'They want to kill me for making documentaries'

By Nick Johnstone, May 2, 2008
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Filmmaker Raneen Geries receives death threats for showing the Palestinian view of the events of 1948.

When Raneen Geries, a Palestinian woman, arrived at Tel Aviv University to study for a degree in social work, most of the students on her course were Jewish. As conversations frequently touched on family history, she realised how little she knew of her own.

“When you meet Jewish people, the ‘other’,” she recalls, from her home in Haifa, “then you start to look deeply at your own identity. Who are you? Where are you from? I started by asking my grandmothers, and from there I went on to discover my national history.”

By the time she was studying for an MA, her quest for information about Palestinian history had led her to become a volunteer with Zochrot (Hebrew for “remembering”), a group of Israelis, both Jewish and Muslim, who work to “raise awareness of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948”.

At first, Geries organised lectures and workshops and helped with publications. Then, in 2005, when Zochrot acquired non-government-organisation status, she became a part-time employee and concentrated on documenting Palestinian Nakba testimonies. One day, she had a brainwave and started filming testimonies, instead of recording them. Since then, despite not having a filmmaking background, the 29-year-old has made four documentary films.

Her latest acclaimed short film, Women’s Testimonies Of The Nakba, was recently screened at the Barbican, as part of the London Palestine Film Festival. In September, it will show at the Haifa Film Festival. That makes two very high-profile screenings for a woman whose work many are trying to stop. Like her fellow Zochrot colleagues, she says she receives regular death threats.

“People call and leave messages in the office or send emails with threats, like: ‘We’ll kill you. Die. You’re bastards’. Sick things like this.” The threats make Geries ever more determined. “By remembering the Nakba, it’s a threat to the existence of the Jews here. That’s why they become afraid. They say: ‘You want to bring back all the refugees? Where are we supposed to go? You want to do the Holocaust again?’”

For Geries, the work has a personal source. Her father’s family were expelled from Haifa in 1948. They settled in Nazareth, then Akko, before putting down roots in Kfar Yasif in northern Israel, where Geries was born. She hopes that her films, as well as educating and documenting, show the continuing displacement of Palestinians. “During 1948, yes there was a mass displacement of Palestinians from their land, but the Nakba is ongoing. Palestinians have continued to be displaced — inside Israel, in Gaza, in the West Bank, in the refugee camps.” Within Zochrot, Geries is now responsible for filming what she calls “survivor testimonies”, a turn of phrase which inevitably echoes the work of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation.

She senses time running out, as elderly Palestinians, able to recount the events of 1948, increasingly pass away and she will shortly begin training Zochrot volunteers to film testimonies. And what of this May, when Israel celebrates 60 years of statehood?

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 60 years, 50 or 51. It’s very hard for me to be in Israel during this period. I live in Haifa and wherever you go, you see the flags and people celebrating. We Palestinians inside Israel are planning a whole week of protest in Haifa, to go and demonstrate with the names of the almost 400 Palestinians who were killed in Haifa in 1948. We will raise their names.”

    Last updated: 3:04pm, March 2 2009