If Yousef Natsha had his way, Israeli immigration officials would allow his partner back into the country, and Natsha would continue capturing video and photos of Palestinians living under the gun of the Israeli Defense Forces.
But for now, Natsha and his partner are in Asheville, in the town his partner was raised, taking advantage of a fiancee visa to promote his new documentary, “Hebron,” to the people he believes need to see it most. A free screening of “Hebron” and a post-film panel discussion are at 3pm March 11 at The Block off Biltmore.
“The main point from my perspective is to picture the suffering that my community is facing because of the occupation,” Natsha said.
Hebron is a city in Israel’s West Bank, about 20 miles south of Jerusalem, with a predominantly Palestinian population but governed and policed by Israel. Natsha grew up there, the youngest of eight. He said his parents strived to give their children a peaceful upbringing, but Natsha said anyone growing up there has stories of witnessing and experiencing intimidation and violence at the hands of the Israeli Defense Forces.
“When I was almost around 8 years old, I witnessed my neighbors house demolished right in front of my eyes,” Natsha recalled. “I was around the age 12, and that was the first time I had a gun pointed at me and a soldier telling me ‘Do you want to die today?’ I didn’t know realize why at that moment, but it’s about putting fear in myself, and putting that fear so I don’t come back to the Old City.”
Natsha was 19 when he began shooting video on his iPhone of incidents in around his neighborhood. He soon met up with people involved with a faith-based nonprofit called Christian Peacemaker Teams, which has a team in Hebron supporting nonviolent resistance to what it considers Israeli occupation. They provided Natsha with better equipment to continue his documentary work.
“When I did begin, for sure, the fear in myself was super high,” he said. “Being around Israeli soldiers and filming that, just being around journalists, I have been tear-gassed and pushed by Israeli soldiers and I have almost been arrested, and for sure I faced a bunch of risks.”
Christian Peacemaker Teams also urged Natsha to learn English, and Natsha said doing so was a turning point in his encounters with Israeli soldiers while gathering material.
“If I spoke Arabic, they might consider that as a threat. They would not waste their time to hear my excuses or to hear why I’m not going to delete that video or picture,” he said. “I think English makes them more, ‘Oh this is possibly an American or European.’ and make them think oh, they can possibly spread that (video) out.”
With the 35-minute “Hebron” documentary, Natsha doesn’t wade into the region’s politics or history, and his is an unabashed perspective of an oppressed Palestinian populace.
He collected video from a variety of encounters between Palestinian citizens and Israeli soldiers, including the immediate aftermath of a shooting in the middle of the street. We see a man’s body, face up, with blood pooling around his head.
In other scenes, we see children who appear to be no older than 10 and 12 taken away from their families under the suspicion of throwing rocks at soldiers. We also see Israeli settlers attacking Palestinians loath to defend themselves, for fear of what Israeli soldiers might do to them.
“We don’t have issues with Israelis being in the West Bank,” he said. “The main issue for us is an armed power to come to our land, to our houses, and to say it’s not yours anymore.”
Natsha said most of his peers in Hebron dream of coming to America, but not so for himself. He said he has experienced anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry while in Asheville.
“For myself, I need to get over it because I need to continue my life. I have a purpose of being to spread the message of my community and I’m trying to focus on that,” he said. “It’s important the voices of the international community create pressure on the Israeli government to change what’s going on.”
Toward that end, he is looking to place his documentary into American film festivals and awaken people here to what he considers human rights abuses happening every day in his homeland. Natsha wants to return to Hebron once Israeli immigration officials allow his partner to join him.
“The moment I am going back to Palestine, before I cross the border, I have to somehow tell my friends, my family, big possibility I am going to be arrested,” he said. “I can be there for years because of the work I’m doing right now.”