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Sonia Nettnin: Film Review - Route 181

Film Review: Route 181-Fragments of a Journey to Palestine-Israel

Part I – The South
By Sonia Nettnin

ROUTE 181 is a cinematic journey through Palestine-Israel. Directors Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan trace a route based on the theoretical line presented in Resolution 181 (United Nations, 1947).

They filmed the documentary in three parts and the third annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival showed the entire series.

They begin in Hanania (formerly Nabis Yunis), where Chinese construction workers build Israeli settlements. The Israeli government will not hire Arab workers because of suicide bombings. However, Israeli-Arabs, who are Bedouins, monitor the construction.

Alongside the highway is a billboard in Hebrew that says: “Wave the Flag and Make the Dream Come True.” As Khleifi and Sivan interview people, they come across an archaeological site. The house belonged to a sheik and his bones are in it. Throughout their expedition, history arises in many ways.

In Masmiye/Re’im Junction, a Jewish woman confesses: “I hope they don’t take my shop, it belonged to an Arab.”

History is in the film, but there are peoples’ versions of it also. Khleifi and Sivan interview people. They ask challenging questions.

Images of the 1947 map reflect on their car’s windshield. The camera films the rearview mirror, so the road looks endless.

They visit several Israeli Museums. Black and white photos of clashes with Egyptian forces line the walls.

“Today’s settlements displaced Arabs,” the tour guide says. “We threw them all into the Gaza Strip.”

Originally from Poland, he traveled on an illegal boat in 1938. He stresses the importance of Jewish immigrants to the area, because demographics indicate Israeli-Jews will be outnumbered in 20 years.

They reach a site that has building materials for settlements. Endless rows of bricks line a fence. Appliances, such as dishwashers and stoves, are in plastic.

The next visit is to an industrial site, where the company makes barbed wire. The man says the Israeli Army orders huge quantities of it. They use it alongside the borders and it closes off the demarcation line.

The man says the humanitarian yards have very fine blades. Then, there is industrial strength barbed wire. The rolls of barbed wire are loaded onto trailers. They look like pyramids. The man says the Israeli government spent $600 million shekels on the barbed wire, which does not include the electronic protection

Their next stop is to Nir Am Reservoir. Settlers grow avocado farms alongside it. During an interview, the tour guide at the reservoir’s museum tells the Negev Story. It deals with the UN’s vote for the land to go to the Jews.

When they ask him a sensitive question, he yells nonsense. “We chased them out and razed their villages,” he adds.

Not far away from Khan Yunes is Gaza. An electronic fence runs along the coast inland. A close-up shot of a tank shows what people see when they are in front of the barrel of a gun.

In Khan Yunes, they visit a gallery. Nearby is a white house that belonged to a sheik. The tour guide claims the gallery is “…next to the world’s biggest ghetto.”

Their exploration of the south shows that living together has several definitions. Where a person stands in relation to the fence determines life conditions and point of view.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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