|Directed by:||Nissim Mossek||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2004||Running Time:||73 mins|
|Language:||Hebrew (Arabic and English Subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
While Israel experiences suicide bombings and riots and struggles through peace negotiations, a Jewish settler from New York and an Arab humus vendor are forced to live as neighbors in the heart of Jerusalem. The fascinating Shalom Abu Bassem documents, over a twenty-year span, the effect of the nation’s politics on their neighborly relations.
“They say a good neighbor is better than a distant brother,” Arab humus vendor Abu Bassem says, asserting, “If Ariel Sharon was a good neighbor, I’d be happy to have him as a neighbor.”
With a matter-of-fact air and straightforward filming, Shalom Abu Bassem evaluates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on an intimate, human scale, where a simple hello means a great deal. Over the course of twenty years, Arab-Israeli filmmaker Nissim Mosek periodically visited with Abu Bassem and his Jewish neighbor, Danny Robbins, a settler from New York who made aliyah, capturing their relations with each other through the changing political tides. What he found is that both Abu Bassem and Robbins want peace for the sake of their children and make efforts to prove to the camera that they’re reasonable, non-prejudicial men. But their noble intentions are tested over time, as waves of violence pass over the city, leaving blood stains on the cobble-stone streets that lead to their homes.
Haladiya Street, where Abu Bassem and Robbins both live, was a predominantly Jewish neighborhood until 1936, when riots broke out, killing many innocent Jews and driving the rest of them out of their homes. Over time, Jews began to return, and before the First Intifada the neighborhood served as an example of relatively peaceful coexistence. But in the late 1980s, when the violence of the First Intifada broke out throughout Israel, tensions mounted in the neighborhood. Since then, peace has been too short-lived for the residents to fully relax and regain trust in one another.
Full of stubborn will, Abu Bassem and Robbins both believe Haladiya Street is their rightful home. “It’s a disgrace for an Arab to sell his house,” Abu asserts, “It’s like selling his faith…like selling his child.” Equally passionate, Robbins explains that it’s been a life long dream to live in the holy city. It’s because they’re both unwilling to budge that Abu Bassem and Robbins are forced to live as neighbors.
But living in one of the most dangerous areas in the world has consequences. During the First Intifada, Robbins, on a trip to the market to buy bananas for his son, was stabbed by an young Arab man in broad daylight. With the help of emergency medical assistance, he survived. And although he still plays with the little Arab children on his street and says “shalom” to Abu Bassem, his Arab neighbor senses a new, brooding distrust in Robbins since the incident.
The documentary reveals how a fear of the unknown can lead to grand misconceptions. For years, the Arabs living on Haladiya Street are convinced that the yeshiva at the end of the block is a place of evil plotting. But when the filmmaker happens to gain entrance into the secret locked doors, he finds that instead of sinister planning the students are busying themselves playing on keyboards, dancing and praying.
Ultimately, Shalom Abu Bassem proves an old proverb wrong: good fences don’t make good neighbors.
While it’s clear that peace in Israel won’t come about easily, the documentary suggests that a harmonious coexistence on a personal level between the Jews and Arabs living in close proximity can be quite simple – even just in the sharing of a few kind words.“We hate whoever hates us. We respect those who respect us,” Abu Bassem explains.
And respect is felt not only in grand political speeches and abstract negotiations, but also through simple courtesies and routine manners. “I need someone to say hello to me,” Abu Bassem confides.