A Love Story

By David Kattenburg

Life is tough for the four million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Tiny Gaza is under effective Israeli blockade.

West Bank Palestinians are encircled by a continuous, multi-tiered line of concrete walls and electric fences, and can only move freely within Ramallah and smaller towns. Hundreds of checkpoints limit movement elsewhere. These have reduced “terrorist” attacks, Israel says, but Palestinians feel imprisoned.

Young people are particularly affected by the checkpoint system. Boys are sometimes forced to strip, or are beaten. Girls are teased. It can take an entire day to travel short distances. Travel to Jerusalem is out of the question for most. Many youth opt to stay put.

If there’s anything worse than feeling trapped, it’s being misunderstood. In a recent visit to Ramallah’s Quaker-funded Friends School, a group of grade twelve students complained of being depicted as “terrorists” in the mainstream media. Listen to their voices here, together with the voice of Sahar Othman, with the Palestinian youth group Sharek (www.sharek.ps).

Friends School parent and Bir Zeit researcher Rita Giacaman also appears in this voice collage. She has studied the impact of the Israeli occupation, and the checkpoint system, on Palestinian youth. The humiliation they experience at checkpoints, she has written, has added to the trauma inflicted by forty years of occupation and conflict.

Over the past year, Giacaman has spent much time working with young people at Ramallah’s Quaker-founded Friends School. With her motherly assistance, a group of grade twelve students – including her daughter – spent two years producing a Palestinian version of a Shakespeare classic: “In Fair Palestine – the True Story of Romeo and Juliet,” it’s called. A trailer for the film appears on YouTube, and the film was screened for the first time in January, in Ramallah, to a standing room only crowd of a thousand.

It was not the intention of the film’s young creators to depict the star-crossed children of a Palestinian and an Israeli, or of Fatah and Hamas supporters. Instead, their goal was to portray Palestinians as perfectly normal. “We are neither terrorists nor victims,” one of their releases states. “We have known no other life but in war-like conditions. Yet, we are telling the world that, despite extra-ordinary life circumstances, Palestinian youth use their summer holidays to make a film based on a love story … that we are creative, able to put together a film without any previous experience whatsoever. And of course, that we are human, and resilient. We strive to turn negative life events into positive energy.”

The creators of In Fair Palestine: the True Story of Romeo and Juliet have also created an Internet blog (www.lifebehindthewall.org), which they use to communicate with other youth around the world. They are more fortunate than young people living in the northern West Bank communities of Nablus and Jenin – who Rita Giacaman has also worked with – but they are Palestine’s best and brightest, perhaps. Many will be heading off to prestigious U.S. universities next fall, escaping the occupation trap – perhaps to return as leaders in the future.

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