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Apples of the Golan

Apples of the Golan

Released 16 January 2015
Director(s) Keith Walsh, Jill Beardsworth
Origin Austria, Ireland, Syria, Israel
Running Time 82 minutes
Genre Documentary
Rating TBC
65

An undefined people.

In 1967 Israel launched ‘The Six Day War’, aimed at a perceived threat from the Arab world, particularly aiming to defend against what they saw as threats from Syria, Jordan and Egypt. It was a hugely successful military campaign that resulted in them almost completely destroying the air forces of Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. It also left them in control of three major areas of strategic importance; namely the Sinai, the West Bank of the Jordan River, and the Golan Heights. While many of us are now all too familiar with the resulting horrors this led to in the area of the West Bank – the plight of the Palestinian people- the long term effects on the people of the Golan Heights of Syria are not as well documented. With the ongoing civil war continuing to rage in Syria, and the increasing involvement of Hezbollah and other Arab forces in the area of the Golan Heights, this documentary comes well timed to give us a window into the lives of the people living in this complicated area of the world.

Irish filmmakers Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth spent five years living amongst the people of Majdal Shams, one of only five Arab villages (from a figure of 139 before occupation) that remain in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Rather than trying to be overly political or creating a voice throughout the documentary, they fluidly move between members of the village, letting each tell their story, through a range of mediums; rap, dance, and traditional song all play a part alongside more traditional interviews. The interviews are interspersed with shots of the other elements that make the people of the Golan what they are; apples play a big role here. The Red Cross facilitates the export of apples from the Golan to Syria, and this is a huge part of keeping the economy alive here. More subdued shots of dying fish and orchards where trees have been cut down illustrate Israel’s aggressive tactics of land acquisition and use of resources in the region.

As one would expect there are some highly emotional scenes, as the border-crossing rules impact severely on people’s lives. Border rules stipulate that only students, pilgrims and brides may cross the border; but in the case of a marriage, once that border is crossed there is no going back – which leads to family separation and heartbreak. In one scene one such woman who made the crossing from Syria to the Golan screams in frustration and heartbreak at the border as she is not granted permission to see her dying father. Ibrahim Safadi is a mountain herder who talks about ‘the most beautiful thing in the world’ being freedom; something which he admits having never known. The contrast of one older man teaching his grandchildren of their Syrian heritage, and hanging the portrait of Bashar al Assad in his house, with Hatem Said, a man who speaks of his imprisonment and torture at the hands of Syrian forces, is a credit to the filmmakers and this telling of the story. Yet another side to the coin is demonstrated by some young men who build settlements by day and rap by night. They speak of their disillusionment at their status – born after the occupation, they feel neither Israeli nor Syrian – and as such they are classed as “undefined” on their passports.

Apples of the Golan is at times very slow-paced, and other times flits through interviews so much that an emotional connection with a person featured is not fully created. However as a snapshot into these people’s lives, the documentary is impressive in showing us the vibrancy, heartbreak, separation and hope that combine to create this community that somehow survives amidst extremely difficult circumstances.

- Eadaoin Browne