‘They want to kill me for mak­ing doc­u­men­taries’

Film­maker Ra­neen Geries re­ceives death threats for show­ing the Pales­tinian view of the events of 1948. She talks to Nick John­stone

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&books -

WHENRANEENGeries, a Pales­tinian wo­man, ar­rived at Tel Aviv Univer­sity to study for a de­gree in so­cial work, most of the stu­dents on her course were Jewish. As con­ver­sa­tions fre­quently touched on fam­ily his­tory, she re­alised how lit­tle she knew of her own.

“When you meet Jewish peo­ple, the ‘other’,” she re­calls, from her home in Haifa, “then you start to look deeply at your own iden­tity. Who are you? Where are you from? I started by ask­ing my grand­moth­ers, and from there I went on to dis­cover my na­tional his­tory.”

By the time she was study­ing for an MA, her quest for in­for­ma­tion about Pales­tinian his­tory had led her to be­come a vol­un­teer with Zochrot (He­brew for “re­mem­ber­ing”), a group of Is­raelis, both Jewish and Mus­lim, who work to “raise aware­ness of the Nakba, the Pales­tinian catas­tro­phe of 1948”.

At first, Geries or­gan­ised lec­tures and work­shops and helped with publi­ca­tions. Then, in 2005, when Zochrot ac­quired non-gov­ern­ment-or­gan­i­sa­tion sta­tus, she be­came a part-time em­ployee and con­cen­trated on doc­u­ment­ing Pales­tinian Nakba tes­ti­monies. One day, she had a brain­wave and started film­ing tes­ti­monies, in­stead of record­ing them. Since then, de­spite not hav­ing a film­mak­ing back­ground, the 29-yearold has made four doc­u­men­tary films.

Her latest ac­claimed short film, Women’s Tes­ti­monies Of The Nakba, was re­cently screened at the Bar­bican, as part of the Lon­don Pales­tine Film Fes­ti­val. In Septem­ber, it will show at the Haifa Film Fes­ti­val. That makes two very high­pro­file screen­ings for a wo­man whose work many are try­ing to stop. Like her fel­low Zochrot col­leagues, she says she re­ceives reg­u­lar death threats.

“Peo­ple call and leave mes­sages in the of­fice or send emails with threats, like: ‘We’ll kill you. Die. You’re bas­tards’. Sick things like this.” The threats make Geries ever more de­ter­mined. “By re­mem­ber­ing the Nakba, it’s a threat to the ex­is­tence of the Jews here. That’s why they be­come afraid. They say: ‘You want to bring back all the refugees? Where­arewe­sup­posed­togo?Youwant to do the Holo­caust again?’”

For Geries, the work has a per­sonal source. Her fa­ther’s fam­ily were ex­pelled from Haifa in 1948. They set­tled in Nazareth, then Akko, be­fore putting down roots in Kfar Yasif in north­ern Is­rael, where Geries was born. She hopes that her films, as well as ed­u­cat­ing and doc­u­ment­ing, show the con­tin­u­ing dis­place­ment of Pales­tini­ans. “Dur­ing 1948, yes there was a mass dis­place­ment of Pales­tini­ans from their land, but the Nakba is on­go­ing. Pales­tini­ans have con­tin­ued to be dis­placed — inside Is­rael, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in the refugee camps.” Within Zochrot, Geries is now re­spon­si­ble for film­ing what she calls “sur­vivor tes­ti­monies”, a turn of phrase which in­evitably echoes the work of Steven Spiel­berg’s Shoah Foun­da­tion.

She senses time run­ning out, as el­derly Pales­tini­ans, able to re­count the events of 1948, in­creas­ingly pass away and she will shortly be­gin train­ing Zochrot vol­un­teers to film tes­ti­monies. And what of this May, when Is­rael cel­e­brates 60 years of state­hood?

“It doesn’t mat­ter if it’s 60 years, 50 or 51. It’s very hard for me to be in Is­rael dur­ing this pe­riod. I live in Haifa and wher­ever you go, you see the flags and peo­ple cel­e­brat­ing. We Pales­tini­ans inside Is­rael are plan­ning a whole week of protest in Haifa, to go and demon­strate with the names of the al­most 400 Pales­tini­ans who were killed in Haifa in 1948. We will r a i s e t h e i r names.”

Ra­neen Geries: “It’s hard for me to be in Is­rael”

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