This Is My Land: Educating Israel and Palestine
By Heenali Patel
On Friday 15 May, the Frontline Club hosted the UK premiere of This Is My Land, followed by an insightful discussion with director Tamara Erde. Screened on the 67th anniversary of Israeli Independence and Nakba Day, the film poses an important and highly relevant question: how does teaching of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict affect younger generations in the contested region?
This Is My Land follows several history teachers and students in six schools over an academic year. It provides a nuanced perspective of how educational institutions across Israel and the West Bank grapple with national identity, curriculum censorship and a relentless fear of the ‘other’. Observational in style, the film reveals gaping discrepancies between concepts of freedom and historical truth, and a sense of how trauma and conflict are transmitted onto the next generation through the pages of a textbook.
At the beginning of the film, Erde explains how, as an Israeli student, she was never taught to consider Palestinian history. It was not until she joined the army that she gained greater awareness of the other side of the conflict. During her discussion at the Frontline Club, she commented on her motivations for making the film.
“For me, something that is really important and lacking in education, is the other side’s vision, narrative and history. The first step is just to realise that there is another side and story, that is today being completely ignored. It’s [about] opening up to tolerance and understanding that you are not alone in the world… to see people on the other side with their pain from the past, all this complexity.”
— Stephanie Biden (@StephanieBiden) May 15, 2015
Asked by an audience member how she had approached each school, Erde said:
“You have to get approval from the Ministry of Education for each teacher. From the Israeli side, all the teachers who were centre-left were not authorised.”
She added that while there were numerous schools from which she was denied access, the teachers she filmed were intriguing, both in their characters and the way they approached teaching.
“What I was looking for was teachers who on the one hand represent the national curriculum, but on the other hand do try to challenge themselves or ask questions within what they can do.”
Despite the complex personalities of the teachers, several audience members noted how bleak the film seemed in terms of optimism, and asked whether Erde felt any sense of hope that the two sides could find a solution.
She responded: “While editing, there were times when I thought I’d like it to have a happy ending. But at the same time, I wanted to stay loyal to what I felt and what I saw during this process… From what we’ve seen over the long years, the solution doesn’t come from politics. We need to try and bring it from other places, and I think education could have been one of the major places. But today, it’s just following politics completely.”
One audience member asked whether the film had been screened in Israel or Palestine and, given the contentious topic, the reactions it received.
Erde said: “We did some private screenings in the cinemas on the Israeli side and Ramallah… There were many good responses from teachers who saw the film and said it raised many important questions for them. On the Israeli side we did some screenings in April. There were first reactions saying, it’s okay for us to see it inside Israel but don’t show it outside so you don’t reveal anything about the problems here.”
She added that her ultimate aim would be to screen the film in schools.
“What I would have loved to do is to bring it to schools, to teachers and to kids from both sides to see. I think it will be a long process. We managed to do it in the schools that we filmed, and in some private teachers organisations. We tried through the Ministry [of Education], but I’m not surprised it didn’t work. On the Palestinian side, we are trying now and I hope it will work in some way.”
Visit the This Is My Land website for more information on the film and upcoming screenings.