Just returned a few days ago from a visit to Gaza. A memorable, in fact shattering, experience. And reveals graphically much of what your film describes.”
–Noam Chomsky, November 2012
"“This moving documentary provides incontrovertible proof of human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed by the IDF against Gaza in 2008-09...Essential viewing for anyone wishing to understand what Israel is doing to Gaza–and the effects of Israeli occupation on Palestinians everywhere.”
–Terri Ginsberg, Ph.D film scholar, co-author of Historical Dictionary of Middle Eastern Cinema
Where Should the Birds Fly shows the everyday injustices faced in Gaza.
Where Should the Birds Fly
, the new documentary directed and narrated by Fida Qishta
, begins with chilling footage of Israeli bulldozers destroying houses
in 2004. Qishta, a native of Rafah, the city in the south of the Gaza Strip
, watched her parents’ house of 30 years crumble under the bulldozers. As it was destroyed, her father told her and her family to leave and keep walking. “He feared if our eyes took in the sight, our hearts would be filled with hate,” Qishta says.
The young woman channeled the intense anger and frustration felt from this episode, and many others caused by the Israeli blockade
, to create a touching film that reveals many of the daily injustices in Gaza.
Qishta began her career as a wedding videographer. After becoming comfortable with the camera, she began to film her surroundings and eventually accompanied human rights observers to document their work.
Much of the first half of the film features scenes of everyday life for Palestinians in Gaza. Qishta left the Gaza Strip in 2006 to visit Europe; when she returned she was forced to wait for three weeks at the border. She filmed the time she spent waiting to re-enter her home.
Shots of the border crossing terminal show tired men, women and children as they waited indefinitely without being offered beds or food.
Targeted by snipers
The documentary visits the farming village of Khozaa, which lies in the Israeli-designated “buffer zone,” land near the boundary with Israel that Palestinians are forbidden from entering. The land, once fertile farmland, is frequently targeted by Israeli sniper fire when farmers attempt to tend it.
The documentary follows farmers as they are accompanied by international activists and try to work the land. Included in this scene is footage of International Solidarity Movement
volunteer Vittorio Arrigoni
, who dedicated much of his life to working in Gaza and was murdered there in 2011.
Arrigoni stands up against the faraway Israeli soldiers who are shooting at the farmers and yells into a bullhorn, “Stop shooting. We are unarmed.” The shooting continues.
The second half of the film is mostly dedicated to the 2008-2009 Israeli offensive against Gaza. Qishta says, “They called [the offensive] Operation Cast Lead
, but we call it a massacre.” The 22-day attack left approximately 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
Qishta was one of the first journalists on the scene of the first shellings, filming the destruction against her family’s advice. The footage of the chaos and devastation under constant Israeli attack is shocking.
“My only weapon”
Qishta’s camera captures women and children as they run for their lives through smoke-filled streets. A young boy stops and looks at the mangled body of a man on the sidewalk. A mother hysterically cries as she looks for her son. White phosphorous
rains from the sky in unending streams.
Qishta describes how she saw fear in everyone’s eyes, but couldn’t leave or stop filming. “My camera is the only weapon I had against these attacks on the people of Gaza.”
Perhaps the most affecting character of the film is 10-year-old Mona Samouni. The girl was hiding in one house with nearly 100 members of her family during the bombardment, when it was hit by Israeli fire. Twenty-one members of her family
were killed in front of her, including her mother and father.
The film first shows Mona shortly after the attacks as she walks through rubble with a large bandage over one eye. Qishta asks her to wait, and she turns to look at the camera with somewhat poised indifference.
She is wearing a matching hat and scarf and a pink purse. Qishta asks her how many people were killed in her family. “My immediate family?” she answers. “Not many, just my mother, my father, both my sisters-in-law and my nephew.”
In several interviews, the young girl describes chilling accounts of the attack that killed her parents. She speaks with little emotion but makes statements far beyond her age. As she displays for the camera drawings of her family’s house being attacked, she says, “for the Israeli army, this is something without meaning. But the victims were very precious to us.”
Scenes like this foster a deep probing of the inhumanity of the military attacks and ongoing blockade of Gaza, where Palestinians live in an open-air prison and cannot flee from attacks. The film reveals how the blockade deliberately intends to create a miserable and unlivable existence for the Palestinians in Gaza.
In another example of this, Qishta accompanies a fishing expedition off the coast of Gaza, and while at sea the boat is repeatedly fired at and ordered to leave while the fishermen
attempt to work. The cords that tether the net in the water to the boat are shot and broken so that all of the fish are lost. Qishta asks, “Do they consciously intend to deprive [the fishermen] of the ability to make a living and feed their families?”
Fida Qishta’s years in Gaza and her connection to the land and the people make this film a great success. She visits and revisits Khozaa to see her friends after one is struck by white phosphorous weaponry, filming a touching interview with the victim.
She follows and befriends Mona Samouni and her surviving family, weaving together their stories. She elicits touching interviews from farmers and fisherman as they work in dire conditions.
Her brave documentation of injustice on Palestinian land and sea paints a moving picture of life in the Gaza Strip.
Fida Qishta’s “Where Should the Birds Fly”
NYC 6/21 (1 of 1)
Fida Qishta’s documentary about life in Gaza, “Where Should the Birds Fly,” screened at the Manhattan Film Festival on June 21st. Qishta took the film’s title from a poem written in 1983 by Mahmoud Darwish:
The Earth is closing on us, pushing us through the last passage, and we tear off our limbs to pass through….
Where should we go after the last frontiers? Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
The film begins in Qishta’s neighborhood in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza. The area is now only rubble. Beginning before dawn on January 21, 2004, without warning, Israeli bulldozers demolished 60 homes in six hours. Qishta, at the time a novice wedding videographer, filmed the destruction – her family and neighbors struggling to get to safety, boys throwing rocks at the D-9 bulldozers. Her mother fainted. After reviving her, Qishta’s father told the family to walk away without looking back, because if they looked back, their hearts would be filled with hate. Qishta didn’t have the heart to watch what she had filmed until years later, when the sight of her cousin waving a white flag in a useless appeal to stop the bulldozers allowed Qishta, for the first time, to cry.
Qishta explained in an interview that the family had to split up to find shelter, because no one could host eight people at once. It took three years of hard work by all of the family to afford a place where the family could reunite. Soon after the demolition, Qishta and her older sister Faten founded The Life-Maker’s Centre, a free facility where 300 children affected by war come to be in a safe place where they can play, learn, and receive counseling. (This reporter visited The Lifemaker’s Centre in 2009 and found it one of the happiest places in Gaza.)
The need for a safe place for children was made clear to Qishta by an incident that happened four years earlier, which still haunts her. She was walking home after a long day at college and decided to take the direct route to her house, even though Israeli soldiers were patrolling and some children were throwing stones. When she hesitated to cross the street, a boy asked if she were scared. She said no, in a shaky voice. The boy said, “Yes you are, but I will show you how to do it.” As he darted across the street, an Israeli sniper shot him in the head. Qishta carried him to a nearby paramedic, but the boy died.
In addition to managing and teaching at The Lifemaker’s Centre, Qishta carried on as a wedding videographer, happy to film people still able to dance and sing even while in a virtual prison under constant threat from air, land, and sea. In 2006 she was able to leave Gaza for a speaking tour in England and New York. Upon returning, she had to wait three weeks on the Egyptian side of the border for Israel to open the Rafah crossing. Nine people died during that time. She filmed the misery and wrote to friends in London, who forwarded it to theLondon Observer, which published her report.
When members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) were able to return to Gaza with the Free Gaza boats in 2008, Qishta worked with them as translator and videographer. She filmed Israeli soldiers shooting at farmers trying to work their land near the Israeli-imposed buffer zone, 1000 meters wide with 95% on the Gaza side of the border resulting in a 30% loss of Gaza’s arable land. Israel bulldozed everything within the buffer zone – homes, trees, fields. On board a fishing boat, where she confessed to being more afraid of the deep water than the IDF, she filmed, with a steady hand, Israeli gunboats shooting at them not more than two miles from the shore. One fisherman says, “Going fishing is like entering a battleground.” Another says, “No one in the world cares about us. No laws protect us.”
Then, on December 27, 2008, Israel began its war on Gaza with F16 and drone attacks. Qishta was the first journalist on the scene in Rafah. People were terrified and screaming, but Qishta couldn’t leave. She explains, “My camera is the only weapon I have against these attacks on the people of Gaza. Despite my own fear and anger, I felt safe behind the camera. I know if I’m shot, my camera will capture the bullet that kills me.” With his permission because he wanted the world to know, a 15-year-old allowed Qishta to film him being treated for horrendous white phosphorous burns. His father had been cut in two, his sister burned to death. Her camera captured a child stumbling along the street past corpses. At the New York screening, an audience member suggested that showing such images is in poor taste. Qishta replied that people ought to see and know what happens at the receiving end of a military assault; they need not live it.
In the Zaitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, Qishta was introduced to 10-year-old Mona Samouni. On January 4, 2009, Israeli soldiers ordered the extended Samouni family, more than 100 people, into one building, and then bombed it, killing half of them, including Mona’s parents. The survivors were trapped inside for three days with the dead, the dying, and the wounded. Mona told Qishta, without any emotion, who was killed or wounded by each of the four missiles. Each time Qishta visited Mona, she took her to the site of the missile attack and repeated what happened with more and more detail, numb and without tears. Mona said, “The soldiers killed them as though they are not people, but those they killed were precious to us. I ask the children of the world to take good care of their parents.” In 2011, a friend of Qishta’s visited Mona, who now wants to be a doctor. She loves birds because they have freedom. “In Gaza we are locked in a cage of sorrow.” Qishta asked Mona to sing a song. She chose one by the poet Lutfi Yassini. “Where Should the Birds Fly” closes with Mona singing:
I’m the Palestinian Child
I carried the grief early,
All the world forgot me,
They closed their eyes to my oppression
I’m steadfast. I’m steadfast.
Throughout the attack, Qishta kept a diary and sent it to a friend in England. The Observer and The Guardian published almost everything she wrote, photographed, and filmed. This led to The Guardian selecting Qishta for training in filmmaking. She was able to leave Gaza to travel to London in the Spring of 2009. After training, she came to New York, bringing with her all the footage she had shot in Gaza. She has spent the last two and a half years editing and fundraising to complete “Where Should the Birds Fly.” Living in New York, Qishta said, has changed her heart. In spite of her father’s warning when their home was demolished, Qishta described herself as a sad and angry person when she first arrived in the U.S. Living in a conflict zone, she explained, makes it difficult to keep your heart free of hate; everything keeps coming and you can barely breathe. Living here, among people who have been generous and encouraging, and learning about other people’s tragedies at first confused her and made her ask, “Why do we keep hurting each other?” Now she is guided by Martin Luther King’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
In addition to the Manhattan Film Festival, “Where Should the Birds Fly” was an official selection at the Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival, the 2013 winner of the Aloha Accolade Award, and will be screened in September at the Third World Indy Festival in San Francisco. She is hoping to take the film to the next level, including making it available on DVD. In the meantime, to arrange a screening in your area, contact Qishta at Fida.firstname.lastname@example.org
and see the website at whereshouldthebirdsfly.org