Photo Credit: Mike Kline www.flickr.com
Our Esra cinema club offering on March 20th, was a delicately-balanced film by director and producer, Yoram Honig, which has been shown in over 40 international and Jewish film festivals all over the world. It had won 1st prize in the Tel Aviv Docu-Aviv Festival last year as well as prizes in the Taiwan, Georgian and Italian Film Festivals.
The film, with music by Shalom Hanoch, is based on a letter Yoram wrote to his delightful little daughter who started 1st grade at the school in the Neveh Shalom "Oasis of Peace" village. He traces the interaction between the children, parents and teachers who are Jewish and Arabic, whilst the Intifada is going on around them, with bomb and suicide outrages. The little girl's perception of war and death is staggering, but she is happy playing with her school friends both Jewish and Arab, like any normal little girl.
The concept of this school is the hope that if children begin their learning with each other in both Hebrew and Arabic at an early age there will be a bond between them, and they will grow together to become tolerant of their different cultures. In actual fact, Yoram told us that outside of school activities there is almost no contact between the Jewish and Arab children.
Having said that, the level of education these children receive is very high and they go on to higher learning with knowledge of both Hebrew and Arabic.
When special days like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Nakba Day come up, ripples begin to emerge under the surface and such differing cultures implode in simmering outrage, such as the Jewish children standing for the siren of Memorial Day and the Arab children doing a play and completely ignoring the event. In fact, one little Arab boy said in front of the camera he wouldn't stand for the siren on principle.
The teachers also begin to crack when instilling the word 'homeland' to the children. One teacher ran from the room in tears. Both the Jewish and Arab children were fiercely proud of their 'homeland' which brings into light the problem of how two very strong cultures can share the same piece of land and each call it their 'homeland'.
Yoram's film has been handled with extreme sensitivity, and whilst he hasn't sugarcoated it, it is an incredible film, warts and all, which the audience warmed to. They asked many questions of the director. I, myself, left the theatre with a sense of futility pervading my thoughts, and the lingering longing for "if it could only work"….
"First Lesson in Peace" was made available to the ESRA Cinema Club by Ruth Diskin Films in Jeruslaem.