Guest writer: Yuval Orr*
We gathered on the steps of Tel Aviv’s Cinematheque. As we waited for the bus to pull up, Diaa, one of the night’s stars, handed out popsicles to the twenty or so Palestinian activists that had come for the film screening. Periodic whispers ran through the small crowd of muhajiba women, older men and the few teenagers and children: we’re going to the sea, one last time before we go home.
Once safely ensconced in the bus, the driver gladly obliges the request to turn the music up and Arabic pop washes over us in waves as we rumble through the streets of Tel Aviv. The air inside the bus turns electric with excitement, everyone alternately whispering and shouting the same word over and over as it becomes a sort of chant: the sea, the sea.
It is the same sea that I had spent much of the day at. In fact, I brought my friends to the same exact spot on the beach where I had been earlier. For me to go swimming required me to simply step out of my door in Jaffa and walk the short distance to the waterfront. For them it required months of advanced planning in order to request permits from the Israeli military authorities in the West Bank who determine their right of movement, it required letters of support from Israeli NGOs and proof that the event they were attending (a film screening) was really happening. It required holding out hope that an arbitrary decision made by some faceless soldier or bureaucrat wouldn’t prevent them, as is so often the case, from visiting this place they had dreamed of seeing with their own eyes.
All to be able to walk down to the sea, to put their toes in the sand at 10:30 at night, to wade out into the water and to feel, for those few moments, truly free. As Umm Awni and Suzanne, both in their late thirties, charged into the water fully dressed, unconcerned with the three to four hours they’d spend sopping wet on the bus ride home, I felt ashamed for the place I call home – that we could deny so many such a simple joy that we so often take for granted: freedom.
May we all know that feeling of freedom. May we all share it and cherish everyone’s right to have it. And realize that our fates are bound together on the same land, in the same sea.
*Yuval Orr is an American-Israeli independent filmmaker and writer. His first short film, Khelil Helwa (Hebron is Beautiful), was awarded Best Documentary at the Durham Film Festival. His work and commentary has been featured on NPR, NOS, The Post Internazionale, Al Hurra TV, COLORS Magazine and +972 Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @yuvalorr.