Every good Jewish film festival includes at least one piece that focuses in on the most controversial and complex issue of our generation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This year’s Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF) is no exception, and one of the most compelling of the films selected for screening was the documentary, My So-Called Enemy, by Emmy Award-winning documentarian, Lisa Gossels (The Children of Chabannes, SJFF 2000).
Just prior to the bombings on September 11, 2001, Lisa was introduced to a program called Building Bridges for Peace. The intense 9-day camp, founded by Melodye Feldman in 1994, was created in order to bring women of various backgrounds together to bridge the gap between their conflicting social spheres. Once Lisa heard about the program and met some of the amazing women involved, she knew she needed to create a documentary about these young Israeli and Palestinian women, striving to reach understanding in a world that had little.
My So-Called Enemy takes us through the emotional journey of six girls (ages 16 – 19) who, through the Building Bridges program, are given a temporary respite from their lives in cities like Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem and Jenin. Each girl coming into the program (some Israeli-Jews, some Palestinian-Christians, and so on) has experienced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differently and has a variant level of open-mindedness she brings to the table. Through the documentation of the summer camp program, we see how in a mere nine days, the girls form bonds, learn to work together and grapple with their deep seeded emotional preconceptions.
The documentary continues to follow the lives of the young women for seven years after the initial summer program ends to see for their lives change and what impact (if any) the camp has on their lives in the long-term. We see the most significant change in the lives of the girls who formed lasting friendships that carried over after the program ends. The documentary specifically hones in on the relationship between two of the girls, Gal, a Jewish Israeli from Tel Aviv, and Rezan, a Christian Palestinian living in Eastern Jerusalem. The two become especially close and continue to communicate and see each other after returning home from Building Bridges, despite the fact that Gal enters the IDF (Israeli army) while Rezan works diligently against the segregation of Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem.
Facing a seemingly insurmountable situation with nearly impossible solutions, these young women are a reminder that the possibility of peace has the most probable success within the youth of both sides. Humanizing each of the girls in a neutral place (the Building Bridges camp) and letting them talk in a safe, honest environment allowed them to gain new understanding and respect for one another’s situation. What this documentary doesn’t do is set up an unrealistic expectation that with a 9-day summer camp program, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will magically come to a peaceful end (ie. it’s not all puppies and rainbows). Rather, what it does create for viewers is a deeper understanding of the possibility for change found within a more hopeful, encouraged youth.
The Seattle Jewish Film Festival runs through March 25 at venues throughout the city, please visit their website for full details.