Israeli documentary captures citizen reconciliation – and encourages more
'Encounter Point' gives those affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a chance to see people on both sides talking and listening.
SDEROT, ISRAEL — With Kassam rockets falling more often than rain, this is a town where it would be easy to give up hope.
But four young women – an Israeli-Canadian, a Palestinian, a Jewish-American, and a Brazilian – want to present a different picture. The result is "Encounter Point," a new documentary being shown in theaters around Israel and the US. It's set to be aired across the Arab world on Al Arabiyah satelliteTV.
For viewers here or anywhere else in the region or world affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the film is a chance to hear those on both sides not just talking, but listening.
"Encounter Point" is indeed a movie with a mission of fostering dialogue, in large part by discovering that many Arabs and Jews who have lost immediate family members are already engaged in the conversation, despite what seems like a rising tide of hostility.
The film profiles real yet extraordinary Israelis and Palestinians, some who meet regularly as part of the Bereaved Families Forum or with other groups that promote reconciliation. These meetings show that at the heart of the war zone, people are going to great lengths to meet one another – and to convince their countrymen to give peace another chance.
"We are hoping that 'Encounter Point' can be the beginning of some constructive communitywide dialogue," says producer Nahanni Rous, a Jewish-American woman who grew up in New Hampshire, spent several years in Israel, and now lives in Washington.
"This spring, throughout the US, we will start to make the film available to communities to organize their own screenings, and to get Arab and Jewish groups to cosponsor the events and have a dialogue together. It's the start of talking to each other."
Wednesday, the film is to be shown at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
Audiences on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide have made similar charges: the movie is too "pro" one view or the other or it doesn't explain the century-old Arab-Jewish struggle here.
But the point, the filmmakers say, is not to be definitive, but rather to share narratives. And perhaps, they say, even to be provocative, in the best sense of the word.
"It's not a film about the conflict. It's about individuals in this conflict who are working on a grass-roots level to make change," Ms. Rous explains.
"Our best screenings are for mixed audiences, because when you realize that what's challenging for you is different than what's challenging for the person sitting next to you, it shows the complexity of it and bring it to reality," Rous says.
At one screening in Jerusalem, she saw a Palestinian Islamist and an Israeli settler wander into the courtyard afterward, where they talked about the film for half a hour. "Our goal was always to start conversations like that," she says.
Of all the venues where the film is being screened in Israel, Sderot is most traumatized by rocket fire – and exactly the sort of place where the filmmakers hope to have an impact.
But it's a hard sell in a city on the edge of the volatile Gaza Strip.
"I consider myself part of the peace camp, but I don't see it on the other side. I don't see them changing their education," says Albert Hofi, who recently retired from the Israeli Air Force. "What can you tell a kid in school here who already doesn't understand why the government evacuated all those people from Gaza, and now the Palestinians are just shooting missiles at us every day."
Palestinian audiences have been equally tough, explains coproducer Joline Makhlouf. "We found people a little cynical. 'Oh that's nice, but it's not going to go anywhere.' And then there were people who said, 'There are Israelis who believe in our rights? Wow.' "
The film is the brainchild of a nonprofit organization called Just Vision, founded by Ronit Avni, a woman with experience in human rights work and with roots in both Israel and Canada. As director of the film, Ms. Avni brought in Rous and Ms. Makhlouf, a Palestinian raised in East Jerusalem, as producers who could conduct interviews in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Then they recruited Brazilian Julia Bacha, who co-wrote and edited the documentary "Control Room" about Al Jazeera.
One of their biggest coups is that the Al Arabiyah satellite channel is purchasing the film and planning to show it nine times.
"The screening on Al Arabiyah is exciting, because it's got a wide audience, and millions of Arabs watch that, so it's pretty important. Arabs living outside feel differently than many Palestinians," Makhlouf says. "The idea of Israelis and Palestinians working together raises some eyebrows, especially for outsiders, so by us telling them that there's a lot of this happening, that was surprising to everybody – in the best way."
The film is part of a larger educational program being developed by Just Vision for US, Israeli, and Palestinian schools. "We don't want it to be just another film that will be put on the shelf," Makhlouf says.
As part of the ongoing research, the women have interviewed 180 Palestinians and Israelis on a variety of subjects. Fifty of these interviews are now available online at http://www.justvision.org.
For more information about the film and for a schedule of screenings, see http://www.encounterpoint.com/screenings/index.php