102: Exploring Roots of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in New Documentary
December 9, 2016 7:01 p.m.
Episode 102: Exploring Roots of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in New Documentary
The new documentary '1948: Creation and Catastrophe' tries to provide a context for the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict by looking back to the year the state of Israel was created and how that impacted Palestinians living in that region.
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Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. I’m Beth Accomando. Today, we’re going to look at a documentary that has just been completed, but is still in the fundraising stages. And I have two of the filmmakers here. The documentary is called, 1948: Creation & Catastrophe.
Yoske Nahmias: It was a feeling of creation.
Shamuel Toledano: The feeling of you have a state of you our own, a Jewish state no one can… no one have lived such a situation.
Yoram Kaniuk: It was the only time I remember when my life that I’ve really seen a total happiness. I mean everyone was dancing, everyone was happy.
Yakov Keller: In the declaration of the state, I was not happy. I did not dance. Yes, and I said it will be trouble, it will be trouble. And it became trouble.
Samia Khoury: A people without land for a land without people, so they wanted to give the Jews a land because they didn’t land. But the problem is that the land they gave them had people. It was inhabited by Palestinians for thousands of years.
Beth Accomando: One of the filmmakers is a former KPBS employee, who is Andy Trimlett. Hi, Andy.
Andy Trimlett: Good to see you.
Beth Accomando: And the other filmmaker is Ahlam Muhtaseb, welcome.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Thank you for having me.
Beth Accomando: First of all, for a documentary like this, I’m always curious what drew you to this topic? What is your background in and how did you come into this?
Ahlam Muhtaseb: I’m a professor of communication studies, and I teach mainly media studies actually at California State University, San Bernardino. And I started working on this project as part of field research, and I was doing a study on Palestinian refugees, that is of diaspora and the creation of collective identity in diaspora among Palestinian refugees. So, I was doing the fieldwork in the refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon, and I started in 2006. And it’s like long term project. Then I met Andy in 2007 in an antiwar peace rally I guess. And we got introduced by one of our mutual friends, and he had similar ideas. Part of my fieldwork was to actually do my own little documentary with my limited skills because I took social justice perspective and I wanted to give voice to those refugees after I finish my fieldwork and I publish it. And then Andy knew about that and got intrigued. He said, you know we could probably join forces and do something that is about the refugees but bigger than that, to talk about 1948. And I let him tell you why 1948, why tell the story of 1948.
Andy Trimlett: I got my master’s degree in Middle East Studies after graduating from right here at San Diego State University that was in international security and conflict resolution. It’s like the longest title ever. And then I wanted to get my master’s in Middle East Studies at the University of Washington. And I studied the Middle East for a couple of years and looked a lot at the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But really if I’m going to be honest with you, I didn’t understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even after I graduated. It didn’t click for me. I knew a lot of the facts and figures and the history and the dates, and the people, but overall I didn’t connect the dots, it didn’t make sense until after I graduated and I started looking into the year 1948.
And once I understood what happened then everything else started to fall into place. I mean basically the picture of 1948 is one group of people comes into Palestine, and forces another group of people off the land, the people who live there already. And actually that process is continuing to this day. And once you understand that everything else starts to make sense. The walls start to make sense that they’re building, the home demolitions, the forcing people off of their land, everything falls into place and it stops being this conflict of all those people who’ve been fighting for thousands of years and they’re just crazy, and they just kill each other because that’s who they are. And you start to realize what is actually going on, and you can make sense of the conflict today.
And I figured, if I had gone through a graduate program and still it didn’t click for me, how can a regular person who hadn’t studied this ever make sense of the conflict. And so I decided somebody had to make a documentary about this and I guess it turned out to be me. And I found out that Ahlam was going to Lebanon to do interviews in the refugee camps, and I was like, oh wow, what kind of camera are you using? Then we jumped on this together and have combined forces and have been doing lots of work since then.
Beth Accomando: And Andy what got you interested in Middle East Studies?
Andy Trimlett: I don’t have any personal connection to anything in the Middle East. Basically, I got my bachelor’s in international security and I wanted to do a master’s degree. And one of my professors said, don’t get a master’s in something general like international relations if you’re just going to get a master’s, go for something specific like an area studies. And really I just kind of picked Middle East like it wasn’t a reason I had any special interest at, it just sounded neat. I also applied program for Asian study, like East Asian studies and I got into the program and I just fell in love with it, and I’m fascinated by it.
And then when I was in school, I was really shocked at the difference between what I was learning in school about the region, and what I would read in the newspaper or hear on the radio or see on the internet about the news like, it seemed like I was learning about two different worlds. And it felt like someone had to start making an effort to change that and to show the information I was learning about, the history that I was learning about. That was an essential component to make sense of it all.
Beth Accomando: And Ahlam, how did you get interested in your educational pursuit? What made you decide to take that route?
Ahlam Muhtaseb: I’m originally Palestinian. I actually came to the United States about 20 years ago, on a Fulbright’s scholarship by the American government to do my masters, then I did my Ph.D. and I stayed here. So, part of it really is my background, my heritage. But another element that actually made me interested in Palestinian refugees in particular, because I’m Palestinian but I’m not a refugee, was actually the experiences of several Palestinians I have known over the years including the person who became my husband later that I met in grad school and the story of his family. I guess I was lucky, I felt I was lucky because my family decided to never leave their homeland even that meant death and so we didn’t lose our land. And I started seeing even though we were both Palestinians that our experiences were totally shaped by the experiences of being a refugee in 1948, which is of course still a very timely and very important conversation taken into consideration that now we have the largest refugee population among the Syrians for example.
And his family actually experienced being refugee several times, because they were in Kuwait and then they were pushed back to Syria after they were originally in Syria, and then they were pushed back to come to the United States. So, they experienced this several times. So, that intrigued me to study not only the sociological circumstances of being a refugee, but also the internal forces inside you. What makes you keep going in spite of all like against all the odds; in spite of all these horrifying systematic experiences you’re having as a refugee; what keeps people going, how do they feel, how do they form a sense of community, a sense of collective identity? Especially those who actually still live in the refugee camps.
And basically like in Lebanon, if you look at Lebanon which was like a main focus for me, the physical conditions on the ground for refugees are actually almost the same since 1948. All of these things intrigued me in to focus on studying the refugees and that’s then I felt well, all of them when you ask them as a scholar: How can I help you? What do you want me to do beyond just benefitting as scholar from the research? And they would say, I would love for the world to know about us. It seems like we’re forgotten and nobody cares, nobody says anything and that’s how I wanted to tell their story.
Beth Accomando: This is a very large and very complex topic. When you tackled making a documentary which is usually anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours or something like that, what did you decide to focus on, and what did you want the documentary to be?
Andy Trimlett: There have been a lot of documentaries on 1948, and there have been some very good documentaries on 1948. But a lot of them focused on a specific family or a specific aspect of it and what we wanted to do was kind of take a step back and look at the whole story, what happened, and we wanted to do it an hour and a half. The big inspiration for this was Ken Burns; the style, the look of it, the feel of it has a lot of influences from Ken Burns. And because we wanted it to be a documentary that a person watching KPBS would relate to and would understand the feel off. It was important to us to really get as fuller picture as we can and as much as you can do for a massive story like this in 90 minutes. And so we worked very hard to get interviews with both Palestinians and Israelis. It was a lot of work. There were a lot of people that didn’t want to talk, they didn’t want to mention anything about the war. And then just getting to these interviews was a lot of work. Ahlam went through refugee camps in Lebanon, I went to Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, and there’s just getting from one place to the other and living in these places is an experience in of itself. But what we wanted to do is really step back and give the full story of what happened, so that Americans could really grasp this thing and get their head around and not feel like they were just being given one little slice of it or another little slice of it but get the big picture.
Beth Accomando: The audience you had in mind was an American audience. You wanted to make this film to help educate an American audience.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Yes, absolutely, people who knew very little or maybe nothing about the Middle East. They hear it all the time on the news, they hear about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but some people don’t even know where the region is or the people involved. As Andy said before, they probably think that this conflict has been going on for thousands of years or hundreds of years which is not true. It’s a very contemporary conflict. It actually started basically at the end of the 19th century and then the majority of action happened during the first of the 20th century, but it still continues until today. It’s one of the most complicated conflicts in the world.
Andy Trimlett: When I’m on working on this, every edit that I suggest, every decision we make I think about my neighbors, like my neighbors across the street. What do they want to know, what do they not understand about this conflict and what’s the best way to communicate what happened to them. I really think like I’ve shown clips of this to a lot of people, a lot of educated people and in some circles there’s a sense that Americans just don’t care or they don’t want to know. But everyone I’ve shown these clips to, they’re fascinated by it and they say, wow, I had no idea any of this happened or any of these even went on. I mean there’s a lot of education that needs to take place, and I think once if you understand what happened in 1948 you can make sense of everything else and that’s what so critical about this story.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: And I think Andy and I make the perfect couple to really partners to do this kind of work because Andy is just a white, young American male who, as he said, doesn’t have any relation to the Middle East. So, he brings in that important element of reminding me always how an average American might actually think about something we’re doing right. And I bring of course my historical roots. I actually was born and lived most of my life in historical Palestine under Israeli occupation. And I speak the language, I’m multilingual but Arabic is my native language. And I speak also some Hebrew. So, that kind of combination between someone who lived the experience and, so it’s a very good balance actually between the two of us, I felt.
Beth Accomando: So, this is a complex issue we need to start somewhere. One of the early scenes in the films deals with something that was called Plan D. So, explain what that is and who we’re going to hear from in the film?
Andy Trimlett: This happened early in the war.
Beth Accomando: Back track a little bit, when you say early in the war, for people who may not know what war we’re talking about.
Andy Trimlett: Let’s do a little quick.
Beth Accomando: Give us a little quick setup, yes.
Andy Trimlett: Recap on history.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Yes, yes.
Andy Trimlett: Okay. Do it as fast as I can. Nineteenth century, there are Jews across Europe and Russia who are being horribly persecuted in all manners and all ways in society. So, they come up with this idea that let’s get out of Europe and Russia and let’s go find a place that we can be safe in, that we can have our own place that we can call our own. And the place they chose was Palestine. And the movement that started of whole was called Zionism. So they started moving in small groups at first and then larger and larger to Palestine. The central problem was it was called a land without a people for a people without a land. But there actually was a people there. There was a large group of people and the people that lived there started hearing that this new group of people that were moving in wanted to take over the land and wanted to make it their own. And there were even people saying that we want to push people off of the land or we wanted offer them land somewhere else and basically get them out of the place that they’ve lived for thousands of years.
And that eventually turned into conflict and it went back and forth. The British ended up taking over Palestine at the end of World War I. And the British government declared their support for the Zionist movement in the Balfour Declaration. And that further inflamed the Arab population and made them nervous that they were going to lose their homes.
Eventually skipped to 1947. The British gave up on this whole thing. They said, were going to get out of here, you deal with it to the UN. And the newly formed United Nations came up with a plan to lets split Palestine in two, we’ll give part of it to the Jews, and part of it to the Arabs. Unfortunately the part they gave to – basically they gave vastly more land to the Jewish side than the Arab side and there were a large number of Arabs who lived in what was to become the Jewish state and the Arabs, basically that ended up in conflict as everyone expected.
So, it started off sort of messy for the first few months and then roundabout April, the Israeli’s went on the – it was actually the Jewish at the time, they weren’t Israelis until the state was founded in May. The Jewish state, or state like entity implemented Plan D or also known as the Hebrew name Plan Dalet. And this plan is argued over fiercely by historians to this day. And some historians declare it the – this is a master plan for the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Other historians say this isn’t a master plan for ethnic cleansing, it’s a defensive plan to make sure that the coming Israeli state is consolidated and protected from the future war, because they knew at that point that the surrounding Arab states were going to intervene in this conflict.
This is the clip from the documentary where we have that kind of back and forth between historians talking about this plan.
Beth Accomando: All right, let’s hear a clip from the documentary 1948: Creation & Catastrophe. This is about the Plan D.
Andy Trimlett: The British had announced that they would complete their evacuation of Palestine on the 15th of May. Zionist leaders began preparing for a Jewish state. On March 10th, the Haganah adopted Plan Dalet also known as Plan D. This plan outlined an overall strategy for the Jewish militia. Its stated goal was to prepare the coming Hebrew state to defend itself once the British army had left. But historians strongly disagree about the intentions of this plan.
Benny Morris: It’s geared, and it says that it’s geared to securing the Jewish state and the border areas and the main roads between the Jewish urban concentrations to securing the Jewish state in advance of the Arab invasion.
Rashid Khalidi: It’s completely ridiculous. I mean it’s very clear that Plan Dalet was a plan not just to take over but empty of their population, all of these villages and cities. Now, were there people who understood that writing down on paper, we will expel this population is probably not a wise thing to do, yes. But it was their clear intention implemented to the letter to expel the populations and more importantly not to let them return, it was.
Ilan Pappe: The most important part of Plan D was the set of orders that came outside of Plan D. The orders were strikingly clear and unambiguous, and used the word Letaheo in Hebrew which is to cleanse, or to destroy which is Tashmeth or to expel which is Legalesh. I think the role of the historian is to fuse these military orders with the plan itself. And then you get an idea of the intention and the implementation.
Beth Accomando: And who were the people that we heard speaking about this?
Andy Trimlett: We heard from a few people there. It was sort of a back and forth between historians. First we heard from me. I’m currently playing the role of narrator but we’re actively seeking a professional narrator, so that will be changed. One of the few things left to do in the documentary.
Then we had from Benny Morris. Benny Morris is a controversial historian. He’s an Israeli. He’s uncovered a massive amount of information on what happened in 1948. He’s gone through probably more documents than anybody in the Israeli archives. And so, in a way he’s extremely valuable to historians of the conflict. There’s just massive amounts of information that nobody would have without his work. But the conclusions he draws from these plans that call for things like cleansing, and there are a lot of historians who disagree with the conclusions he draws and feel like he doesn’t actually read his own work, because he feels none of this was planned and none of this was intentional ethnic cleansing.
Then we heard from Rashid Khalidi, who’s a historian at Colombia University. He of course disagrees with Benny Morris. And the argument he’s making isn’t that the plan specifically calls for the expulsion of all the Palestinians. But when you look at the broader picture the intention was there, the interest was there, and we’ll hear some more of that later.
And then the final historian we heard from is not a controversial historian Ilan Pappe, who’s at Exeter University now. And he is very strongly making the argument that this was a case for ethnic cleansing. And one thing you don’t see in the audio is when he is talking, we’re showing military orders that call for these exact things that he is describing. We actually, we sent a producer in Israel to Israeli archives and they dug up a number of military orders that call for these exact things and you see them throughout the documentary and what we’ve done is show the original Hebrew document and then put an English translation over it, so that you can see them first hand which I think is really valuable.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: And it’s worth noting that actually Ilan Pappe at least used to be an Israeli historian as well as Benny Morris. He left the country later on because he got a lot of threats basically, his life became kind of risky there. I think what is interesting is both of them show like the spectrum, both ends of the spectrum in terms of how historians see the conflict.
And we also have other historians. We filmed in United Kingdom, in England, we filmed in Canada, we filmed in the United States, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon.
Beth Accomando: This is a starting point in your documentary. Why is it so important for the language defined and understood? Why is it historically important for us to understand what the difference is between if it’s an expulsion versus a defensive move? Why from a historical point of view is it so important to kind of look back at this early document and kind of come to consider what it is they’re that talking about and what words are being used and why that’s important?
Andy Trimlett: Language is extremely important in everywhere but especially in this conflict. And the reason that exactly what happened and exactly what documents like these called for are so important is because they tie into what is going on to this day, right now in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So, the Israeli line has been for decades that they did not call for the expulsion of the Palestinian people. That the Palestinians left either because of battle and they were scared or their own accord or in some cases because they say the Palestinian leaders called on Arabs to leave. If that argument, if you go with that argument then it leads to therefore it is not incumbent upon the state of Israel to allow refugees to return to the places where they were born. And that is a massive issue sort of it goes to the heart of what Israel is. This year, 1948, is when the state of Israel was founded. So, if you start questioning the basic foundation of the state then kind of all bets are off.
Now, we don’t take any position on what exactly should happen here in the documentary. This is purely a historical documentary. But that’s the reason that these issues are so hotly debated and that every individual word matters so much because it all comes back to what’s happening today and what could possibly happen in any future settlement of the conflict.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: As a scholar, I totally agree with Andy, but also as a scholar of communications studies I have also another take on this. And in communication language, for us is everything. We are human beings because we have the ability of communicating in so many different ways. And usually that communication translates into realities on the ground.
For me, I was very intrigued by the discourse, I feel like Israel has been since its beginnings and before established on a certain discourse about the conflict. Creating myths basically. And one of the greatest and most successful actually myths that Israel created was that there were no Palestinian people. And this was a very prominent theme actually in a political discourse up until very recently only when they were forced really to acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian people. The Israelis have been denying it in discourse and also on the ground. For example, in 1948, after the Israelis won the war and they really literally kicked or expelled most of the Palestinians out; one of the immediate things they did and they did it for several years was the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages to erase actually any reminder of the aboriginal or indigenous Palestinian population. And that led to the destruction of over 500 Palestinian towns and villages.
So, not only did they actually expelled the population, they actually instated so many different policies and rules and practices that went hand-in-hand with their discourse, with their language of denial of first the Palestinian people and later actually their part in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. So, that’s why language becomes very important. And as Andy said, how can we link it to policies of course because the systematic ethnic cleansing is still happening. And so, it’s a continuous historical process of ethnic cleansing that went hand-in-hand with the kind of language and propaganda.
And in the United States unfortunately, the Israeli narrative is the dominant one. It’s very dominant. I mean it’s very rare to find a mainstream media in the United States and voices representing the Palestinian narrative. You would find it very different in Europe for sure but not in the United States. So, that’s why language is very important because it frames the whole narrative and the understanding of the American mind about what’s going on in Palestine.
Beth Accomando: Let’s hear another clip from the film that dovetails off of this. There’s a scene where you have people talking about this notion of did the Palestinians run away or were they pushed out?
Andy Trimlett: This is an interview I did with Mordechai Baron who is a famous Israeli historian, but he was also a company commander in the Haganah, which was the main Jewish militia in 1948. It’s very interesting because there is this conversation that we’ve already started talking about where - there’s a historical argument that Benny Morris puts forward that Palestinians weren’t chased out, they weren’t pushed out of their homes. That the battles were happening nearby. They saw the shooting, they saw the explosions and they ran away and that’s why they left. And Mordechai Baron makes – I’m just going to play his argument for you. He counters this argument and here we go.
Mordechai Baron: I think that when we talk about the refugee problem, it is not so much important whether we chased them or they run away. It’s not their fault that they wanted to run away, after they were seeing, in the field of war, everything in that would run away. So, it was not that they deserted their homes, they did not dessert, they were forced to leave because of the war. And those places where they didn’t, they don’t want to leave we chase them out like—
Clip: To understand that Jewish villages were spread all over the country from the Negev to the Galilee, you wanted to be connected to make them one unit. But of course everyone wanted to get more land.
Clip: The fact matters that these people were suffering tremendously as they were running away with thirst and hunger. And in the great heat children were abandoned and then later in the refugee camps when they came up near Ramallah and suffered for many years and a lot of the-- that doesn’t mean that I think that they should come back to our land. As I full heartedly agree that I would shoot at them if they come back in, say October-November 1948. I don’t think we will need to shoot them, but Israel cannot afford to take back many of the Palestinians and remain what it is today, a state in which I want to live.
Andy Trimlett: That last line gets me every time because he shows so much empathy and so much understanding for what happened to the Palestinians how much suffering there was because what he and his fellow soldiers did. But then it comes back to, but that’s not the kind of – I don’t want them to come back because that’s not the kind of state I want to live in. And I think that really shows like it sort of put such a powerful spotlight on what the main, the crux of the problem is today, is Palestinians have been living in refugee camps since 1948 and they want to come home, but even people who understand, even Israelis who understand what happened to them in 1948 which is rare, that’s not the kind of place they want to live in. And it really, it grates upon kind of how I view countries as an American because here it’s like everybody should come in, everybody should have equal rights, but that’s just not the kind of way he looks at it.
Beth Accomando: Well, and that also gets to why this is such a difficult problem to resolve or to come up with solutions for. One of the problems with this also is that this happened in 1948, so a lot of the people who were witnesses to this or who experienced this are getting older and are getting harder to find and to speak with. You actually do speak with someone who was kicked out of his home. Anwar Saka can you setup the clip with him.
Andy Trimlett: Yeah, this is an interview I did. This guy was amazing. He’s in Jordan now. He talked about living in Jaffa which was one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Palestine. And the way he described it you could just picture it without any images at all. And so this point, this comes in-- the documentary after the attack on Jaffa which was accompanied by massive mortal bombardment and invasion by militia members. And he says, I told my father like I’m not going to leave. We’re going to stay here whether we live here or die here. But eventually there’s mortar falling right outside of his home and they have to go. And so this is the close to that segment.
Anwar Saka: It’s not easy when you found yourself in a moment, in a moment losing everything; your family, your home, your business, your school, your past, your education, everything completely and thrown out in the street to nowhere.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: We have many interviews with Palestinian refugees in several countries. The problem is many of them don’t speak English. They actually spoke in Arabic so it’s very hard to put it on a podcast, so we picked only the interviews that were in English. The Israelis are more represented actually in the segments we selected.
But I just want to point out to a very important issue which you actually bought up, which is the issue of those people who lived through the conflict and they’re aging. And actually their dying. And with their death, the death of the refuges or even the Israeli fighters, those narratives and stories are being lost forever basically. So, this is the other important element of our project and as a scholar it’s very important for me also to focus on and mention which is, in essence this is also an oral history project for me and Andy. It goes beyond just the film. The film is an important educational piece for us, we want to get it out, and we want all American people to watch it et cetera. But at the same time there is also the element of documenting all these important stories. And hopefully after we finish all the work with the film and the distribution everything, we’ll have some sanity after eight years of hard labor for both me and him. We will have the chance to put everything on like clean all these interviews and put them on our website and put more materials and interactive maps and other things.
Beth Accomando: And from a filmmaking point of view, how difficult was it for you to get these interviews? This would require travelling for you and also getting people to open up about things that perhaps they weren’t that willing to or that it was too painful to revisit?
Andy Trimlett: Absolutely. It was sort of different getting interviews with Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians, many of them, were very much willing and almost demanded to share their story. There were some that had shared their stories so many times to so many filmmakers and never seen anything come of it, that they were sort of jaded. But in general most of them really wanted to share their stories. So, it was more just a matter of connecting with people in refugee camps or with refugee organizations and finding those people and finding the people who could best tell the story. We did like 90 interviews for this. And only about a third of them appear on the documentary. We picked the best, the people who most captured the story and can best connect with an audience.
With the Israeli side, I actually hired a couple of three different producers and then I didn’t work on my own calling people and e-mailing people. And they had a hard time that the answer that they most often received was we don’t talk about this. And there were so many people that were open to – they would call and they were veterans and they said this isn’t something that we talk about. And it was only through months and months of work and calling everyone we knew and everyone they knew that we were able to get about a dozen interviews with the Israelis.
Later on, Ahlam, and she can tell the story met through a great story, a man who survived the massacre at Deir Yassin which I the most infamous massacre of war.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Firstly, I want to say that I’ll give it to Andy, because without Andy we wouldn’t have gotten any Israeli interviews basically. Okay, I have to give some logistical background. I’m originally Palestinian. I’m an American citizen now but I’m originally Palestinian who used to live in the West Bank of historical Palestine. So, in essence, Israel does not allow any Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza to travel to proper Israeli, what is considered now inside the green line which is like the borders between the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. Number one, it would have been impossible for me to actually have access to Israeli interviewees and that’s why Andy was very important. That’s why I said we’re a very unique like perfect partners to do this work.
And the second obstacle would be for me as a Palestinian, Israelis wouldn’t even talk to me. They wouldn’t have opened up or said any of the things they told Andy. The fact that he’s an American, white, male, who did that work made a difference. And the way they interacted with him and opened up for him and especially that he used Israeli producers so that was also helpful especially in terms of translation and everything. Now, for the interview, I met this old man, we were basically in protest in the summer of 2014. And I’ve seen him several time coming to the protests with his ageing wife who seemed to be in a very bad health actually. But he was kind of insistent on number one, coming to the protest when Israel was shelling Gaza. And also it seemed like he wanted his wife to get out and meet people. Was very caring, very nice man, and I was intrigued like I kept on seeing him almost every week for a month or a couple of months maybe. And then I went and I asked him like, hi, my name is this, I’m originally Palestinian. He said, yeah me too. And I said, where are you from originally? He said, I’m from Deir Yassin.
And as Andy said, Deir Yassin is the town that witnessed the worst – it’s probably not the worst, but in terms of what actually happened, the killing and the massacre itself, but the impact of the massacre. It was the massacre that was highly exaggerated by the Israelis and helped in driving out many, many Palestinians who were very sacred. So, I kind of froze, I was like from Deir Yassin, Deir Yassin in Palestine and he said, yes. And I was like, may I ask were you in Deir Yassin when the massacre happened. He said, yes, I was 7 years old. I was shocked like we try to find survivors from Deir Yassin, me and Andy, we couldn’t find them in Palestine or Lebanon or any of these countries, but I was shocked to find someone in San Diego actually. So, I said, we’re working on this documentary, do you mind if we interview you? He said, I don’t mind, but I’m very busy with my wife. I’m the only one who takes care of her blah, blah. But why don’t you interview my brother. And I was like, you have a brother here? And he said, yes, in Escondido. And I said, how old was he? He said, he said he was older than me. He was 11 years old, and actually he authored three books and one of them was on Deir Yassin and his experiences.
And I think that’s probably now Andy and I consider that the most fascinating interview we have in the documentary. This person has just the weirdest story you could ever hear. Because he was 11, hopping from one place to the other while the massacre was going on, trying to escape and every time he would actually witness another brutal killing. A total of I think 12 or 13 different people were killed in front of him in totally different ways. And that of course came after we, Andy and I, decided we wanted to just do the post production and finish the film. And that took us back like eight months in just following up and fact-checking that specific story because it became one of the most important elements. And that led of course to another important interview we have which is the officer he talked about Gahon, who actually was ordered to go and clean up the mess in Deir Yassin.
Andy Trimlett: Deir Yassin was a village of 800 people. It’s like the size of Potrero and 110 of them were killed in the massacre. It was 1948 when this took place, there’s not a lot of them left. And Ahlam just happened to walk by and meet one on the street in San Diego, like I mean what are the chances. It’s like we had to do another interview and we did this and it was so amazing. And then we realized well, if we’re going to have, this has been one of the most powerful interviews in the documentary is going to blow people away. And I would love to share a clip with you, but it’s all in Arabic so it would be very hard to work on the podcast.
We have to get an Israeli who was there too and there are not a lot Israelis who were there in the first place and there’re not a lot Israelis, we don’t know who was there. But I made a list of a few that were. The first one turned out he was so sick that he couldn’t speak. The second one said, I’ve already written a book on this. I’m not talking to anyone else ever again about it, so just read my book. And the third one said yes. And he was Haganah intelligence officer. He was at Deir Yassin and was reporting on it before and afterwards and then was asked to go clean it up. Clean up the mess basically and that’s the clip right here.
Clip: After the attack, the Haganah sent men to cover up the atrocities.
Clip: They came to me and gave me a platoon of soldiers, some soldiers and told me go there and make order. And so I came there and I was shuddering because I see how the dead were soon and they were eating sandwiches with the marmalade. For some time I couldn’t eat marmalade after that.
And then I told them, look here I’m going to fire and shoot and kill you if you don’t clean this up. And so they made graves and buried them and a few they threw in a well, and everything was apparently clean. And then everything looked peaceful.
Andy Trimlett: Every time I hear that clip I’m just stunned that he used the word peaceful to describe what it looked like after cleaning up a massacre.
Beth Accomando: What role did this massacre play in this timeline that you’re looking at in 1948?
Andy Trimlett: The massacre took place on April 9th. After the massacre happened that the news of it spread like wild fire partially intentionally on the Jewish side. And it terrified; people heard reports of what happened there and it terrified Arabs across the country. And in many cases Jewish trucks would go around with loudspeakers saying, if you don’t leave we’re going to have a Deir Yassin here too. And many, many people, this was either the primary reason they left. They told us like when we said, we never brought up Deir Yassin in interviews but many interviews we would say, so why did you leave? And the first word out of their mouth was Deir Yassin. And if it wasn’t then when the Jewish forces or later the Israeli forces showed up at their village, this is what they would be thinking of. They would be thinking of Deir Yassin and would cause them to leave.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: And also the Israelis made sure that they actually exaggerate the massacre and publicize it. For example, the following day they held a press conference, those fighters actually, and it was reported in many media outlets including the New York Times. The New York Times ran actually a story about the massacre based on the press conference that those Israeli fighters had, or members of the Haganah. And it’s interesting if you read the news article in the New York Times, they described how they were talking about the massacre over tea and cookies. That’s actually in the original article of the New York Times. And during that press conference, they made sure they doubled the number or actually more than doubled the number of the Palestinians who were killed. So, the Palestinians killed were estimated between 97 and 106, around those, oh 110, like there are still disagreements on the actual number. But what they reported was 253 as being killed in that massacre. And that was an intentional publicizing and they even exaggerated the horrors they did, the things they did to the population.
And Deir Yassin is also a very interesting case because it was one of few Palestinians towns or villages that had a peace agreement with the surrounding Jewish settlements. So, it’s very interesting that they picked a peaceful town to do the massacre and then publicize it which of course sent a very strong message to the Palestinians that even if you were a peaceful town you might actually face the fate of Deir Yassin.
Beth Accomando: Here you said that they held the press conference to exaggerate what had happened, is kind of a difficult concept to understand if they’re also saying, we didn’t force the Palestinians, so how like…?
Andy Trimlett: There’s a couple of things going on here. One is the people who committed this massacre were not the main Jewish militia, the Haganah. The people who committed this massacre were the Irgun and Lehi also known as the Stern Gang. They were much more radical than the Haganah. And they really had the intention, Mordechai Ranaan, who was the one who was leading this press conference and was in charge of the Irgun in Jerusalem. He was later asked, why did you say 253? And he’s like I wanted to scare people. I wanted them to leave and it worked. And so it was the much more radical end of the spectrum was holding this press conference. And they were condemned by the Haganah although the Haganah was somewhat implicated in the massacre itself because they essentially allowed the attack to happen.
Beth Accomando: You spoke to some Israelis who had lived through this time, one woman that you spoke to is Halvah Keller, set up this clip that you want to play.
Andy Trimlett: Halvah Keller was this amazing woman. I interviewed her in her house. She’s this tiny little woman with a tiny little voice, so I apologize if it’s hard to understand her. But she was so powerful. She fought in 1948 and now she’s pretty hardcore peace activist, although a few months after this interview she had a stroke and can no longer speak. This is the last time as far as I know, this is last she’s ever been recorded. And this part of the story is in May shortly after the Arab armies intervened in the conflict. And the now Israeli forces attacked the town of Acre and also known as Acca. She was part of that attack and was going through the town after the attack was over and this is what happened.
Clip: …moving around the village in Acca and then-- was opening and we entered and so I stayed there [indiscernible] [00:48:42] offered food. So, we’re eating and then somebody told them to go away quickly. He didn’t have time to put on the shoes of the baby. This part of the war I have seen it the first time. So, it’s not the war soldiers. It’s the war of people, of children and they started crying. They tried new shoes-- two sets of shoes to the child what can he be…
Beth Accomando: This kind of very personal intimate details seem really good at making these issues very vivid for people. Were you going after that in these interviews?
Andy Trimlett: We wanted the documentary to be is a mix of these very intimate stories that happened like a child’s shoes, like that. It captured so much in that story and there’s so much emotion there. And it was sort of a moment of realization for Halvah Keller like of what she had gotten herself into and then move back and kind of give you the big picture. We want you to better connect with the people and connect with the stories, but also understand on a large scale how this plays into the story of the whole. The documentary kind of goes back and forth between giving you the big picture and then getting very close in on some of the events like what Halvah just described.
Beth Accomando: Part of the bigger picture you talked to some people about documented expulsion. Who were the people you spoke to about that?
Andy Trimlett: Okay. There’s one place where historians almost universally agree and was just very rare in this conflict that there was an expulsion, and that was in Ramallah and Lod. And we show the military orders that were issued for the expulsion of both towns. We interviewed several people who were there at the time both Israelis and Palestinians. This is one of our most powerful segments because it kind of captures the whole crux of 1948 in one moment.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: When we reach the segment on Ramallah and Lod, we found out that the majority of our interviewees were actually Israelis. So, we thought, not that we really need a Palestinian because we’re talking about the expulsion of whole two big – one of the biggest towns in Palestine at that time, and it was a total expulsion, and it was very well documented so nobody could actually disagree on the expulsion part of those two towns. So, we needed someone who lived through the expulsion of the whole towns. So, basically actually put on Facebook an announcement to all my friends and family and I know, they’re not all Palestinians but I have many Palestinians on my Facebook, and I said, please if you know anyone who lived through 1948 in Lod or Ramallah to please e-mail me or contact me.
And I immediately received a tip from one of my friends who lives in north of Los Angeles. And she said, yeah I know, my daughter’s father-in-law, he actually lives in Canada if you can reach him. We were able to locate someone who could do the filming and Andy and I interviewed him via Skype basically.
Andy Trimlett: He talked about being – he said they rounded us all up, they put us in groups and then they put us on – he said, we were lucky they put us on a bus not a truck so I guess that was being lucky when you’re in Ramallah and Lod. And so this clip is at the end of that segment. And we’re going to hear from a few people one is Sammy Ahori, who she was is….
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Palestinian.
Andy Trimlett: Yeah, she’s a Palestinian and she was in the West Bank and saw these people coming like it because essentially all the people of Ramallah and Lod, left in the big column. The lucky ones were in cars, but many of them were just walking. And then we’re going to hear from Yara Mackanuke, he’s another person died, I heard him on – he was a famous Israeli author, so famous that when he died a few months after this interview he was on Fresh Air, they replayed his interview on Fresh Air. And then the final person we’ll hear from is Mazin, so I will go ahead and play this clip now.
Sammy: Everybody, I mean the school, the church opened their doors, and my aunt opened the store room, whatever we had, whatever was there we just started boiling eggs, boiling potatoes, making salad and whatever and they came just so exhausted. Some of them were even not coherent. The children died on the road. They couldn’t cope with the walk. It was a very, very traumatic experience, a sight that I’ll never forget.
Yara: There were Arabs standing between Lod and Ramallah and crying. They want to get back to their homes and I could do nothing. I’m not a… and I felt very strongly about it because I saw them standing there, no shoes, and now they have to start walking and looking for someplace else. Then came the night and at night I don’t know how many 15 or 16 or maybe 10, I can’t remember, trucks full of people that just came on the ship from the holocaust. And they took over the town in five minutes. And so, the whole tragedy was there in one moment. Here are the Arabs who used to live there, and here people who come from the Auschwitz and Medanic and all that, and the one, the one that took the city and asked them to go Nabulus and to Jenin, and it’s not that it’s right or wrong but it’s just a fact.
Clip: Prior to the Israeli attack, fifty to seventy thousand Arabs were living in Ramallah and Lod. Now, only hundreds remain.
Mazin: They took the elder member of the family. He was at the time maybe was 70 years old and the soldiers took his wallet. I remember this very well. Anyway they took more than the wallet, they took everything.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Actually later we have another Israeli interview who describes how this experience of seeing Arabs being driven out or expelled and also being robbed out of their possession, their money, wallets et cetera. It taunt on him, his experience as a very young boy when he was expelled by the Nazis and they were by the Seine River when actually one of the Nazi soldiers also robbed them of their possessions and valuables. So, he talks about this experience later on.
I have to say that Mazin Al-Khairi, who speaks at the end about his experience and they stole their possessions, he shared with me a very rare collection of pictures that his family owned of their life before they were expelled. And I was just shocked or amazed, maybe I’m not sure about my feelings, their house was gorgeous like they lived in a mansion. They were a very rich family and his father was the mayor of the city and I think he’s grandfather was also the mayor. And they had this amazing very comfortable life, beautiful memories came out of those images. And it’s just horrifying to see in seconds basically, they’re transformed into refugees. And that’s the power of those stories also you know that kind of transformation from people who used to own land and property and live very nice life, for something they did not do anything to really deserve what happened to them and become refugees until today.
Andy Trimlett: And I’m glad you brought up pictures because that’s been a huge part of this project. We’ve literary spent years collecting photographs and archival film from dozens of different sources. We’ve actually found images that some of the historians that we’ve been working with have never seen before. And because we really wanted to make that every moment in this documentary was brought to life with an image of what happened there. And we’ve also been very careful, when we’re showing Ramallah and Lod, when we’re talking about it, you are seeing images of Ramallah and Lod, you’re not just seeing images or some random Palestinians refugees from 1948.
The moments in this film where we’re talking about a specific event we wanted to show that event. We wanted to show that place and it’s very difficult to find images for a lot of these events because generally there are not popularized, but through years and years of work and working with various researchers in the US and Israel, we managed to collect a pretty massive collection of photographs on my computer now in addition to the documents, the military orders. So, there are over 200 images in this documentary. The vast majority of them are actually free thankfully. They come from places like the national archives in the US or the library of congress. And then also there are some Israeli archives that offered them for either free or for like $5 a piece which is totally reasonable.
However, there are places such as Getty images or Associated Press that want $524 per photo and that’s non-negotiated price. There are other places up to $750, $900 per photograph. We’ve been making this documentary kind of a very much by hook or by crook. I’ve been logging my camera with my laptop and all my clothes and my tripod and my light kit all by myself across various countries. People look at me with this sort of oh, that kind of look in their face.
Everything we’ve done is just – this is a labor of love. We’re doing this because we think it’s the right thing to do. Thankfully, we found people who were willing to help us out like we can stay in their homes or we’ve been able to do this on an extremely low budget. But at this point there’s just no way we can pay for these without additional support. We ran a Kickstarter a couple of years ago. It was very successful, but the total on the bill for these images and the archival film is about $30,000 which is just – it gives me like indigestion just talking about it. We are right now in the middle of fundraising for the project. So, if you are interested in the project, please go to1948movie.com/support. And that’s where you can make a contribution in any amount that will get us to the actual end of this project.
Everything is done except for putting the new narration in and paying for those photographs and the money is, that’s what we need to get this done.
Beth Accomando: Aside from having to get your funding to finally get this film out which must be a huge struggle because after putting all this work into it, to just kind of be $30,000 away from completion must be difficult. But returning to the subject of the film. Another clip that I want to play has to do with a discussion about preventing the return of these people. We’ve talked about this expulsion, about the massacre, but tell me about some of the people you have talking about the prevention of these refugees returning to their homes.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Actually one of the historians we interview Rashid Khalidi from Colombia, he emphasizes that point. And also some of the Israeli fighters as well as Israeli historians. That let’s suppose that there was not a master plan of expulsion, let’s suppose that this was just an act of war like natural conclusion of war et cetera. Then why wouldn’t the Palestinian refugees allowed to return. Until today Israel refuses absolutely to return any refugee from any part of the world. The only way you could actually return like what happened with my parents-in-law, my husband’s parents who fled Jabel and Nazareth, Jabel is a city by Nazareth. They both came from those areas and one of them was expelled and one of them basically run away as a result of the fighting. The only way they could return was actually as American tourists when they got their citizenship, when they were naturalized. They went back for the first time to their home country in 2010 only as American citizens not as Palestinian refugees.
Andy Trimlett: Okay, so the next clip we’re going hear is talking about the whole prevention of return of the refugees. And it began in 1948, and we’re first going to hear from Ori Avnori (ph), who’s a famous peace activities, but was also a veteran of the commando unit. And so, he’ll talk about receiving the order and then we’re going to hear from historian Benny Morris to explain the thinking behind it. And then Fareed Abdanoor, who’s actually a professor right here in San Diego State University campus. And I had him in school, he’s the smartest person I’ve ever met. And finally we’ll hear from Mordechai Baron on again who will talk about what was going through his mind when he was receiving these orders.
Ori Avnori: One day we got an order to take the jeeps and spread out and to shoot every Arab when we saw coming in, coming in coming back. And this is what happened.
Benny Morris: The thinking behind this was politically but essentially strategic. The Arabs refugees who had been fighting, they were the Palestinians who’d been fighting against the Jews. And they said if we allow these back, they will overwhelm us as a fifth column, or they will overwhelm us demographically. In other words, they will be hundreds of thousands of additional Arabs and they will become a majority or close to a majority instantly if they return. So, the Israeli cabinet decided not to allow them back.
Fareed: We now must conclude that there was a recognition at least on the part of that early Israeli government that the displacement of Palestinians was necessary for what they probably viewed as the viability of their state.
Mordechai Baron: For me personally it took the shape of an inner decision of myself. You wanted the war, okay, now you run away, you’ll never come back. The notion of having this land empty of Arabs was already part of my life.
Andy Trimlett: When I hear Mordechai Baron talk some of the stuff he says is sort of shocking, but what I really appreciate about everything he says is he’s completely and totally honest. The Israelis we interviewed who maybe they didn’t know about what was going on with the expulsion of people or maybe they’re not comfortable talking about it, but I wouldn’t get a totally straight answer out of what was going on here. But Mordechai Baron he is completely upfront about it and he says this is what happened and this is what we did and this is why we did it. And so I appreciate, it’s just whether or not you agree with him, it’s just nice to hear his honesty and he’s forthrightness with what went on.
The next clip we have is also from Mordechai Baron and I think this clip really summarizes how he looks at the conflict as a whole. It’s a very personal moment but I think it captures more than just that one moment in the way he looks at the war and I think it does a very good job of explaining kind of the Israeli perception of the entire war.
Mordechai Baron: I was lying in an ambush, these were Palestinians who came back to the fields to reap the harvest. And one of them was going in the front to make sure that the road is open. And I was lying across the road with a revolver in my hand and they approached me I stood and it was a meter from me. He was so frightened that he embraced me. Then I became frightened, I didn’t know what he has, a weapon, a revolver, a knife, so I shot at him. And that’s a very strange experience. He fell to the ground from my hands. So, I was killing a man point blank, just like that. I didn’t blame myself, I didn’t have any feeling of remorse because I had no chance. I had to do it. It was only nature that I should have reacted the way I reacted. So, that’s on the other hand, but I looked down on him I said, poor fellow you got it.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: I think for me the most disturbing part is and it happens probably, he is the most honest among all of the Israelis we interviewed. But at the same time, it’s so disturbing how people could actually end up justifying horrible things they’ve done and saying, I had to do it. He does not acknowledge the fact that, in the first place he was in ambush lying in an ambush to prevent Palestinians from returning to their homelands. Like the contradiction in those statements are very, very disturbing for me to listen to.
Andy Trimlett: Another thing that’s important to keep in mind is that the people we interviewed for this documentary, we didn’t interview the generals. We didn’t interview kind of the people who made the big decisions in the highly level; the highest level person we interviewed was a company commander like Mordechai Baron. A lot of these people were 18, 20 years old when this all took place. So, for them this story about the ambush really is kind of how they felt about the war like there are a kid, they’re growing in this place that maybe they were born in or maybe they weren’t, but there are a lot of people who don’t want them there. And so, for them on a personal level they really didn’t really have much of a choice. This was a fight that kind of was brought to them by the people who ran the Zionist organizations and kind of people way above them.
And it’s really important to me to, and to both of us, to humanize everyone in this conflict. Yes, there were terrible things that happened, and I don’t think anyone should shy away from that, but we don’t want to just say those are terrible people and demonize them and write them off. We want people to understand what was going on all levels and really make sense of this. And in order to that you also have to understand like what the Israelis were thinking. And so, that’s why clips like this I think are really illuminating, but certainly to a harm it brings a very good point that when you really think about the situation he was in, it’s disturbing that that was going on in the first place.
Beth Accomando: Here in San Diego we had a screening of another documentary that kind of looks a little earlier in time than yours 1913: Seeds of Conflict. I think it was mostly members from the Jewish film festival or a group like that. Of course screening it at an audience like that there were very polarized opinions watching it. So, you’re making an effort to show both sides and to kind of take the subjective point of view, but are you prepared for the fact that there are going to be people who feel like you are taking sides?
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Absolutely. In any topic, in any controversial topic you might actually address, you will have to assume that this is a very natural result. That you’ll have people who might like it, people who might not, people who might not have a specific opinion. So, imagine our film is on the most controversial conflict in modern history. That’s why one thing we didn’t actually talk about and Andy could also jump in here and talk about, this is the amount of verification, fact finding and amount of reading and references we looked at, the historical accuracy. And also the varying process afterwards like when we finished like the first draft, we sent it out to historians for their feedback. And then we did more edits and then we sent it to other historians. So, we went through a huge process like probably we spent a whole year editing and also fact finding, and checking, and making sure that we have historical accuracy. Of course you know we can’t claim 100 percent historical accuracy, that’s just impossible, but we did our best really to take out anything that even sounded like not true, or not factual.
Andy Trimlett: The research actually began before we even shot any video. I tallied it up one day just to see how much we’ve done and it was about 20,000 pages of history that we’ve gone through to back up this story and to make sure that we both have our heads around the facts of what happened.
In addition to that, we interviewed half a dozen of the most recognized historians of the conflict that are featured in the documentary and we’re going to make available the script for the documentary fully referenced like an academic paper so that if you see any moment in the documentary where you say, oh I don’t buy that, you can go to the website, you can look up that line in the script and you can see what historical references we have to back up that claim or whatever that person is saying.
And we’ve also had a lot of conversations about, it’s important to us to be fair, but balance is not something that we’re going for. Balance is something that I think really distorts so much of what is going on in the media these days. Here’s what one side says and here’s what the other side says. You figure out what’s the truth. Well, no that’s your job as a journalist. It’s your job to figure out what the truth is. Present both sides, give a fair hearing to both sides. But don’t just throw out two opinions and tell me all sorts of to figure out what makes sense. That’s why we did this research. We did the history. And I don’t think that – we tried very hard to make sure we’re not hammering people over the head with one side or the other. I don’t think anyone’s going to like – neither of us are going to argue that we don’t have opinions and we don’t have appoint of view. But we tried very hard to make sure that we’re humanizing both sides and we’re allowing both sides to speak their voice.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: I want to give you an example of how detailed and how meticulous we were actually in making sure we have accurate historical narrative, at least the basics. If we take the Othman Akal interview, the survivor of Deir Yassin, we interviewed him in his house in Escondido. And the interview itself took us probably like maximum three hours with everything, the set up and talking them before and talking to them after et cetera. But actually it took us eight months really to build that segment. And a lot of the work we did was calling, like we started a huge search for survivors of Deir Yassin, and even children of survivors of Deir Yassin or grandchildren who heard the stories. And I would call them and I would actually transcribe my calls, my phone calls with them and ask them the questions. So, what happened – if they were the survivors, what exactly happened, what did you see?
And seeing the possibility of the horrifying killings that Othman Akal talked about whether those were possible, you know plausible. And then I would talk to grandchildren who had stories from their grandparents and children. And in some cases I went as far as there were books actually in Palestine, we got a hold of one book on Deir Yassin that was published by Birzeit University and it was a professor from Birzeit University in Palestine who wrote the book. And I translated it and we went through again, comparing those stories. It took us about eight months really to – and even after we finalized the segment, we kept going back and forth on some of the very minor details; talking to experts, people who wrote books on Deir Yassin. So, just to give you an idea about amount of work we put into not only listening to the stories and documenting the stories but also making sure we don’t put anything that would be historically inaccurate. And again you know, there’s always a margin of errors when it comes to research, but I think ours is very low.
Beth Accomando: Let’s play one last clip, and kind of bring it back to someone who provides an intimate perspective. And this is the woman, Halvah Keller.
Andy Trimlett: Okay, this is Halvah Keller who I just love. She was so sweet and this is towards the end of the interview, we were just talking about, I was about kind of heard summarize what was happening and she sort of threw this out there and we put it at the end of the documentary because I think it summarizes what happens. It gives you kind of a big picture a view of the war.
Halvah Keller: And the most horrible thing about it was when the war started and the Arabs were thrown out of their villages, not one people said they don’t want to take their land. Not one kid, everybody was very happy to steal their land.
Andy Trimlett: And I think what’s important to that clip, she just said, everybody was happy to steal their land. And you could feel this like disappointment because the people she’s talking about, the cabooses that these are people who weren’t like they didn’t come to Palestine to take it over, that wasn’t what was in their minds when they came here. They came to Palestine to build like this utopian society. And they were very idealistic. They believed in like let’s create a place where we can be free and we can create the kind of wonderful place we want to live in. And so, those are the kinds of ideals that they had, but they ran up into this problem of there were already people living on the land that they wanted. And then to see those people with those great ideals turn to what she says everybody was happy to steal their land. I think it’s ultimately disappointing for her.
Beth Accomando: Now that your film is about to be released into the world, what do you hope it accomplishes. If you’re not taking a specific side what are you hoping that your film can do?
Ahlam Muhtaseb: We hope that it will shed some light on a very dark spot in history, you know, a very dark era in history that created a huge issue of injustice for the Palestinians. Nowadays, the Palestinian population is probably still in spite of the Syrian refugee crisis, I think the Palestinian refugee population is still the largest in the world estimated at around seven million people dispersed around the world. Many of them, as I said, thousands actually still live in very similar conditions to the conditions they started living in 1948 as refugees. And to give those people justice is a – like part of the conversation on how to fix the problem for those people to give them justice, is really understand the conflict to be able to understand the importance of the issue of the return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland.
And of course compensation for all the years of living refugee lives. It’s an important aspect of finding a just solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Without that understanding we can’t push for a just a solution. It’s very hard. As I said, the Israeli narrative in the United States is the dominant narratives. And it excludes of course all that important history. It aims at actually kind of misinforming on the conflict and its consequences to main hegemony in terms of finding the solutions of that conflict. I don’t see how can Americans for example advocate for a just peace in the Middle East without understand the roots of the conflict. They really have to understand it to push for a just resolution.
But also because the conflict is really maintained by our tax dollars as Americans. Israel gets every year billions of dollars and military aid and other types of aid from the US government which comes really literally from our tax money. There are so many avenues definitely that instead of supporting war and conflict that does not help at all, if anything, it’s just going to maintain the conflict. And that’s why Americans really have to understand the root of the conflict and link it to what’s going today on the ground.
Andy Trimlett: For me, I think most Americans like in a sense of giving up on this conflict, they just look at it and they say, these people are crazy, they kill each other all the time. They’ve been doing this for thousands of years. There’s nothing I could possibly do that would change that. And in fact, I don’t even know what to do to change that. And in order to – we can’t have any change in this conflict. We can’t have any end to the violence on both sides unless people understand it. And America really is the big player in this subject so that’s why we’re targeting people in America and we think the education needs to happen in America.
And when you watch the news, you see bombs here, explosions there, people dead here. They never really explain the background of it. They never explained why any of this is happening. Maybe they’ll go back a few weeks, maybe if you’re very lucky every once in while you’ll get back to 1967, but nobody ever goes back to 1948 and explains that seven to eight hundred thousand Palestinians were forced from their homes. Eight out of every ten Palestinian Arabs who lived in what became Israel were forced to leave. It was essentially cleared of almost every Arab that lived in what became Israel. And that’s at the heart of this conflict. And if you can’t wrap your head around that, if you don’t have that information, you can’t possibly make sense of anything that’s going right now. And if you can’t make sense of anything that’s going on right now, you wouldn’t even know where to start when you’re asking for change.
And so, that’s what this documentary is about. It’s about educating people about the core of this conflict, how it make sense. And then once people wrap their heads around it then they can ask for change and they can know that what’s happening on a daily basis today and use the context of 1948 to understand what’s going on today. And it really does make a lot things, make a lot more sense. And then you can demand change. Education is really the essential foundation of any call for change and that’s what this documentary is about.
Beth Accomando: And one last time, if you want to give people a website where they can either get more information about your film, so that they can possibly see it on the big screen and also where they can support it.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: So, if you like our idea, if you like our documentary, please support us. You can go to 1948movie.com/support and it takes you literally a minute to donate. Thank you. And it’s tax deductible.
Andy Trimlett: And you can also - we’re on Facebook, facebook.com/1948movie and you can find a trailer and some more information about the project at1948movie.com.
Beth Accomando: All right, we’ll I want to thank you both very much for coming out and talking about your film.
Ahlam Muhtaseb: Thank you very much.
Andy Trimlett: Thank you very much for having us, we appreciate it.
Beth Accomando: Thanks for listening to another edition of listeners-supported KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome on board landmark theaters as one of the sponsors of Cinema Junkie. Cinema Junkie will be hosting the midnight movies at the Canes cinema.
This weekend, you can see Edward Scissorhands, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. And just a reminder, Cinema Junkie is going to be going on vacation the last two weeks of December. I’ll be back in January to talk about a lot of exciting film programs including talking to real scientists about how real science and science fiction compare in movies. I’ll also be talking about the new film series that the Film Geeks which I’m a part of will be starting a both Digital Gym and Moppa. There’ll be a yearlong series on John Carpenter as well as the series about famous person movies. And if you want to support the Film Geeks’ Film Geeks Indiegogo campaign you can do that until December 17th. The campaign is called The Film Geeks’ Cult of Cinema!
And you can buy a yearlong passes to our programs at Moppa and Digital Gym Cinema. So, until our next film flick, I’m Beth Accomando, your resident Cinema Junkie.