Sometime in early 2012 I was contacted by an old friend who was arranging a trip to Palestine and, knowing I was a filmmaker of sorts, invited me along to document it. The resulting film, titled WORDS : WALLS (and which will be getting its first screenings in Scotland in June), is a record of the experience that changed the outlook of the group who travelled with us irrevocably.
So, after a lot of hasty last minute arrangements and an almost missed flight, in May 2012 I travelled with a loosely associated group of poets and singers from Scotland to the West Bank. The itinerary consisted of a series of workshops, readings and meetings with cultural and campaign groups. What we experienced during those two weeks went far beyond that.
The core group – joined at various points by a revolving roster of singers, student activists and a journalist for a hillwalking magazine – was formed of two of Scottish poetry’s leading lights: Liz Lochhead (the Makar) and hotly tipped emerging talent William Letford; Gaelic singer and lecturer Gellebride Macmillan; and poet and academic Henry King. All, to varying degrees, broadly sympathetic but by their own admissions naïve, each had their own motivation for signing up. Chief among these motivations though was simple curiosity. Or, as Letford put it, “I came because I was invited.”
Our travels over the ensuing 12 days took in everything from a four day stay at Aida refugee camp – a small town of sorts which has continued to grow ever since it was first set up in 1948 and which is now walled in on three sides by the overbearing Israeli ‘security wall’, peppered with watch towers containing armed soldiers – to a day in the dust bowl that is all that remains of the once fertile farmland of the Jordan Valley (where the water is nowadays diverted to the lush – and illegal – Israeli settlement farms). From a visit to witness the inspiring work of the Freedom Theatre – on the very day when their artistic director was arrested by Israeli forces – to a little first-hand experience of the kind of harassment at check points that the Palestinians have gotten so used to.
Perhaps most striking of all was the contrast between the boundless generosity and hospitality of our hosts – and indeed of complete strangers: we were on more than one occasion invited into homes by people we had just met and given food, tea, and gifts – and the stories they told of the constant intimidation, aggression, and harassment that is such a huge part of their day to day lives. All of this set against a physical backdrop of checkpoints, illegal settlements perched like fortresses on the top of hills (and patrolled by heavily armed guards), and the heavy presence everywhere of the Israeli Defence Force.
At some point along the way each one of us reached a point when we realised we wouldn’t be able to look at the world in the same way again. It was something of a shattering of innocence: an almost overwhelming injustice rudely butted in on our cosy liberal views of the world – a view in which there are always two sides to the story and so we couldn’t possibly take sides. As it stands, none of us will be able to stop talking about what we saw from now on.
WORDS : WALLS will be screened at Solas Festival, Perthshire
21-23 June 2013
Further screenings TBC