestinian realities are plural: inhabitants from Gaza face different conditions of occupation from those of 1948 Palestinians and those who live in the West Bank. It is currently very difficult to film in the Gaza Strip, but I do not forget that theirs is linked to the fate of other Palestinians.
To continue and live in Palestine already is, in the eyes of many, a form of resistance. I met with inhabitants from Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah and Haifa. These interviewees try to thwart the system by countering Israeli attempts of division, and psychological and ideological attacks.
Deema Zalloum, mother of Moussa Zalloum, lives in Shu’afât, an East-Jerusalem neighborhood. In July 2014, she managed to prevent three Israelis from kidnapping her son. On the day after, the same three Israelis kidnapped and murdered young Muhammad Abu Khdeir, beating and burning him to death.
crédit : A.Dols
Archbishop Theodosios of Sebastia (born Atallah Hanna), has been the head of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem since 2005. His approach refuses to abide by the confessional bias Israelis try to impress on the conflict, thus attempting to divide Palestinian Christians and Muslims.
crédit : A.Dols
“Generally speaking, Zionists try to prevent any access to Jerusalem: Palestinians from the West Bank cannot enter the city except with a permit issued by the Zionist occupier. […] This ban does not only keep Muslims away from Al-Aqsa and Christians away from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; in a broader way, it stops Palestinians from accessing the marketplace and going to work.”
Mgr Theodosios de Sebastia
Ghadir Shafie, Co-Director of Aswat (Arabic for “voices”), a feminist and queer Palestinian women’s group, tells us about her opinion and experience. Aswat is a “feminist queer group, committed to linking feminism, queerness and resistance to all forms of oppression – as Palestinians, as women, and as queers – and to bringing them together into one monumental struggle”. She is also engaged in the international Boycott Disinvestment and Sanction (BDS) Campaign.
“I do not want the international community to “save” me as a queer woman. My priority is for the occupation to end. [...] Palestine should be free before it can be judged as a society.”Ghadir Shafie
Dr. Abaher El-Sakka, a native from Gaza, holds a PhD in Sociology and currently chairs the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Birzeit University. His research focuses on artistic expressions, memory, identity, protest and social movements.
Sheikh Khader Adnan was a political prisoner. He was arrested ten times through administrative detention – a procedure allowing the Israeli army to detain a person for an indefinitely renewable up to six-month period, without any indictment or trial.
He was finally released in July 2015, after staging a successful 55-day hunger strike. We met him in the hospital a few days after his release.
Since 1967, 40% of the Palestinian male population have been arrested by the Israeli forces. Practically every Palestinian family has at least one of their members in jail (Source: Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics).
An extract of Man shall not live on bread alone, a chronicle by Dr. Samah Jabr, July 2015
“Our president told us that "if we have to choose between bread and democracy, we choose bread." However, the baker Khader Adnan thinks and behaves otherwise, exemplifying the principle that "Man shall not live by bread alone." Adnan has endured two long and perilous hunger strikes in Israeli detention since 2013. The first was triggered by torture and humiliating mistreatments; the interrogators made sexual innuendos about his wife, mocked his faith and his physique, ripped out his beard, and put dirt from their shoes on his moustache. Adnan prevailed in both hunger strikes, leading to his liberation from prison and bringing world attention to the plight of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli administrative detention who are held without charge or trial for six-month periods that can be renewed indefinitely.”
Whenever Palestinians are made visible on screen, images tend to be sensational. We are either shown mourning crowds, women under the shock of the death of close ones or gathered around the wounded or the dead. Or we are shown armed fighters embodying “the terrorist danger”. One cannot remain indifferent to such images that can trigger a momentary humanitarian impulse or generate fear, yet they fail to foster any politically meaningful identification and do not render the situation any more intelligible.”
Therefore, the idea is to step off spectacular representations in order to get an insight of the daily aspects of a conflict that does not exist through weapons and casualties only. Taking some distance, exploring other temporalities, and letting our minds dwell on the roads of Palestine, so we can better understand the roots and stakes of what is happening today.
Let us hope that the interviewees’ testimonies will resonate and inspire others well above their own realities.
State of Advancement
We have already filmed three different times in Palestine.
So far, our project has been developed as a self-production, partnering with the solidarity movement with Palestine.
The goal of this crowdfunding is to allow us to successfully complete the final steps of postproduction (editing, mixing, color-grading and subtitling).
So that Behind the Fronts can see the day!
A Presentation of Team RR
The Director: Alexandra Dols
Alexandra Dols graduated both in Directing (University Paris VIII Vincennes) and Scenario writing (University Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne). An author and director specializing in documentary films, she also designs workshops in French schools where she teaches youth how to analyze and interpret images.
Her previous feature documentary, Moudjahidate, pictured female activism for the Algerian independence within the National Liberation Front/Army. It was released in 2008 and constituted one other step in her anticolonial reflection.
“The struggle against occupation there takes us back at the pandering decolonization of the minds and institutions here in France, when dealing with our history, past and present.”
The Sound Engineer
Charlotte, the set assistant, has directed reports for the radio for more than ten years. She also, among other assignments, hosts the show An Hour in Palestine, broadcasted on Radio Galère (FM 88.4, Marseilles).
The Interpreter & Continuity Artist
Boutros, originally a writer, has acted both as a continuity artist and an interprter (from Arabic to French) during the interviews.
The producer: Hybrid Pulse
The Hybrid Pulse association was founded in 2007 and aims at assisting young women with the process of writing, directing and broadcasting their audiovisual productions on the one hand, and designing workshops on how to analyze and interpret images on the other hand. Issues of emancipation and liberation struggles are a core component of our productions.
It has been broadcasted on three continents (Europe, Africa and the United States) and in several schools.