‘A people without a land for a land without people”- a now infamous slogan for those who supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and one which Samia Khoury, a Palestinian from Jerusalem, points out the inherent flaw in; “the land had people. It was inhabited by Palestinians for thousands of years.” This problem is central to what is one of the most controversial conflicts in the world, that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the focus of Directors Andy Trimlett’s & Ahlam Muhtase’s 2017 Documentary 1948: Creation and Catastrophe, which I was lucky enough to watch as part of the Leeds 2018 Palestinian Film Festival.
The interview with Khoury is just one of many interviews that make up the film (alongside snippets of archived footage and photographs); interviews from Palestinian refugees, Israeli veterans and historians. These interviewees provide first hand accounts of the events of 1948 and the years around it, as 1948 saw the establishment of the state of Israel in Palestine; seen here as a year of ‘creation’ for Jews and a year of ‘catastrophe’ for Palestinians, and inarguably a year neither group will forget. The anecdotes, which are often very emotionally charged and at points incredibly distressing to hear, focus in on massacres at Dayr Yasin, Jaffa and Haifa in particular, as well as fighting in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Most of these involved heavy casualties on the Arab side, and thus there is potential for complaints from some viewers who may claim bias at the fact skirmishes with casualties on the Israeli Jewish side are comparatively skimmed over. However, I think the film is bracing in that both sides of the conflict are represented, with it being even more refreshing to see some of the Israeli veterans show remorse or discomfort for the atrocities they either were complicit in or witnessed. That is not to say that everyone is apologetic; some show very little sign of guilt, some even going as far to claim that at no point were Palestinians forced from their homes. The film tackles a lot of information through these interviews and it is surprising what it manages to squeeze into its 85-minute run-time, spanning events from the late 19th Century, through the 1st and 2nd World wars and onto Resolution 181, the UN partition plan for Palestine. It also look at the execution of Plan Dalet and even touches, albeit incredibly briefly, on the state of the conflict in the present day. The title of the film is apt; for Zionists, 1948 was a dream realised, for Palestinians, a waking nightmare.
Although perhaps not effective as a jumping off point or primer for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 1948 is exactly the kind of film many people would do well to watch. Informative and timely (the release of the film marks 70 years after the creation of the Israeli state), especially when seen in light of the ongoing claims of anti-Semitism rife within the labour party, or recent protests outside the University Union by University of Leeds Palestinian Solidarity Group. An understanding of the conflict is essential and 1948: Creation and Catastrophe provides an insightful and emotional coverage of its very beginnings.
Image Courtesy of Andy Trimlett & Ahlam Muhtase