Camerawomen: Revisiting a Palestinian Colleague and Pal

I was given a beer and quickly felt welcome. It was a hot day and a trek, well worth it, East Jerusalem bus 218, Qalandiya crossing and a taxi to the pretty village near Ramallah where I’d spend the day with a friend I hadn’t seen in too long a time. I was eager to reminisce and reconnect.

I started right in. You remember when you were shooting and I was doing sound near Nablus and your sweater fell and Rabin picked it up and handed it back? I eagerly asked. You’re the only one who would believe that, she responded. Soon we were off, trading stories of our camera days together on the West Bank and Gaza. Yeah we had a good time in Gaza, she confirmed and I concurred. It was 1993, Oslo had just been signed and we were in Gaza filming for a big European news outlet.

She’d hired me for her all-woman crew, the only non-Palestinian in the group. We stayed in a beautiful seaside hotel and at night, lugging gear, traipsed through Jabaliyah alleys to film Hamas in hiding.

With a flashlight and number on a slip of paper we found the door. Setting up quickly but with tripod, key light and a lapel mic, we got the interview and then the cue to split. Back at the hotel news colleagues watched each others’ footage and cheered on the most brutal.

But now my friend was in the dumps. She had gone on to to make a few successful documentaries, won prizes, then switched to fiction and failed. Backers strung her along, asked for costly previews, then turned her down. Meanwhile new bunches of filmmakers, Palestine a trendy topic, kept popping up, some even making films on phones.

But she rallied as we happily recalled Rabin, Jabaliya and also Jericho and Bethlehem 2000. I asked her about the people from then. What about Souhad, my soundwoman, mother of three (Did you get the blood, she’d asked at an earlier location), who’d pushed me back down—no press vests or helmets—when bullets and stones were flying overhead?  That’s a story, she said. Souhad’s joined Hamas, she used to be a Communist, she’s as nice as before. And Ali from Arab TV in East Jerusalem who’d told me when I was looking for work that he knew a camerawoman needing a crew? Oh we’re still in touch. He’s done some translating into Hebrew for me. How does Ali know Hebrew, I inquired. He learned it in his ten years in an Israeli prison.

The past relived, I had a delicious luncheon she’d worked hard on, 89-year-old Mother joining us and group selfie snapped. Once the meal was done and dishes washed, I was shown the family businesses and led on a trip through the village, a popular stop on Christian tours. She pointed out a settlement in the distance below.

Goodbye was hard, not knowing when I’d be with her again. She barely left home, just managed the family enterprises. I said I’d be back, take up her invitations for an overnight stay, something I hadn’t done since working together.

Oct. 8 I dreaded her Facebook page. I’d seen her postings of Gaza in 2021, one bomb wreckage after another. In one of the businesses her family ran I’d taken a shot of a big map of Palestine 1948 but I wasn’t prepared for this.

I stare stunned at paragliders readying their devices to sail into Israel and kill. There are lots of closeups, the men making sure all is in order. They’re labeled heroes. The next day come postings denying the atrocities; world media is lying. Soon images of “Israel’s genocide in Gaza” flood the feed.

I can’t take anymore and don’t look again for a month. I finally relent and scroll through ruins, victims and martyrs, a good 50 postings a day. It’s hard to keep up but I do see Norman Finkelstein (twice) bashing Israel, Simon Peres in an odd post swearing allegiance as a street cleaner to the State of Palestine, and young people in Berlin chanting Free Palestine from German guilt. There’s a video of a kitten with a Palestinian flag being swatted by a cat with a Star of David. Finally the kitten whacks the big guy and the caption reads: after 75 years this is the “reaction” on Oct.7. Other postings tell us to Stop the 3rd Nakba and Go back from where you came, Europe misses you.

It’s too much. She’d given me work whenever she had any, I’d helped her promote her films in the States, she’d invited me to visit at the drop of a hat. But she’s crossed a line here. Could be she’s covering her bases; Hamas wouldn’t like her family business. But no condemnation of the massacres is a dealbreaker.

About the Author
Donna Schatz is an Israeli-American photographer, documentary producer and former TV camerawoman who worked in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon as well as Bosnia and the US.
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