We must make room for joy until we get freedom and independence.
After staring out his city hall office window, Ramallah mayor Musa Hadid turns to the camera to ask director David Osit whether people know or see what’s really happening in the West Bank. It’s a question without good answers. Either the world acknowledges the Israeli occupation of Palestine and doesn’t care or they’re completely oblivious to it because they rely solely on what Israel tells them. Hadid is therefore left fending for himself as both the leader of a city without a country and the public face of a political nightmare desperate to prove their struggle for an autonomous existence is real. While the region’s teenage rock throwers are labeled terrorists and the soldiers killing them lauded as heroes, Hadid wonders how to clean sewage from the streets.
The further Mayor progresses, the more you’ll understand that this “sewage” is simultaneously bandied about in literal and figurative terms. Because as Hadid travels the city with cellphone always in-hand to call firefighters and civil servants alike every time he passes by fires and pollution (almost exclusively caused by their Israeli occupants in illegal settlements all around Ramallah), he’s also keeping a close eye on the armed men and women holding a perimeter to ensure every Palestinian remembers they’re prisoners inside their own home. His constituents would be free to roam outside their borders and travel a few miles to both the sea and Jerusalem in a perfect world. But the one they have is instead ruled and isolated by invaders Hadid hopes to one day throw out.
A delicate balance must be struck as a result. It’s why Hadid polices the words of his council when they seek an opportunity to make public political statements as often as he delivers his own behind closed doors to diplomats asking him (the oppressed) what it would take to get Palestine back to the table with Israel (their oppressors). Three times a German asks him the latter question. Three times this gentleman says he “understands,” but “wouldn’t compromise be better?” It’s the type of slap in the face that Hadid cannot abide—one he graciously and calmly reframes as an issue of dignity. To be the “better man,” so to speak, in this potential equation is to pretend as though Palestine is on even footing with its occupiers.
The fact that foreigners refuse to comprehend how their normal negotiation tactics are actually a means towards legitimizing Israel’s hostility in the West Bank has to be so frustrating for Palestinians to accept on a daily basis. A healthy portion of Osit’s film is Hadid witnessing and dealing with the fallout of a public relations stunt (that’s really a callously ignorant and self-serving maneuver) on behalf of Donald Trump that does exactly that behind their back. The conversation has been lethally skewed so far that it inherently positions Arabs as the stubborn aggressors so truth can be outright ignored in lieu of the well-produced story Benjamin Netanyahu tells and US presidents parrot instead of providing the common decency of acknowledging how their ally silences an entire people’s voice.
It’s why a film like Mayor is crucially important as an irrefutable document to the contrary. We listen as Hadid explains how his hands are tied from helping his people because he must receive permission from Israel before doing what needs to be done—a warped relationship that the occupiers utilize as a weapon. We watch as the Israeli army invades Ramallah with live ammunition under the auspices of a vague investigation wherein they wrongly possess carte blanche as far as violently suppressing innocent civilians eating dinner at a restaurant. Gunshots, tear gas, and physical beatings are caught on camera and yet nothing is done. It’s why Hadid is so intent on transforming his city into a beautiful tourist attraction. Doing so emboldens residents and coaxes international attention.
The fact Prince William visits is a testament to the work that’s been done in Ramallah to facilitate this shift in perspective even if the movement is currently superficially framed by sports and entertainment instead of politics and sovereignty. It being a Christian city can’t be disregarded either, though, since that’s an appealing trait for the western world. Jesus Christ and Christmas are far more palatable to outside interests like America than Muhammad and Ramadan. It’s therefore all about image. Israel is selling one and Palestine is forced to sell another despite having an exponentially smaller voice that even fewer people are willing to hear. So it’s funny and depressing to hear municipal conversations about “city branding” failures since Ramallah has ultimately become Palestine’s palatable and necessary synonym.
And because of Hadid’s leadership and calm demeanor under intense pressure, it might just work. He’s treated like a rock star while walking down the street, waving and shaking hands. He engages with the youth, listens to citizen complaints, and does what he can to scale over the bureaucratic walls Israel has erected as a means to keep Palestine down and force surrender. With every new fountain, park, and celebration, however, he’s rallying his people together to remind them that their identity will not be destroyed. There’s nothing like a revitalized self-worth to ignite a movement, turn heads, and keep the spotlight on a region consistently punished at night by attackers thus far unafraid to step out from the shadows. It’s time for us to admit it.
courtesy of Film Movement