Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Waiting for Quds
Film Review: Waiting for Quds
By Sonia Nettnin
In April 2002, Allegra and Abed married in Deheisheh, a refugee camp outside of Bethlehem. As an Israeli woman and a Muslim Palestinian man, the couple face many challenges. Their love helps them along the way.
“Waiting for Quds” chronicles the inspiring lives of a Muslim Palestinian man and an Israeli woman who fell in love, married and managed the birth of their first child while the man was a political prisoner in administrative detention.
In fall 2002, Director Devorah Blachor began filming Abed al-Ahmar and Allegra Pacheco four months after their wedding. Blachor wanted to know how her cousin, Allegra, who grew up in a Jewish-American, middle-class family on Long Island and then immigrated to Israel, married a Muslim Palestinian man from Deheisheh - a refugee camp outside of Bethlehem.
“How did she get from there to here?” Blachor asks.
On November 22, 2002, three months after the director began filming a score of Israeli Security Service troops; the Shin Bet with their military accoutrements raided the couples’ home and arrested Abed. For the next 20 months, he remained in administrative detention, without charge or trial, in Israeli prisons.
Allegra, the only Israeli legal advisor for the UN Relief and Works Agency, was five months pregnant. Abed’s duress was inimical for her condition, which caused stress and anxiety. When she traveled to the hospital, she wore a bulletproof vest.
After her first prison visit, she told a Norwegian journalist over the phone what happened the early, Friday morning they took her husband. She recalled a Shin Bet troop saying: “We don’t have the package, but we have a relative of the package.”
Abed is no stranger to Israeli jails. When Abed was 16 Moshe Levenger, the head of the settler movement and other settlers attacked the people of Deheisheh, wrecked their vegetable stores and broke school windows. In response, Abed and his friends threw stones and Molotov cocktails. The IDF arrested him and he spent the next, four years in prison.
According to an August 6, 2004 Ha’aretz article, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote Abed’s eleven years of imprisonment was the longest time served by any administrative detainee in an Israeli prison. Palestinians in administrative detention are held without trial or charge. The judges, who preside in military courts, renew their prison sentences anywhere from 90 to 180 days. Blachor interviewed Levy, who described Abed as a man of peace with a noble spirit.
Abed told the story of how he met his wife. In 1996-97, he met Allegra in a Russian compound when she became his lawyer. Abed experienced severe torture and Allegra was sympathetic to his tragic experiences. Over time and numerous discussions, they established a rapport.
Abed, whose father fled their native village Rafat, Wadi Arar in 1946-47, grew up impoverished under military occupation. After Abed talked with Allegra, she was not like the Israeli prison guards who joked and who laughed while he was in pain. He described the realization as the contrast of two colors: there is black, then white appears, and the white stands out next to the black. His emphatic words accentuated the contrast of colors and the people they represented to him. Abed’s face, effused with feeling, exuded honesty.
With his voice in the background, Blachor focused on several children’s faces in the camp. One boy, crouched near a high window, stared at the camera. A girl smiled in front of a metal lattice shaped like a flower; and then another boy stood behind barbed wire. The close-ups of the children vivified Abed’s childhood account and his feelings about the right to return.
During her fourth year in Jewish, religious school, Allegra lived in Jerusalem where she studied in a women’s religious school. Every weekend they visited a new Israeli settlement in the West Bank, but they never talked about the Palestinians. After several return visits Allegra’s views changed, so she interned with Leah Tzemel, a well-known Israeli lawyer who defends Palestinians’ rights. After a short stint as a lawyer on Wall Street, Allegra returned to the Middle East where she became a lawyer for UNRWA.
Allegra recalled how Abed expressed concern when she told him about the suicide bus bombings. They made a connection in their conversations because their thoughts were from the same page. The attraction of their minds metamorphosed into a budding romance.
Although Allegra cared for Abed, the political, religious, social, and cultural obstacles between them felt insurmountable. She expressed her thoughts, but Abed pursued her. He wrapped his secret love letters in wool thread. He wrote to her until the birds sang past midnight. Allegra followed her heart.
Her mother, Phyllis, disliked the nasty comments expressed by some of her family members. Even though they called her daughter a self hating Jew, she said that Allegra wants a better life for Jews in Israel. Abed’s mother, Maryam was reluctant about the marriage. After she met Allegra, she felt at ease. Now, she tells everyone to marry an American woman.
Between the montage of interviews with their family members, Allegra and Abed maintain their pregnancy partnership on the phone. Yeala, their birth assistant, held the phone next to the sonogram so Abed could hear the baby’s heartbeat. Despite appeals in military courts, Israeli judges renewed Abed’s detention. His lawyer could not see the secret evidence against him.
As a couple they possessed several IDs: American citizenship, Israeli citizenship and Palestinian refugee status. With the baby almost due, Allegra decided she and the baby would be refugees. They named their son Quds: the Arabic word for Jerusalem.
Are they a foreshadowing of one potential future for some Israelis and Palestinians? Will love break the walls between the people?
Perhaps Abed and Allegra’s marriage will pave the way for Palestinians and Israelis afraid to marry in the Holy Land because of societal pressures and systematic challenges.
Through love, anything is possible.
In April 2005, “Waiting for Quds” premiered at the Chicago International Documentary Film Festival where it was selected as a “Favorite Pic.” It screened at the DocAviv Film Festival in Tel Aviv also. Blachor worked on the film for the last three years. She says the response has been positive and overwhelming, as well as extremely gratifying.
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.