In 2007, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem launched its camera project, a citizen journalist campaign with a double bottom line. By distributing video cameras to Palestinians living within the Occupied Territories, B’Tselem aimed to both hold Israeli security forces and settlers accountable to their Palestinian neighbors and to provide the Israeli public with glimpses of everyday life in an occupied zone.
The camera project has enjoyed marked successes, largely due to involvement from freelance camera operators such as Awatif Al Jadili. A compact but by no means slight 29-year-old woman, Awatif Al Jadili was working as a producer at a news agency when B’Tselem offered to provide her with a camera and an outlet.
I used to think that all the people inside Israel are soldiers, and they are all scary people. I never felt that I would be friends with an Israeli person from Tel Aviv.
TakePart caught up with Al Jadili as she passed through Los Angeles on a B’Tselem fact-spreading tour. She shares the trailer for her upcoming documentary, Waiting for Heaven, and speaks of not bowing before Hamas, coming to see the “other” as the human, and the powerful innocence of children.
TakePart: How do the prospects for peace look from an office in California?
Awatif Al Jedaili: For me, as a Palestinian, it is so strange to be sitting in the same place as an Israeli person. I feel that even though we are having really bad circumstances, and we are living in a really bad situation, we are still optimistic. We are still thinking, Maybe open this door and get to know each other more and more. Maybe it will be something more useful than negotiations and these political solutions.
TakePart: What’s a good way for Israelis and Palestinians to realize that the opposing side is made up of people too?
Awatif Al Jedaili: They have to decide to give themselves a moment to get to know each other. As a Palestinian, I used to think that all the people inside Israel are soldiers, and they are all scary people. I never felt that I would be friends with an Israeli person from Tel Aviv. But I did it. I gave myself time to think about being Israeli and a human being, not a soldier or a scary person. Now I have lots of friends inside Israel. And I think that, the same, they have to think about the Palestinian not as a terrorist, not a dangerous person, but as people.
TakePart: Did you work in film before you got your B’Tselem camera?
Awatif Al Jedaili: I used to be a news producer at a news agency, but when I worked with B’Tselem for the first time, I offered myself for free because I was completely free to say what I wanted to say and show what I wanted to show. It was a completely different feeling from when I was working as a news agency producer.
TakePart: What is the first thing you did with that freedom?
Awatif Al Jedaili: I went to children. I felt that I should go to the children because they are innocent and don’t know to think badly about Israel, and of Israel as our enemy. They can grow up in peaceful conditions and not have this enemy mentality in the future. I wanted to show how the children think, just one week after the war. A girl just after the war was talking freely about the Israeli people and the Israeli army, even though they hurt her. So we can work with the children.
TakePart: Is there anything you can do as a filmmaker to humanize Israelis for Palestinians?
Awatif Al Jedaili: I just met one of my friends in London, and he is from Israel. We were saying I am Palestinian, you are Israeli, and we had this big distance. Then we started talking to each other. We became good friends. Now we are thinking of doing a film about two characters who meet outside of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. We want to show the characters’ relationship before the first Intifada, and how they used to be good friends, and how the relationship between both of them changed.
TakePart: You said you met your friend outside the conflict zone. How important is travel in seeing “others” as people?
Awatif Al Jedaili: Very important. Outside of the conflict zone, people don’t care as much about the politics issue or the religions. Outside, we will have our own thoughts, and we will have the opportunity to get to know “others.” But when we are in Palestine or Israel, it is so difficult....
TakePart: Do you get pushback from Palestinians for working with Israelis?
Awatif Al Jedaili: Actually, before I started to work with B’Tselem, I was working with a friend’s organization that’s also in Israel. The government in Gaza got to know I was working with an Israeli group. For me, I never thought that it was a problem. But my family was worried about me being in touch with a human rights organization, because it was an Israeli organization, and it might put me in trouble. Also, I’d been in trouble already.
TakePart: What kind of trouble?
Awatif Al Jedaili: Well, I don’t want to say they arrested me, but [Hamas] investigated me lots of times, and it was illegal to work with an Israeli organization. Even though the organization is talking about human rights, underneath they are suspected of doing something else. That’s why I told them, “I’m so proud to be working with an Israeli human rights organization. My work is on the Internet; so if you want to watch my work, okay. Watch my work. I’m not doing anything wrong.”
I feel that, especially with the Hamas government, if you’re like, okay I am weak and I need some help, it’s bad for you. But if I act like I know exactly what I am doing, they say: “She knows what she’s doing. We can’t play with her.”