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Film Review: Gaza Calling

The Tedious Occupation of Bureaucracy

Six years ago Palestinian director Nahed Awwad, her husband and their four-week-old daughter were on the way to Germany from their home in the West Bank. Because he is not Palestinian the couple took separate lanes across the bridge leading out of the Occupied Territories and into Jordan; the flight left from Amman later that day. Five hours of waiting at the border control later, Awwad was sent back to Palestine to adjust a problem with her daughter's identification; soldiers had told her the name on the ID card didn't match their computer system.

Awwad eventually flew to Germany. Upon her return she visited the Ministry of Interior in Ramallah to sort out the matter permanently. It was here she met a sea of people whose documentation was fuelling an ongoing struggle for their families and generating division. One of these cases was Israel's regular refusal of entry to Palestinians from Gaza into the West Bank, regardless of whether they had lived there before, or if they have family there. Far too often this has resulted in the forced partition of families for years. Put simply: two Palestinians, who live an one-hour drive away from each other, can be banned from visiting each other.

It is because of her own personal experience on the bridge that day, and the people she met, that Awwad decided to make Gaza Calling. The documentary follows the stories of two Palestinian families who have been subject to this arbitrary division as a result of a brash misuse of power that has manifested itself into control of their IDs and right of movement. Screened as part of the Birds Eye View Film Festival in London last night, Gaza Calling is a deeply somber and irritatingly frustrating snapshot of what hoops many families must jump through in Palestine to try and live a normal life.

Samer, one of the main characters in the documentary, graduated from Birzeit University one year ago. From his bed in the corner of a shared room in Ramallah, he makes phone calls to his mother who lives in Gaza. They have been separated for six years; he has never met his youngest sister. Hekmat also lives in the West Bank with her daughters and youngest son. Her other son Mustafa is in Gaza and they haven't seen each other for seven years.

The film follows the families as they negotiate application forms, NGOs, human rights lawyers and various documents to be reunited. Paperwork is bundled up and taken to the Israeli authorities, where it is considered and often rejected.

Sadly, what is happening to both Samer and Mustafa is a microcosm of a widespread problem where families are able to communicate only via the telephone. Even to film the parts of the documentary based in Gaza, Awwad herself was not allowed to visit the Strip as she holds a West Bank, green ID card. She has never met the crew who filmed there, simply communicated with them through email and on the phone.

In the tedious occupation of bureaucracy, days can turn into years and short distances into lengthy journeys when you are waiting for something.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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