ABOUT THE FILM
The Making of the Film
Unexpected Story - Filmmaker Terje Carlsson’s original plan was to make film that would focus on students at the Al-Qurtuba-school, a Palestinian high school for girls. He wanted to show how the occupation affects everyday life in Palestine through the eyes of the girls. Originally, Carlsson picked four girls as subjects; Leila Sarsour was one of the four students he has chosen. However, Leila stood out from the other three girls. She was open, funny and brave. The fact that she speaks fluent English would enable Terje to communicate her story to outside world.
Dedication - Terje Carlsson was devoted to the project. He committed over 2 ½ years to shooting the documentary. Terje Carlsson was the entire crew. Occasionally Carlsson would bring an interpreter, but for the most part, the entire production was made by him only. He handled the filming, sound recording, interviews, planning and coordinating. Doing everything himself brought several benefits. It allowed him depend on his one on one interaction to build a strong one on one relationship. This enabled him to get closer to Leila, her friends, family. It also allowed him greater access when he dealt with Israeli soldiers, settlers and others that Leila crossed paths with. It also provided him with more mobility.
The People of Hebron - The Al-Qurtuba-school and the teachers were very welcoming. Often they would invite him for tea. The teachers would tell him about what was going on in Hebron. He never had any problems filming at the school.
A few Palestinian individuals in Hebron were hostile and suspicious towards Terje. A few times, he was threatened by teenage boys after someone spread out rumors that he was going out with the Cordoba-girls and taking advantage of them sexually. However, the vast majority of Palestinians in Hebron were grateful to have a foreigner in town working to show Palestinian life under the Israeli occupation.
Final Touches - After the 2 ½ years, Terje Carlsson wrapped up production and started the editing and post production process. He spent 6 months editing and finishing the film. Carlsson, a talented musician, also composed the music score.
The Result - Welcome to Hebron was screened for Leila and the students and teachers at the Al-Qurtuba-school. The documentary received a tremendous reception. The film won several awards at filmfestivals all over the world, including the prestigious Med Film Festival in Marseille, France. TV-broadcasters from more than 10 countries all over the world acquired broadcasting rights.
I met Leila Sarsour at the Cordoba girls’ school in Hebron while reporting for Swedish National Radio. From an early stage, Leila was very outspoken about the daily abuse from the settlers. She helped me get in touch with local Palestinian families who were suffering from the very same settlers.
After my radio piece from Hebron aired on Swedish Radio, I decided to start filming the daily lives of Leila and her friends. Quite a few supporters of the settlers questioned my reporting on the violent Hebron settlers. Those accusations gave me the incentive to get to focus on the Israeli fanatics in the city. Their smear campaign worked very well -- at least for me.
I realized that if my work is provoking supporters of religious fanatics in Sweden, then I am on the right path. I just have to keep on reporting on the Middle East. I will never ever let these people stop me from my work.
After working for almost a decade in Jerusalem and its surroundings I feel that the widespread idea of labeling people as “pro-Palestinian” or “pro-Israeli” is a serious misconception. The very idea of supporting anyone blowing up buses containing civilians in order to liberate their homeland is as wrong as the idea of supporting systematic land grabs or the daily human rights abuses that make a mockery of international law.
Is it pro-Palestinian to support terrorism? Is it pro-Israeli to support systematic land theft?
The Israeli occupation of Arab territories has been going on for almost 45 years. Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank live under military control, passing checkpoints and facing foreign soldiers on a daily basis. In Hebron, the religious Israeli settlers have turned the city into a dark and depressed place. Nowhere else is the hatred between Israelis and Palestinians more palpable than here.
Thousands of Israeli soldiers are needed to protect a couple of hundred Jewish fanatics. Many people put the blame on the fanatics, but this is a serious misunderstanding of what is taking place in Hebron. The settlements are all protected, sanctioned and supported by leading Israeli politicians.
For me, this film is about creating hope in a very dark and sad situation. I am convinced that the conflict will get worse and bloodier, but at the same time one must still believe in humanity, liberty and justice.
Leila Sarsour creates hope. She still believes in peace, and because of this she inspires me. Leila wants to live in peace with her neighbors, free from humiliating treatment at military checkpoints.
Another objective of mine with Welcome to Hebron is to humanize Palestinians. Too often we in the West are force fed stereotypes from the Middle East. We rarely get to hear about strong independent Moslem women with an independent mindset. Women from Palestine are often forced to play minor parts in politics despite the fact that they suffer equally from the on-going military oppression.
A former Israeli soldier in Hebron is interviewed in Welcome to Hebron. Yehuda Shaul from the organization Breaking the Silence speaks out about his army service in Hebron. He explains why ”settlers are worth more than Palestinians” and why ”the settler children in Hebron are taught hate and violence by their parents.”
I hope that people will watch this film and get a deeper understanding of what civilian life under military rule really means.
- Terje Carlsson, Gothenburg, Sweden