by Yosi Leon
Filmmaker Yosi Leon, began shooting a film about his father Dan Leon (1925-2010) in 2001, when Dan was serving as co-managing editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal. Below are excerpts from the synopsis and script of the film. And here is a link to the 50 minute film, which you can view. http://en.leonfilms.co.il/portfolio/whos-left/
Each morning, Dan Leon, my 76-year-old father, leaves his house situated in the Nahla’ot neighborhood of West Jerusalem. He marches through the alleys of the Mahaneh Yehuda market and takes Bus No. 23 to East Jerusalem. According to his words, the passengers of the bus are composed of “Orthodox Jews who ride to Geula, Arabs who ride to Damascus Gate, and Dan Leon.”
After a 10-minute walk in the streets of East Jerusalem, he arrives at a modest office with no identification signs. In his office, he meets Leila Dabdoub and Ziad AbuZayyad, the latter a member of the Palestinian cabinet — his Palestinian associates in editing the Palestine-Israel Journal, a joint Israeli- Palestinian quarterly established in 1994 right after the Oslo agreement.
During the past seven years, my father did not miss a single day of work — even on days with terror acts and riots.
“Who’s Left?” The story of my father, Dan Leon, stretches over 100 years, and it represents the trajectory of events of the Israeli Zionist left and the obstinate, sometimes Sisyphean struggle of a group of fighters who continue to this very day to struggle for Jewish-Arab coexistence. The title of the film is inspired by the important anthology of essays that he edited, Who’s Left in Israel? Radical Political Alternatives for the Future of Israel (2004), with its double meaning.
Our story goes way back to my father’s grandfather, Daniel De Pijoto, the one after whom is named De Pijoto Street in southern Tel Aviv.
Grandpa De Pijoto had worked closely with Chaim Weizmann, later to become the first president of the State of Israel, before the establishment of the country. De Pijoto tried to convince Weizmann to use the Sephardim as a bridge between the European Jewish immigrants and the native Arab Palestinians, since he believed that the European Jews were incapable of grasping the complexities of the region’s mentalities and language. He later founded the Sephardic-Jewish Federation and acted as its first president.
"Let's change the world"
During World War II, my father served in the British navy, where he experienced anti-Semitism for the first time, “maybe due to my Jewish nose,” he used to say.
On the eve of their immigration to Israel, Dan and his brother Jack met a beggar in a Manchester street. “Let’s give him some pennies,” Jack offered. “Let’s change the world so there won’t be any beggars in it,” my father insisted.
After graduating from Manchester University, my father immigrated to Israel in 1951 and was one of the founders of Kibbutz Yas’ur — connected to the socialist-Zionist Hashomer Hatzair movement — where I was born. Kibbutz Yas’ur is in the Western Galilee, situated on the lands of the Arab village al-Birwah, whose inhabitants were expelled in 1948. Among them was the distinguished poet Mahmoud Darwish, one of the key characters in the film.
My father’s struggle for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence begins during the period of the military government over the Arab–Israeli citizens in the mid-1960s and the student revolutions in Europe, when my father left the kibbutz and became active in left-wing groups in Jerusalem. Later on, he became one of the founders of SIACH (New Israeli Left) and the pro-peace Moked Party and, today, in addition to his work at the Journal, he is still active in left-wing demonstrations and conferences.
Building bridges between Israel and the Arab World
By the end of the 1980s, he retired from his job at the Jewish Agency and became managing editor of New Outlook, a magazine founded in 1957 in the spirit of philosopher Martin Buber, which attempted to build bridges between Arabs and Jews in Israel and between Israel and the Arab World.
Dan also translated and edited the book Israel and the Arab World by Aharon Cohen, one of the fathers of Middle Eastern studies in Israel. Cohen had just finished serving a sentence for the false charge of “having delivered secrets to the Soviet Embassy in Tel Aviv.” My father refers to Cohen as his mentor who made him realize, for the first time, that the heart of the conflict lay in the Palestinian problem.
In 1994, after the Oslo Accords, he moved to his job at the Palestine- Israel Journal.
From West to East Jerusalem
In the film, we accompany Dan, together with his youngest son Amit, on his way to a typical day of work at the Journal. He waits for Bus 23, in the company of the Mahaneh Yehuda market’s visitors, shoulder-to-shoulder with the hard-working people.
Bus 23 drives through a most symbolic and controversial route: It leaves the market, crosses the Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim and, by the time it arrives at the Justice Ministry building in East Jerusalem, it is almost empty.
From the station, my father has to make a 10-minute walk through the streets of the eastern part of the city. He recommends that we should speak English “even though there is no danger.” On the way to his office, we need to pass the Bituach Leumi (National Insurance Institute) branch (that looks like a fortified camp), and go through a “humiliating” inspection, in my father’s own words, by the Israeli security officers.
This situation with the security officers deteriorates into a loud argument between Dan and his 23-year-old son Amit.
Amit visits his father’s workplace for the first time and feels uncomfortable in East Jerusalem.
When he arrives at the office, he meets his father’s colleagues at the Journal, Leila Dabdoub, Circulation Manager Najat Hirbawi and Co-Founding Editor Ziad AbuZayyad who explains in fluent Hebrew about the Journal and his long-standing and warm relations with Dan.
The PIJ, one of the last enclaves of daily coexistence, will open for us a number of burning issues regarding coexistence, in general and, specifically, a personal and human coexistence between Israeli and Palestinian colleagues.
Dan and his Palestinian colleagues have a strong belief in their joint venture despite the criticism they sometimes receive from extremist elements. There have been times when there was criticism of such joint activity in both communities and, sometimes even threats from elements on both sides.
Despite the despair, the disillusionment from the post-Oslo accords peace euphoria and the bad faith that led to the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, my father, accompanied by his Palestinian friends, continues to edit the Palestine-Israel Journal. He believes that the journal’s modest office is probably the last place where Israelis and Palestinians work together on a daily basis.
He summarizes the situation as: “The intifada has obliterated the basis for cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian organizations, and the Journal has been left as a narrow bridge between the two nations, mainly due to the close relationship among the editors.”
Loving cinema, galloping for peace
My father and I shared a profound love for cinema, particularly the political cinema with which I have been dealing in the last few years. Therefore, significant illustrations for the film are excerpted from various films, including from those I was involved in, like Between the Lines about journalist Amira Hass, who is a “fighting diva” in the eyes of my father and also a personal friend and colleague.
My father’s “gallop” for peace — horseback-riding was his beloved hobby — is typified in his attitude toward his surroundings, which are expressed in the film through meetings with his family and many friends in Israel, with Palestinians and others around the world…
Sometimes it seems to me that, unlike the level of Middle Eastern coexistence, where my father suffered bitter disappointments, he felt true delight in coexistence on the individual level.