Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What is the role of European development cooperation in the Palestinian communities - does it have any effect at all, if Israeli government fails to alter its policies towards Palestine?

It was calm. There were no clashes in Palestine at the time we started to plan our trip to Palestine in the beginning of 2015. In summer the daily temperature in Palestine rises over 40C, so we decided to shoot our documentary in autumn, when the weather in Palestine is cooler and tolerable for Estonians, the olive picking season also flattered us.

We communicated with the Estonian NGOs, which have mediated volunteers to Palestine. As a result we became friends with Estonian volunteers who had worked in Palestine before. Using Skype and Facebook we made friends with people from Palestine, with the possible participants for our documentary, throughout spring and summer.

It was restless and bloody, the tensions between Israel and Palestine had rose to a high level, while the trip, we had planned earlier, actually started October 10th.

The wave of Palestinians knife attacks towards Israeli soldiers and settlers started in October - during one month Palestinians killed 11 Israelis, mostly using knives. On the other hand, Israeli forces shot dead 66 Palestinians in October. The frustration in Palestinian society has accumulated through the decades. The Israeli occupation and building of Israeli settlements at the West Bank continues, peace talks got stuck, the concrete barriers and checkpoints separate people from their work, families and the world outside.

This time the clashes were detonated by rumours that Israel plans to take over Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem which is a holy place for Palestinian Muslims. There is a lively discussion among Palestinians if these clashes are the start of the third intifada (third uprising) or not. Most commentators point out that this time Palestinians use knives and stones instead of guns and bombs. There is no organisation behind the attackers, they are not connected to any movement and they act on personal initiative. This is different from the previous uprisings.

We can not bypass Palestinians fight for their freedom and the conflict between Israel and Palestine while making a documentary about development cooperation in Palestine. This feeling got support from the real life we saw in Palestine while we arrived. So we started shooting and finding the answers to questions: How the conflict and isolation affect different generations in Palestine? What is the role of EU development cooperation in the Palestinian communities, does it have any effect at all, if Israeli government fails to alter its policies towards Palestine?

Our team – author Arp Müller, director Mati Kark, cameraman Priit Vehm – arrived to the capital of the Palestinian Authority, to Ramallah October 11th. On our way we saw through our eyes and through the camera lens tall and grey concrete walls, kilometres by kilometres, separating the communities. We saw fires made of old tires, Palestinian youngsters throwing stones towards Israeli soldiers and soldiers shooting tear gas grenades and rubber bullets near the checkpoints and Israeli settlements all around Ramallah. At the same time quite normal life continued at the centre of Ramallah – girls and boys were jogging ignoring the smell of tear gas which covered the whole city, men and women were chatting and spending time at the bars and drinking beer. Young Estonian women – Maarja, Helle-Mari and Helena – helped us to adjust in this environment.

We had an opportunity to join with the press trip organised for German journalists by EU representation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I would like to express my thanks to communications officer Shadi Othman from EU representation who has helped several Estonian journalists during their visits to Palestine.

With a help of a 3 day fully scheduled press trip we got huge amount of information and different views about the social and political situation in Palestine. We met the director of the Media Center of Palestinian government Ehab Bessaiso, we met the former presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti and we made acquaintance with Jalazone refugee camp from 1948. We attended excursion headed by the former Israeli soldier, front-man of Israeli NGO Breaking The Silence Nadav Weiman to the former main market street of Hebron, where Palestinians are now prohibited to walk. It is worth to mention that our excursion fell under the attack of Israeli settlers who kicked our cameraman with a leg. We were shown several projects of EU development cooperation – for example advancing the rights and living conditions of Palestinian inhabitants in Eastern Jerusalem; for example cow farm, dairy house and community center at the village Beit Duqqu. Some young Palestinian journalists also attended the press trip. We experienced the everyday tragic through communicating with them. We saw, how reacted Young radio journalist Rama, while she read news from social network that one of her best friends has committed an attack toward Israelis and as a consequence was shot dead.

We moved forward from Ramallah to the small city Tubas at the north of Palestine. It is much more conservative area than Ramallah. All the women of Tubas cover their hair, You can not buy alcohol from the shop. We were greeted by a local peace activist and school headmaster Yalal Khudairy, an agriculture businessman Mohammad Shraim and a lawyer and basketball coach Abedalraziq Dragmah. These men founded NGO Al Okhuwa and made cooperation with several volunteer English teachers from Estonia. Our initial plan, while we were still in Estonia, was to go with a camera to the local school and follow the children learning English with the teacher from Estonia. At the last moment it came out that the volunteer from Estonia who planned to continue the project in Tubas this autumn, did not have an opportunity to make it, because of organisational obstacles. Ministry of Education of the Palestinian Authority also rejected our appeal to shoot a documentary at the Boys Elementary Shool in Tubas. This was a fallback for us.

At this point our team made a decision to depict the situation in Palestine through the short stories, through short essays. We decided to tell a story of a peace activist and school headmaster, who lost his brother and sister by Israeli bomb 1967, but despite joining a terrorist organisation for revenge he started a peace organisation and talks about the need for conciliation. We tell about the children who were born in refugee camp and who throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

We will tell a story about Jayyous farmer Shareed Khaleev. He is famous, because he won Israeli state at the Israeli Supreme Court. The state of Israel was forced to demolish and move to another place so called security wall which did not let him to harvest his olive trees. At his farm we also met a Jewish volunteer Anat Zohari who helps Palestinian farmers at the olive picking season every year in order to show that not all Israelis support the occupation at the West Bank. Anat explained us, how Israelis also would benefit if the occupation at the West Bank would end.

We decided that through this kind of stories we can explain to the TV-watchers, why the member states of EU support Palestinians with more than billion euros annually. Through this kind of personal stories we will explain, how does the support from the EU and Estonia, money and development cooperation programs, affect local people. We would like to achieve that after watching our documentary no viewer will blame our government because of sending money and people to help Palestinians. We will show Palestinian people's experience and hopes connected to the ongoing EU development projects.

On the last week of our trip we came back to Jerusalem, where we had several appointments and interviews, for example with the head of EU representation in the West Bank and the Gaza strip Ralph Tarraf. Throughout our preparations in Estonia and trip in Palestine we tried to find also any Israeli settlers from West Bank settlements (considered illegal by UN and EU) who would agree to talk with us in front of the camera. At last we succeeded and visited and interviewed a rabbi at Alon Shvut settlement.
In the end of our trip we have almost 30 hours of material. Day before flying back through Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport we rewarded us with couple of hours sunbathing and swimming at the beach of Tel Aviv.

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