Grief Encounter

Jerome Richard

"Non-violence doesn't sell."  That's what film distributors told the producers of the searing new documentary Encounter Point. That's too bad, because if more people saw it, a peaceful resolution of the Israel/Palestinian conflict would not seem so intractable.

The film is based on an organization called Bereaved Families Forum for Peace and Reconciliation.  Members are families that have lost loved ones through violence. There are 250 Palestinian families and 250 Israeli families in the organization. Just the existence of such an organization should send people into the streets demanding peace. If someone's daughter was blown up by a suicide bomber; if someone's innocent brother was shot and killed by a soldier, they would according to most people have every right to be bitter and revengeful. Yet the people depicted in Encounter Point have managed to overcome that. The realization that peace is the only way to true peace is a powerful one.

At a meeting of the forum, a tough looking Israeli father whose daughter was a victim of a suicide bomber meets a mild appearing Palestinian who gave a fiery speech after his daughter was shot by an Israeli soldier, and they are able to commiserate.

We meet Shlomo Zagman who grew up on a settlement and knew Palestinians only as laborers.  He would speed around check-points without thinking about the Palestinians who had to line up and be inspected. That all seemed natural to him until a chance remark caused him to start thinking about the situation. He is not one of the bereaved, but he soon moved his family out of the settlement to Jerusalem. He questioned the occupation and at the instigation of the movie-makers he had his first real conversation with a Palestinian.

The Palestinian he talked with is a man named Ali Abu Awwad who was sixteen at the time of the first intifada and remembers throwing stones at Israelis. Later he spent four years in an Israeli prison. His brother was killed by Israeli soldiers. All that, he says, gave him the credentials to be a hero among his people but he chose instead to be something of an outcast, preaching non-violence to often skeptical compatriots. "I don't have to love Israelis to make peace with them," he says.

Even more important than talking to each other, however, is how the participants try to convince their own people of the need for non-violence. Ali talks to a group of wounded Palestinians, including his own brother. Robi Damelin, whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper, parries an Israeli talk show host who cannot understand why she does not seek vengeance.      

Encounter Point was made by four women, an Israeli, a Palestinian, an American, and a Brazilian (Julia Bacha who co-wrote and edited the acclaimed documentary Control Room about the Al Jazeera news operation). It is not a dry, talking-heads movie.  We see its participants in action, including an Israeli group and a Palestinian group trying to meet each other across barriers both physical and psychological in order to put out a joint magazine. The Village Voice called it a "riveting documentary which blazes with a kind of spiritual grace." (11/15-21/06)

The film played to a sold-out audience at the Tribeca Film Festival in March, 2006. It has been shown in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and at the Dubai International Film Festival. It has been screened at several smaller venues, generally by invitation.  (I saw it in Seattle where it was co-sponsored by Brit Tzedek v' Shalom and the Palestine Solidarity Committee.) It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival as well as the Montreal Film Festival. Still, you are not likely to see it at your local theater because, as the distributors told the film makers, "Non-violence doesn't sell."

So, ask you local theater to book it, or your film club to arrange a showing. If that fails, the DVD will be available in April. Invite the neighbors in to watch it. Meanwhile, check out the website:

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, then Encounter Point shows us a sane path to peace.

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Harvard Square Commentary, January 15, 2007