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Stateless

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The return to the homeland can be a tricky thing when you are Palestinian

A screenshot of Stateless (Photo Public Domain)

A screenshot of Stateless
(Photo Public Domain)

The documentary follows a young Palestinian called Majd Khalifeh and his visit to his homeland, occupied Palestine or Israel. Khalifeh  was born in Dubai, but is currently a resident of Belgium. After 1967, Palestinians who left their homeland as refugees were banned from returning by the Israeli government. However, due to his Belgium residency and with the help of an NGO, Khalifeh was able to obtain a tourist visa to get him into Israel. He is accompanied in his journey by his Belgium friends Peter and Xander.

Despite the visa, he was detained by Tel Aviv airport security for interrogation, where he spent several hours, before being allowed into the country. First, he goes to Jaffa to find the cinema where he believes his grandparents met. There, he meets an Israeli who boasts of how Israeli Jews’ strength lies in “having been able to maintain the quality of their DNA.” After going around in circles and finding about five cinemas in the area, Khalifeh  calls his aunt in Syria to ask her which cinema he was searching for, only to find it was in a different city – Acre.

He then visits Jerusalem, where he is determined to pray for peace in the houses of worship of all three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Even though he was raised as a Muslim, Khalifeh does not adhere to the ways of the religion.  Khalifeh first visits Al Aqsa mosque where he goes to pray, coinciding with prayers for Eid Al-Adha.  His friends Peter and Xander are not allowed entry because they are not Muslims.

Next, he goes to the Western Wall, where he tries to get someone to help him pray. It takes a bit of time to find someone willing to teach him how to pray in Hebrew. During his quest, he gets into many discussions about Arabs and Jews. Finally, he finds a young man willing to teach him and he prays in Hebrew for peace.

Before crossing into the West Bank to visit a cousin, the three visit the tomb of Rachel, which is next to the dividing wall built by the Israeli government. Due to the wall, they have to travel a long way before they can access the West Bank even though it is so close they can see the houses on the other side. In the West Bank, they visit a friend of Peter’s called Claire who owns a gift shop. She complains about losing business ever since the wall was erected. There, they pray in the Church of Nativity during the Catholic service, but are banned from the Orthodox mass.

After visiting Khalifeh’s cousin, from whom they get copies of the deeds of his grandparents’ home and the exact address of the cinema, they cross back into Israel. They find the cinema, which has been wrecked and burned, but the building is still standing. Then, they visit Haifa and are able to find his grandparents’ home. His grandfather lives in Syria as a refugee and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.  The film ends with Khalifeh calling his grandfather and trying to tell him that he is sitting in his house in Haifa.

Stateless is worth a watch. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is Khalifeh’s optimistic and sunny character, which gives the film a jovial mood. However, the film also uncovers some instilled values in both Arabs and Israelis that can possibly wreck any chance for peace.


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