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Oct 1, 2011

Milh Hadha al-Bahr (Salt of this Sea)

It was time to give Palestine a shot. I had seen a few Israeli movies like Late Marriage, The Band's Visit and Paradise Now(the best of the three), Salt of this Sea is my first true-blue(or kufiyyah) Palestinian film. Made by Annemarie(is that an uncommon name for a Palestenian?) Jacir, supposedly first woman film director from Palestine, this film made it to Cannes in 2008 and received Camera D'Or nomination.

Soraya, born in Brooklyn to exiled Palestinian immigrants, travels back to rediscover the land of forefathers, the land from which her parents had to escape as refugees. The best thing about the film is it shows how ordinary Palestinians go on about their daily lives and the stark contrast of Palestinian areas with Israeli territories which are usually just separated by a wall and guarded check points. The ordeal of tough scrutiny, pat downs and questions on faith, dignity and last names every person of Palestinian descent has to go through at check points , counters and even on open road surveyed and manned by Israeli guards is an eye-opener.

Every year thousands of Western tourists arrive in busloads to visit the holy sites in Israel. Sometimes, on rare occasions they encounter stone-throwing Palestinians – the one and only face of Palestine they see while they are in Israel – the militant face. Salt of the Sea, shows you the other side, Palestinians as ordinary people trying to make ends meet, who wants to make movies, sing and study, presenting them as a bunch of people with aspirations like the rest of us. The only difference is, they are foreigners in their own land, living under a grim exclusionary shadow which makes them carry visas, IDs and endure fierce police questionings while they go on with the business of life.

My only gripe with film is, can a person who has not grown up or lived in Palestine who only came to know of it from the stories and thoughts of her parents be so attached to a house which she is seeing for the first time? I cannot empathize with the character, a progeny of displaced people maybe because I have not undergone a similar experience. Still I could not justify Soraya flaring up at the Israeli woman who welcomed three complete strangers to stay at her house as long as they wanted after they told her that it once belonged to Soraya’s grandfather. The reason for Soraya’s outburst was that the affable Israeli woman refused to take up Soraya’s offer to get kicked out of her own house since the Soraya’s grandfather used to own it 70 years ago before he had to flee Palestine and Soraya who has never lived in that house wants to have it back.Talk about trying to cash in on generational guilt.

Another way of looking at it is metaphorically – similar to Israeli justification of its occupation of Palestinian lands based on Biblical and pre-Biblical facts/stories. If that is the case, point taken, Anne Marie.