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Promised Land – no trespassing: The Colour of Olives

img  Claudia Lindner


A house surrounded by fences and locked gates, military checkpoints all around a small village. High concrete walls cut deeply in the land, the remains of destructed houses lay scattered in the landscape as well as uprooted trees on devastated farming grounds. What sounds more like an utopian literary vision is the location of Mexican director Carolina Rivas' documentary about the living of a Palestinian family in the village of Masha in the West Bank. To get out from the house to their village, to go to school or to earn their living, the family must wait until the soldiers open the gate. This can take hours. Hours, during which the family members just stand waiting at the gate. The Israeli wall building doesn't only seperate the Israeli territory from the West Bank which already is a random border itself. It also cuts deeply into Palestinian territory, contrary to 'official' statements which are adopted by international coverage. Since the beginning of the wall building, numerous Palestinian villages, houses and farming grounds have been destroyed for it or for settlement roads which Palestinians are forbidden to use.

In this documentary, we learn that the Amer family's house was to be destroyed as well, but the family wouldn't leave, so the Israeli occupying power simply locked in the house with the wall. To get to their farming grounds, they must pass numerous check points, depending on the random willingness of the military to let them out. If not, they can't work their land, can't water it.

It's a gloomy atmosphere the director confronts her audience with, all the more because the film protocols the life and struggle for survival in this unreal surrounding day after day. In doing so, we don't hear much about their situation from the family originally, we only occasionally hear them talking. Most of the time, the camera follows them in their daily routines. What they think about themselves, their current life and the prospects of their future, we only get to know when they are quoted in texts cut in between the pictures. What the parents Monira and Hani and the older four of their six children reveal there, are the impossibilities of their life under the extreme occupation and their worries about the future for them in Palestine.

It becomes clear that they on the one hand are barely able to maintain a life in this locked-up, prison-like, armed siege. But on the other hand, as bad as it is, the perseverance of these people is surprising and on the first look maybe somehow inconveivable for viewers. Why wouldn't they leave, go somewhere where they are free to go when and where they want to, where they can offer their children a better future? The answer given by the film and its protagonists in it is simple: it's our land, our country, we belong here. And where would we go?

The ties with their land, the struggle to maintain a decent existence in spite of the isolation and the desperate situation they live in is touching. And therefore, when the smaller children at school learn the colours, it's natural that green is above all the colour of olives.

The movie shows the long-term effects of occupation of Palestinian territories on the people. The Amer family had greenhouses for flowers and a chicken farm before which were this destroyed through the wall building. Almost by the way, it seems, it is told by the mother that two children died because they couldn't get to medical help fast enough due to the checkpoints. As all of this is told in quotes, thus without any emotions through voice of mimic, it seems rather sober and matter of fact-like, a report. In addition to the fact that not much is happening in the daily routine of these 8 days covered by the movie – there are some stone throwings on the family house by settlers, some glass is broken, but no assaults by the army, no raids, no bombings which one would perhaps expect there – only the difficult daily routine in a disastrous situation, a feeling of quiet hopelessness is transported by the film, all the more, because every sphere of life is affected by it. For example, one day the family manages to go on car trip to a zoo at Qualquilya where the children fed a camel. A  happy day, it seems. But what we learn later is that the city of Qualquilya was targeted by Israeli air raids like other cities. One of the strikes frightened on of the camels at the zoo, and the animal hurt itself so badly that it died later.

The sober report and the total lack of emotions has a stronger effect on the audience than any emotional appeal, crying and praying for the help of God could. Because it doesn't give any viewer the chance to disqualify the protagonists as some hateful screaming Arab fanatics known from the news media. Instead, the prevailing reaction on the side of the audience may be helplessness and the idea that there is something terribly wrong about this situation.

In the end, Carolina Rivas doesn't give the audience a solution, a happy or at least hopeful ending in her film, no catharsis. There is not even a closing comment after the camara accompanied the family for 8 days.

The conclusion is left to the viewers. And the film just ends, with no prospect of the future given. Once more, the viewers are asked to question the politics in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict themselves and think about what will happen to the people living in middle of it if there is no solution found. The film is from 2006, and until now, no solution was found, in contrary, the situation for Palestinians has gone from bad to worse. Maybe the family was forced to leave in the meantime, maybe their house was destroyed for the wall building after all. Maybe they are refugees now. We don't know.

The character of the film, its combination of pictures with quoted statements on the one hand and the „staged speechlessness“ of the Amer family on the other hand makes it possible to show war and occupation from a perspective which the tv news audience hardly ever has a chance to adopt: the perspective of those who are left to deal with the aftermath of a conflict - which the ruling global politics has made its mind up about - and who have no lobby.


Original title: El color de olivas

Mexico, 2006, 97'

Director: Carolina Rivas

Production: Daoud Sarhandi, Creadores Contemporáneos

Distribution: Arab Film Distribution, Daoud Sarhandi

Official website:

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