Between Fences: Dramatising the refugee tragedy
by Fran Royo
- Avi Mograbi’s documentary accompanies a small theatre company in the Holot refugee camp in southern Israel
In Between Fences [+see also:
film profile] by Avi Mograbi, which screened at the recent Brussels Mediterranean Film Festival, events involving African asylum seekers at the gates of Israel are reinterpreted in purest Theatre of the Absurd style. Thousands of refugees wander along the Egyptian-Israeli border, as if they were characters in Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, unable to gain a stable foothold anywhere, and hoping in vain for a political decision that will enable them to get out of the Negev desert.
The documentary begins with Mograbi using the techniques of the “Theatre of the Oppressed” with a group of African asylum seekers in the Holot refugee camp in the south of Israel. This theatrical “game” brings various people together and has them reinterpret a situation that they are already familiar with – in this case, how they tried to cross the border to reach Israel and how they were subsequently refused access. A mixture of improvisation and specific, planned scenes, this technique helps the actors to come to terms with and get over certain, sometimes painful, situations.
Holot is the Israeli government’s answer to the constant influx of African refugees in search of a place to thrive in the country – somewhere they could feel safe. There, the Israeli authorities created a state of legal limbo where they could detain thousands of people for months on end, claiming that they posed a threat to national security, and also forbidding them from any attempt to turn around and go back to where they came from. And there, caught in the middle, are people. People in danger, deprived of any political protection and robbed of their basic rights.
Avi Mograbi picks apart the absurd crossroads that is Holot, interspersing his theatre sessions with snippets of demonstrations where the refugees come face to face with the Israeli restraining forces, alongside the confessions of several asylum seekers as they discuss the long, horrendous journeys that they embarked upon to reach the camp, and brief explanations of the international political process that governs Israel’s border issues. And it all unfolds with a tone of unbelievable calmness, bringing to light the patience and the human worth of these people stuck in Holot.
Despite the fact that the Supreme Court of Israel ruled the camp unlawful and declared that the so-called “infiltrators” should be relocated, the Israeli government contrived to protect the camp’s existence; it then began holding asylum seekers for longer, leading to an absurd, ever-increasing logjam of people who are forced to struggle through existential uncertainty, as they know that whichever option they choose will be illegal.
This heartrending documentary comes to a close with the hopeless resignation of the refugees in the camp as they accept that the only place likely to keep them alive is this humiliating and degrading camp. The film depicts Israel, which in its day used to be a veritable land of refugees, and which now assumes the role of the oppressor, denying asylum to thousands of people in peril. Avi Mograbi, whose grandmother was forced to flee Nazi repression, directed this doc produced by Les Films d'Ici and Avi Mograbi Productions, which is sold abroad by Doc & Film International and will be distributed in France from January onwards by Météore Films.
(Translated from Spanish)