Encounter Point – Turning Pain Into Peace

In remembering Gandhi (below) Katia Santibanez writes:

“I was walking by Union Square in NYC today and noticed that Gandhi’s statue had a new necklace made of fresh flowers, I know why now.
Gandhi is dead but his spirit and his message is still alive. I just saw the movie ENCOUNTER POINT (which I recommend highly) where non violence and non retaliation are the messages of Israelis and Palestinians families, which connect to Gandhi ‘s mind.”

Encounter Point is indeed a great film that people should rent and see. Back in November 2006 I wrote the following review of the film for Tikkun magazine.

Encounter Point: Turning Pain Into Peace
By Roi Ben-Yehuda

One of the harsh lessons of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that suffering does not necessarily ennoble the spirit. Palestinians endure the hardship of occupation, Israelis suffer the scourge of terrorism, both sides respond in kind. The cycle of violence continues. Yet a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians have decided to channel their anger, frustration, and sadness in more constructive ways. These individuals, many of whom have suffered profound personal losses, are the subject of an extraordinary new documentary entitled Encounter Point.

Directed by Ronit Avni and Julia Bacha (director and co-writer of the award-winning doc Control Room), Encounter Point traces the trajectory of eight Palestinians and Israelis who strive for reconciliation and coexistence in their societies. While differing in their views on the causes and solution to the conflict, all the subjects in the film are united by a determination to end the violence and the suffering that it engenders.

Encounter Point introduces us to Robi Damelin, an Israeli mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper in 2002. The film follows Robi as she struggles with the Herculean task of grieving over her son, and fighting the very system that put him in harm’s way. “Sometimes I’m very angry with myself that I didn’t protect my child”, Robi says, ” So what do you do with this pain? Do you take it and look for revenge and keep the whole cycle of violence going, or do you choose another path to prevent further death and further pain to other parents.”

Another key figure in Encounter Point is Ali Abu Awwad, a young Palestinian whose brother was shot dead by an Israeli solider at a checkpoint in 2001. Ali, who himself has been shot and imprisoned, is seen in the film traveling across the West Bank advocating a Gandhi-like solution to the conflict. “I could be considered a hero by my people given what I’ve been through”, Ali tells us, “I could be spreading hate and that would be justified. But this is no longer a personal issue for me, it’s a collective one. ”

Robi and Ali are joined in the film by other courageous voices for peace and reconciliation. These include Shlomo Zagman, a former Israeli settler who labors to live his life outside the physical, political, and psychological parameters of his former home; and Sami Al Jundi, a former militant Palestinian whose exposure to the writings of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela during ten years of incarceration led him to tirelessly work for peace-building projects.

Encounter Point invites us to enter the lives of these activists for a period of 16 months. We get a glimpse, intimate yet never voyeuristic, of the personal challenges that each faces: From consistently having their efforts criticized, to the price of being socially ostracized. “People are not free to say what they think”, Ali laments, “any meeting with Israelis calling for non-violence is immediately labeled as “normalization.” This refers to someone who sells his principles, who gives in to his enemies and killers.”

Perhaps the most emotional scene in the film is when Robi learns that her son’s killer has been captured. Visibly shaken by the news, she nevertheless decides to write a letter to his family. In the letter, Robi states “After your son was captured I spent many sleepless night thinking about what to do. Should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing, and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation? This is not easy for anyone, and I’m just an ordinary person and not a saint.” We later learn that the killer’s family welcomed Robi’s letter, and that they are trying to find a way to meet.

While the film explores the multitude of ways in which its subjects strive for peace and reconciliation, its main focus is on the Bereaved Families Forum – an organization of 500 families, 250 Israeli and 250 Palestinian, who come together on a monthly basis to share stories and discuss a way out of the violent impasse that paralyzes their societies.

There is something unmistakably powerful about individuals who by any account have every right to be angry, hateful, and seek revenge, yet decide to turn their potent emotions into a power for peace. As one of the bereaved parents in the film put it, “If we who lost what is most precious can talk to each other, and look forward to a better future, then everyone else must do so, too.”

In the end, Encounter Point serves as an answer to anyone who ever uttered the words “We don’t have anyone to talk to”, or, “Peace is not in their culture.” Far from being a feel good movie, Encounter Point still manages to disarm, humble, and inspire its viewers. This film is a must-see for anyone who cares about the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

For more information about the film, click here.

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