Rich with documentary reportage from all over the globe, this year’s Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (through June 27 at the Walter Reade) is back-loaded with dispatches from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Week two of the series features several videos haunted by the specters of ’48. 500 Dunam on the Moon travels to a Jewish artists’ colony founded in 1953 on the site of an evacuated Palestinian town, whose inhabitants settled scant miles away without water or electricity. Rachel Leah Jones’s dispassionate tour of the village Ein Hod, né Ayn Hawd, encapsulates the most bitter of Israel’s ironies: how a place of refuge created its own refugees.
Many of the region’s irreconcilable differences are embodied in Ramleh, a sympathetic mosaic of Jewish and Muslim women living worlds apart within the borders of a single former Palestinian territory, and in Azmi Bishara, subject of Citizen Bishara. A Christian Palestinian with Israeli citizenship and one of a dozen Arab members in the Knesset, Bishara mounted a Nader-esque run for prime minister in 1999. Director Simone Bitton captures candid footage of the aborted campaign, if not always elucidating the politician’s tangled viewpoints—for instance, he advocates a two-state solution with Israel as a secular democracy, which has strained his ties to liberal Jews. (Among hardliners, of course, Bishara is persona non grata, and he’s currently on trial for sedition.)
Christian Palestinians also provide a home base for Antonia Caccia’s Bethlehem Diary, which focuses on two families inside the barricaded city in December 2000, just months after the eruption of the intifada. Caccia’s camera pinpoints both the enervation and brutal absurdities of life during wartime: idle trinket merchants, a pregnant woman unable to get to hospital, an elderly man turned away at a checkpoint. Unassailable boundaries are the bane of Frontiers of Dreams and Fears, in which youths from refugee camps in Beirut and Bethlehem strike up correspondences and, eventually, trade barbed-wire kisses at the Israeli border after the liberation of South Lebanon. If Mai Masri’s film sometimes smacks of propaganda—with hopeful and then enraged, sorrowful kids as mouthpieces—it’s hardly less heartbreaking for it.