Have you ever had to run for your life?
Twice I was asked this question in two different towns within two miles of each other in two different countries.
The first time was by an interview subject in Sderot, a normally quiet, sleepy town in the south of Israel.
I was asked again three years later by another interview subject in Gaza, a Palestinian city in an area of over two million people scrambling for space and survival.
In Sderot, I was told if a rocket was fired from Gaza, I had fifteen seconds to run into a shelter. In Gaza, I was told when bombs are fired from Israel I have to watch the skies, run and pray.
This is the sad reality of life in these neighboring towns where the battle line in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is drawn. I had journeyed to these two towns in search of a group of unlikely friends across the war zone.
It was a search that started in the unlikeliest of places, a hotel in Haiti. In 2010, I was in the courtyard of a Port Au Prince hotel taking an evening break from filming the devastating earthquake. Two men and a woman walked in, looked hopefully around the busy courtyard filled with CNN reporters and staff working hard on their stories.
They decided I was the most approachable person, sauntered over and pleaded that I allow them access to the Internet so they can send messages back home. Now, my laptop is my office and my mechanical twin. It’s always been that way since I was a journalist hopping through countries and continents. It is the same now that I’m a filmmaker.
I couldn’t say no to them. I find it hard to say no to people in need anyway. They belonged to an Israeli NGO and had come to help after the quake shattered Port Au Prince. They lived in a motel with no power like almost all of Haiti. I lived in a hotel whose luxury was that it had power for five hours every day. I gave them access to my laptop. They surfed and we talked.
They told me about Sderot and Gaza and a group of friends on both sides trying to build a bridge of friendship over the river of blood and destruction that threatens to sink their once quiet neighborhood where kids didn’t know there was a border and adults walked in and out of friends’ homes on both sides. One of the two men belongs to this inspiring group of brothers and sisters who have risen beyond hate, religion and nationality to embrace their fellow humans on the other side.
I traveled to Sderot and Gaza to find these friends. After hearing their stories, I was determined to bring their story to the world. This is the world of the documentary film, ASWAT ACHERIM. It’s a word each in Arabic and Hebrew which means Other Voices.
These are not your normal friendships. They live under the shadow of death. They have lost friends, families and properties. But, instead of hate, they have chosen love and are bridging the river of blood with friendship. It’s a template that may save the region.
They hardly ever meet because their governments forbid it. Organizing and communicating though phones and social media, the staged events and rallies in Sderot and Gaza, often at the risk of their lives.
Filmed over six years, ASWAT ACHERIM takes you to a neighborhood that has dominated global headlines and brings you a story about a group of people the world knows little or nothing about. They may be dreamers but they are certain their dreams represent the best hope for their neighborhood and region.
It has been a long, tough journey. My journalism experience of working on four continents helped in balancing two different crews on both sides of the border who have never met and unlikely to ever meet. Nothing was going to stop us, not even when I busted my knee from a fall during a missile attack in Sderot or when the effrontery of our sound recorder taking two minutes longer with his tea ultimately saved us from being at the site of a bomb blast in Gaza.
Welcome to a neighborhood where hope is on life support and meet the friends keeping the flame going, for them, their children, grandchildren and generation yet unborn.
ASWAT ACHERIM (Other Voices) Trailer