Some years ago, an uncle of mine traveled to Palestine with a group of volunteers. It was a time of fewer videophones, certainly in the region, and the organisation involved had asked for volunteers to visit the West Bank and document what they saw. After a few days, my uncle circulated an email in which he recounted the story of a mechanic who had had his tools and equipment arbitrarily confiscated by the Israeli army. The equipment, valued in the region of €50,000, provided for him and his fourteen employees and their families––entire livelihoods vanished with the flick of a pen. The suspicion amongst locals was that the garage, which was also frequented by settlers, was doing too well: “Part of the West Bank operation is to destroy the local economy,” my uncle wrote, before adding, “One got the feeling that the relationship between the settlers and the Palestinians also needed to be destroyed.”

Something that’s occasionally forgotten amongst the carnage and statistics of recent events is how relentless (and calculated) the decades of conflict have been on regular Palestinian lives: the daily humiliations faced by anyone forced to pass through a checkpoint to get to work; or the endless micro and macro aggressions visited on those living near the border. The latter is what is witnessed in No Other Land, a powerful documentary premiering today at the Berlinale that follows the friendship of Basel Adra, a Palestinian activist and West Bank native, and Yuval Abraham, an Israeli investigative journalist who joins his cause. Beginning in 2019 and running all the way up to December of last year, the film provides a vital document of the erasure of Adra’s region, Masafer Yatta––an organized offensive that is described in the press notes as “the largest single act of forced transfer ever carried out in the occupied West Bank.”

Amidst the footage, mostly shot by Adra, who is often seen fleeing at the risk of being attacked or arrested, the film manages to tell a story about camaraderie––one that acknowledges and transcends the filmmakers’ (an activist collective comprising Adra and Abraham, the Palestinian director and activist Hamdan Ballal, and the Israeli director Rachel Szor) various backgrounds and privileges–that feels sanguine and realistic. At one point Adra recounts the story of how his school was built: to avoid the attention of the Isreali authorities (who had put a ban on construction), women would work during the day and men only at night. This small tale of peaceful resistance caught the attention of the media and led to a visit from Tony Blair––the street was left untouched as a result of his unofficial blessing. “This is a story about power,” Adra wearily explains. Early on, the filmmakers document how the Isreali military use the construction of a training camp to justify the destruction of homes. Later, another fleet of bulldozers pull up outside a school, where the children, visibly distressed, are taken outside to watch as the building is torn down.

The most distressing image comes late on, after October 7th and the escalations that followed. In the video, one of the bluntest images of oppression I’ve ever seen, a cement truck backs up into a farm and dumps its contents into a well, essentially cutting of the area’s drinking water and destroying the farm’s irrigation system. The film premiered this week at the Berlinale, a festival mired in recent controversies in a country that is failing to acknowledge the limits of its own guilt. In the month leading up to the festival, several filmmakers pulled their work from the selection to protest the lack of Palestinian solidarity. Workers of the festival then released an open letter calling for the festival’s organizers to demand a ceasefire. In the weeks leading up, the city’s cultural minister, Joe Chialo, had to backtrack on a proposed “anti-discrimination” clause that was set to be added to applications for artists seeking funding––which many saw as a way to silence anyone who might criticize Israel through their work. The festival then made headlines by inviting members of the far-right AFD party to the festival’s opening ceremony––a decision they reversed within days before receiving yet more criticism by the German filmmaker and jury member Cristian Petzold for not following through with it.

Last week I walked from my apartment to the Hamburger Bahnhof museum to catch the end of a 100-hour public reading of Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism. I had perceived the event as an attempt by the museum’s administration to comment on what was happening in the city’s cultural spheres. When I arrived I found nothing but an empty chair, spotlit in a dark empty room––the talk having been closed down after an altercation between pro-Palestinian volunteers and the artist, Tania Bruguera. It’s into this disorienting and dispiriting landscape that No Other Land screens today. It is a story about power and it needs to be told.

No Other Land premiered at the 2024 Berlinale.

Grade: B+

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