You’re invited. Tune in to “My So-Called Enemy” in the summer of 2002 at a retreat in gentrified New Jersey where for ten days teenage girls from Israel and Palestine are gathered to discuss their lives, seek common ground, and learn conflict resolution skills. The latter two goals are challenging. It’s the second year of the Second Intifada and fifty-five hundred Palestinians and a thousand Israelis have died, each side blaming the other.
Listen to Gal, an Israeli Jew whose parents were harassed and forced to flee their native Iran. She was born in Israel, considers herself very liberal, and questions the religious beliefs of her devout family. Rezan, a Palestinian, resents always having to wait in checkpoint lines one or two hours depending on the mood of guards who view her as a person without a country. Hanin, a Palestinian, is also angry about issues of sovereignty, telling Gal that no, she doesn’t understand, even after the Holocaust, the Jewish need for a homeland in Israel. Why should Jews from Europe torture us, kill our people, and take our land, Hanin wants to know? There are lots of empty places you could go, she tells Gal, who covers her mouth and almost cries. Gal counters that she cannot return to a country, Iran, where she has never been and where her family would again be persecuted. She avoids the communal lunch and says she doesn’t want to build bridges with someone who wants her out of her native country.
Inas, a Palestinian, later laments that Jews took her people’s land and killed them. Adi, an Israeli, doesn’t want to hope for too much progress with Palestinians, just something realistic. She says when Israelis see Arab children throw stones they think even the kids are violent, like their parents. Inas defends the children, noting they have nothing to do since Israelis have closed many of their schools.
Hanin suggests that a bridge could be built from the ass of Yasser Arafat to the ass of Ariel Sharon. More good fellowship develops one night when keffiyehs, Arab scarves many Jews see as war symbols and masks, are passed around as the girls frolic and dance and Gal wraps one around her head.
Tranquility quickly vanishes: Hebrew University is bombed after Israelis kill a Palestinian leader and, in the process, thirteen others. The girls argue about what to discuss. Facilitators urge them to honor each other by listening. Inas concludes they can’t have good relationships.
Still, they are getting to know each other. Gal says she has so much feeling for every girl in this circle. Inas reveals she once wanted to be a bomber but now she’s changed and thinks too many people in villages are closed minded. Some Palestinian girls express sympathy for those who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001, but stress the nineteen suicide bombers yearned to prove something that day. The girls, however, want to be good Muslims. Goodwill abounds. Back home, Gal and Rezan become best friends.
A year later, there is a reunion, and Gal cries because she will soon be in the army – all women serve two years and men three – and obligated to take care of security and not peace. A year after that Gal, a sergeant in the Israel Defense Force, says she was once radical left but now is different and committed to maintaining security. In Hebrew she delivers a sharp series of orders to attentive female soldiers. Gal knows her relationship with Rezan has changed because she now wears the same uniform Rezan sees every day at checkpoints.
Gal and Rezan reunite in Jerusalem at the Separation Barrier that divides Jews and Arabs. Rezan touches the massive wall, smiles resignedly, and says you can come here but I can’t go there. In December 2008 Palestinians fire eighteen hundred rockets into southern Israel and the Israelis respond by killing eleven hundred Palestinians and choking off the area. Gal and Rezan communicate by email. Both are saddened by the carnage, but Rezan notes Gal can still move around while she can’t.
Gal and Rezan are still friends but not best friends.
Editorial notes: Director Lisa Gossels and Rawan, one of the Palestinian women in the film, appeared after the showing of “My So-Called Enemy” at the recent San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.