Third Trip — First 48 Hours

Events have transformed a final pre-production week into a time of crazy scrambling to keep up with what’s happening on the ground

Last Friday, Mustafa Tamimi, 27, was killed during the weekly demonstration at Nabi Saleh. He was shot in the face from close range with a tear gas grenade, and he died the next day. I arrived in time to attend the funeral on Sunday, sad, frenetic and angry. It slowed down only during some poetically moving moments as the local imam chanted a mournful prayer over the loudspeakers as several hundred people pressed in against the entrance to the mosque.

Almost immediately after Mustafa’s body was lowered into the ground, young people gathered and raced down the road leading to the main highway. The IDF was waiting, first firing skunk water, then going to tear gas and stun grenades. After the main thrust of the youths retreated from the road, Mohammad Tamimi (who will be a main subject of “Holy Land”} ran down the steep hill leading to another part of the highway, to confront the dozen or so Israeli soldiers who stood along the guard rail. Other Palestinians joined Mohammad, along with several activists. It was a direct, hand to hand struggle, with screaming and shoving. Several young women activists were thrown on the asphalt by the soldiers. Soon enough, the soldiers used tear gas and stun grenades to push the protesters back up the hill.

That same night, we rushed to Tel Aviv, where a group of right wing activists were holding a demonstration against Sudanese immigrants living in the same area where the protesters had convened. They marched along the street, chanting and singing, while Sudanese looked on with what seemed to be quiet bemusement. The crowd gathered on the patchy grass of a park, for more sloganeering. A group of left wing counter demonstrators gathered to denounce the right wingers — the whole crowed dispersed when someone turned on the irrigation system and doused everyone.

Yesterday started slowly, with a few fascinating, off camera meetings with some of our potential subjects. When I had finally settled down for a nap, the phone rang, with producer Alon Tuval’s Austrian/Israeli accent on the other end, telling me to drop everything and run to our meeting point at a parking lot. 30 minutes later, we were by the Dead Sea, where a group of “hilltop youth” had occupied an old fort of some kind. There was a beautiful full moon. It was in a fenced in military area, with mine fields on either side. By some miracle — echoing the parting of the Red Sea for Moses — we managed to speed through an open gate and approach the fort, where the police and IDF were massing, trying to figure out what to do with the activists. Inside was one of the potential subjects of the film. We were the only “media” to make it that close to the outside of the standoff, and an officer threatened to do bad stuff to us if we didn’t get the hell out. We withdrew, only to be stopped at the first gate by a young solider who announced that we were being detained. Alon’s fast talking extricated us.

It turned out to be a busy night elsewhere in the Holy Land. Another group of “hilltop youth” took over an IDF base, and the settlement-covering media was simultaneously on alert to cover the demolition and evacuation of Ramat Gilad, and illegal outpost.