Writer and Director: Esther Takac
The Narrow Bridge opens in Tel Aviv with preparations for a high security event . Hordes of police are putting on bullet-proof vests and sniffer dogs are already at work. By nightfall hundreds of folding chairs have been set out and the need for the police becomes clear. Behind a cordon a crowd of Israeli nationalists are gathered with placards and blue and white flags. Some wrap themselves up in them, like enthusiastic patriots the whole world over. They shout abuse in Hebrew, translated on screen as “You’re all left-wing bastards!” They are not all the police have to deal with. As far away as possible, another angry shouting group wave Palestinian flags. Neither group is especially targeting the other. This evening the enemy are the people sitting on the chairs. From the way they are dressed, you can tell some must be Palestinian and some Israeli. Many of them seem to know each other. Friendly greetings are exchanged. You might think they were parents at a school prize giving.
You would be nearly right. Many of them have been parents. Others have been daughters, children, siblings. This is a grass-roots organisation called Palestinian Israeli Bereaved Families for Peace. Every year, it brings people together “for a ceremony to remember loved ones lost in conflict.” It is based on the simple but revolutionary idea that people need to get to know each other. One member, Rami, hands out flyers bearing the message ‘It won’t stop until we talk.’ As Bassam, another member puts it: “Once you listen to the pain of others you can expect them to listen to your pain.”
The film introduces four brave and remarkable members of the group, two fathers, a mother, and a daughter. Rami Elnahan and Meytal Ofer are Israeli; Bassam Aramin and Bushra Awad are Palestinian. A series of harrowing images flash across the screen: sirens, bloodied bodies on stretchers, mourning relatives. We learn how each person got their terrible, life-changing news. Rami, searching for his fourteen-year-old daughter, spent a frantic night which ended in a morgue: “…and then we saw” Bushra arrived at the hospital to find her husband “hitting his head with his shoes” and saying, “he’s gone.” That was their teenage son Mahmoud; she’d been planning how to tell him off for going out. Meytal woke up one morning to a phone full of missed calls. Her father had been brutally murdered in the night. Bassam and Rami stood together at a hospital bed as ‘the life drained out’ of Bassam’s ten-year-old daughter, shot by an Israeli soldier. There is video footage of every heartbreaking funeral.
Both sides have been brought up suspicious of the other. Bassam had “never met normal Israelis,” only soldiers and settlers “which is very violent.” In his society “we consider the Holocaust it’s a big lie.” Now an expert in Holocaust studies, he organises tours of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Rami, who describes his father as “a graduate of Auschwitz,” grew up “deeply connected” to Israel. Now he organises trips to the Nakba memorial village where pictures show processions of Arab refugees, carrying what possessions they can, leaving land their families have farmed for centuries. What we learn from all these stories is that grief is universal. Robi Damilen is an Israeli peace activist who appears in the film. (It was she who persuaded Bushra to join the group and since then the two have taken their message of reconciliation around the world). She often says, “Our tears are the same colour.” Each of the four articulates in a different way the terrible numbness they felt after bereavement. Cultural differences are shallow. At a women’s meeting in Bushra’s house, attended by Robi and Meytal, a Palestinian mother mourns her son. Someone says the conventional thing: “God has accepted him.” “I don’t know if God has accepted him!” she bursts out. “I want him here.”
The title suggests that the two sides have at least something in common. A few months ago it would have seemed like a glimmer of hope in an intractable conflict. Now that the narrow bridge is no more than a frayed rope, and what they have in common is many more violent deaths, even the glimmer has dwindled. A hopeful young woman says “If the politicians see we are reconciled, they will have to act.” In the present climate this sounds not just wishful but magical thinking.
This is the opposite of a political film. Everyone should see it.
The Narrow Bridge is screening at the UK Jewish Film Festival 2023.