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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: On The Ground

Film Review: On The Ground

By Sonia Nettnin

Soldiers witness the demolition of a Palestinian home by an Israeli bulldozer. Since 1967, Israeli Forces destroyed over 13,000 Palestinian homes.

''On the Ground'' is a documentary about the demolitions of Palestinian homes by Israeli Forces and the organization that rebuilds them.

''The facts are right in front of your own eyes,'' Jeff Halper says. ''The refugees can’t have a place of refuge in the Occupied Territories.''

Halper is a member of The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition. Halper and Salim Shawamreh are the founders of Shawamreh is a rebuilding construction supervisor also. Israeli Forces tore down Shawamreh’s home five times.

Since 1967, Israeli Forces demolished over 13,000 Palestinian homes. The people who lost their homes to demolitions received no compensation for their loss. Most Palestinians invest their life-savings in their homes.

For a family in the Shoa’afat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, they received their demolition order on Friday. Two days later, Israeli Forces took pictures of the house. On Monday, they destroyed the family’s house. The family did not have the opportunity for a court appearance.

“Our lives our ruined,” the man says. His children climb the rocks that were once the family’s house. On the day of the demolition, Israeli Forces threw tear gas into the house. At the time, his wife and children were in the house. Now, the family lives in the tent. Winter is coming.

“We never hurt anyone,” his mother says. “We can’t survive.”

In 2003, Israeli Forces destroyed 33 homes in East Jerusalem. The film shows a home demolition. While activists chain themselves to the house scheduled for demolition, forty Israeli Border Policemen surround the house. When the police enter the house, Halper confronts them.

“Jews must oppose this sort of thing,” Halper says. “What would you do if they came to destroy your home?”

Although the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the destruction of permanent property by an Occupying Power, the international community does not enforce international law in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Even though Palestinians have titles to their land, Israeli courts will not grant them building permits. If a Palestinian family builds a home anyway, then Israeli courts declare the house illegal. After Israeli forces raze the house, they dig up the foundation with nomadic drills. Then, they declare the family abandoned the site and seize it. Not only does the Palestinian family lose their home, fines run them $20,000 US dollars for illegal building. Moreover, they receive a bill for the commercial wrecking company subcontracted for the demolition. It totals around $1500. Most of theses families live on $500 monthly. In many cases, the demolition site becomes an Israeli settlement.

This Catch-22 leaves Palestinian families traumatized and homeless.

The film shows rebuilding homes as a vehicle for resistance and solidarity. Israelis and Palestinians work together in a rebuilding initiative. The act itself is political, but the human interaction brings an atmosphere of peace. Together, they are on a mission.

ICHD Board Member, Frank Schloma, stresses the importance of optimism in rebuilding projects. While he carries bricks, he talks to the camera.

“All of us refuse to be defeated,” he says.

In Arabic, “maskan” means house. It comes from the word “sakeena,” which means peace and solitude. For many participants, rebuilding a home brings reconciliation.

Sean P. Geary, Amir Terkel and Andrew Miller directed and produced the film.


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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