Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Infiltrators (Mutasalilun)

INFILTRATORS (Mutasalilun)              B      
Palestine  Lebanon  United Arab Emirates  (70 mi)  2012  d:  Khaled Jarrar  Website   Trailer

A rather provocative look at the Israeli wall, or 400-mile Israeli West Bank barrier that separates Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories, which doesn’t use the formulaic method of shooting a documentary film, but instead shows raw coverage of Palestinians routinely climbing over the wall to get into Jerusalem looking for available work, expressed through experimental techniques, almost all of which feels shot by handheld telephones, much of it at night, creating what amounts to an impressionistic mosaic of what has become a daily routine, as some 500 or 600 cross the wall in this manner every week.  Without showing any historical backdrop, no talking heads, no official spokespersons, no graphs, no statistics, and no editorial commentary, the film simply documents what American television refuses to show, which is the daily risk young Palestinians are forced to take in order to have a chance to earn money, as low wage earnings as laborers are available in Jerusalem as undocumented workers.  In the West Bank, more than 65% live under the poverty level, while in Gaza it’s closer to 85%, so the only way to survive is to either leave the country altogether or go where the job opportunities are.  As a result, they construct 25-foot ladders, or giant wood blocks as steps, or a hanging rope from the top of the wall where a dozen or so men climb over the walls, crossing a highway patrolled by Israeli security forces, and run to a designated area where a transport van is waiting to pick them up.  As the Israeli’s have constructed guard towers every three-quarter miles, it’s not easy to make it across undetected.  Nonetheless, this is the process that has been in place for years.  A word on the title:  Infiltrators is the Israeli term for Palestinians who smuggle their way into Israel, something of a provocative choice, as the pervading Palestinian view is that they are only returning to what was originally their own legally established land before it was stolen from them and occupied by Israeli military forces.  

To Americans, what immediately comes to mind is the border barrier walls between the American southwest and Mexico, which is one of the most contentious issues between the two nations, and the cause of many deaths, but no one disputes what are considered the legal boundaries.  When Israel constructed the wall in 2002, supposedly to prevent Palestinian terrorists and suicide bombers from reaching inside Israeli territory, it was announced it would be temporary, however it has had far more devastating consequences to the Palestinians, who are effectively locked in, where 35,000 farmers were suddenly separated from their lands and crops and their ability to earn a livelihood, unable to legally get out without going through a frustrating network of Israeli security checkpoints all designed to make it as difficult as possible, forcing Palestinians to sit in the hot sun literally for hours, sometimes taking their water bottles away, where old women and soldiers are seen yelling and screaming at one another, where sometimes they are turned back for no legitimate reason whatsoever other than racial hatred or to frustrate the process.  In the town of Qalqilya, the Israeli solution is to open the wall to farmers for a total of 50-minutes every day, but even then they are subject to the same harassment techniques.  The real bone of contention, however, from the Palestinian view, is the act was considered a land grab, as the Israeli’s annexed an additional 9.5% of Palestinian land, cutting far into the West bank, where even Jewish scholars have acknowledged from the beginning that the real purpose behind building the wall was providing protection to the Israeli settlements built on disputed land.  And worse, the wall effectively closes any further discussion about the prospects of a separate Israeli and Palestinian state living side by side, as the Palestinian land occupied by the Israeli’s since the 1967 Six-Day War, which was presumably under discussion when considering Palestinian statehood, has simply been hoarded by the Israeli’s, with no future plans for return.

What began as a method to prevent the Palestinian state has become, at least for Palestinians, an apartheid wall, where all Palestinians are collectively being punished for over a decade now in what amounts to an ethnic cleansing, where they are confined inside the walls of a Warsaw Ghetto.  Under the circumstances, the footage in this film expresses the day to day reality that exists for Palestinian survival, where they are forced to risk their lives to find work, as many have broken their legs from such high falls, many more have been caught by Israeli security, where the border regions are mostly patrolled by Israeli youth, often soldiers that are 18-year old kids that overreact and are seen kicking those arrested, even as they are lying motionless on the ground with loaded assault rifles pointed at their faces.  This kind of activity has negative repercussions on both sides, building negative images and hostile views of one another.  Those arrested face lengthy jail time and hefty fines, where once released, the same process starts all over again, as there isn’t any other existing method that leads to a potential source of income.  The film is particularly effective in its raw form, where occasionally the sound will simply disappear altogether, returning later at some point, which has a unique ability to disrupt and frustrate the viewer’s normal channels of perception, creating a stream of jagged edges instead of a smooth, easy to understand story that is packaged to promote a particular point of view.  The only point of view here is what exists in the images, a steady stream of people continually piling over the wall, usually paying someone who can guide them through, like the coyotes (Coyotaje) smuggling bodies across the Mexican border.  One of the more devastating images is through a dug-out tunnel with barely any clearance, where we see one person after another try to squeeze through, and even a baby is handed up to awaiting arms, and within seconds, a giant blast can be heard, like a bomb blast or an attack, where debris is seen falling back down into the rocks, followed immediately by a stunning silence.  We can only imagine what’s just happened.

Note – The post-film discussion led by Lake Forest College professor Ghada Talhami, a noted Palestinian author of 6 books, and a regular commentator for CNN News and NPR radio, was one of the best ever experienced, as she provided all the historical context that the film in its raw form left out.  It was a perfect balance, where her invaluable contributions completed the film experience.  Standing alone, however, the film isn’t nearly as powerful without her input. 

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