The story behind the story "Where are the soldiers?"
I first visited the village of Jayyous with my friend Rima Essa in autumn 2003. We were making a film together for a Palestinian NGO about water access issues in the West Bank (more about the film). Our host on the night we arrived was Abdellatif, a hydrologist who had given up his office job in Ramallah to return to Jayyous and campaign against the Israeli Separation Wall which had caught the village in a noose, cutting its people off from their ancestral lands. The next day, Abdellatif's uncle was to take us to spend 48 hours with the farmers who were camping out in their fields and greenhouses for fear of losing their access rights. All the wells on which the village depended for water were on the 'wrong side' of the Wall, too.
The atmosphere had been somewhat tense following our arrival, but over a long lunch we gradually relaxed into each other's company. When we finished eating, we went out onto the terrace. Night was already falling as I filmed Rima playing and joking with Abdellatif's young children. It was one of the most beautiful, most delicate moments, I experienced during the four months I spent in Palestine. You can see some of the traces left by that moment in my film, two thousand walls.
Many things happened to us while we were in Jayyous. We spent time with communists, and with members of Hamas, some of whom turned out to be the same people. We held the hands of grown men while they wept for the loss of their land, and of their dignity. We got smoked up with a British muslim, who claimed to be Cat Stevens' godson. We hid in doorways while armoured cars thundered through the streets by night. We helped water courgette plants and pick guava fruit. And through it all, we tried to play our part, that of the good visitor, helping to maintain the thin veneer of normality on which what was left of everyone's sanity seemed to depend.
But the thing I remember most vividly, after all these years, is a story which Abdellatif told us over lunch. I have tried to render it as accurately as my memory allows, but several years passed before I wrote it down, and several more before this publication. (It first appeared in French translation at the beginning of this year, to accompany the DVD edition of two thousand walls). So it's possible that without knowing it, I have changed it beyond recognition, and that the form it takes now reflects not just the events of that one afternoon, but also the many different threads that ran, consciously or unconsciously, through my stay in the West Bank, and that gave my experiences there shape and meaning. Perhaps that is also why I hesitated to make it public. For in Brahim's paradoxical vision, which is both an extreme form of clarity, and a potentially fatal state of blindness, I may have recognised something that was too close to certain difficulties and obstacles I had faced myself, for me to be entirely comfortable sharing it with others.
Whether this text is still Abdellatif's story or not, I dedicate this retelling of it to him and to his family, in gratitude for the hospitality and kindness they showed us, and so many others like us, who came to Jayyous to see for ourselves.
- Peter Snowdon, Belgium (gourna films)
turn around to read "Where are the soldiers?"