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Father To’mie, an Orthodox priest, lights candles on an altar. During religious services, he asks the congregation to pray for the people facing injustice and persecution in prisons. With the sounds of tanks in the streets, the people say their faith keeps them going (photo courtesy of Chicago Palestine Film Festival).
Review - Salt of the Earth
June 28, 2004
by Sonia Nettnin

SALT OF THE EARTH is an exploration into the lives of Palestinian Christians. Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders directed the production. It had its final showing on Sunday at the third annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival.

The documentary examines the lives of several Palestinian Christians from Burqin, Jalame, Jenin, Nablus, Tubas, and Zababdeh. The towns are located in the northern West Bank. The film shows their experiences with the military occupation through the life accounts of nine people.

As a minority population, the people feel that their faith gives them strength. For example, less than 100 Christians live in Burqin, which has a population of 16,000. The town of Jenin has a population of 45,000; and 50-55 families are Christian in this community. The size of the congregations means the people live in close knit communities.

The film focuses on the lives of individual people. Sawsan, a mother of two boys and the secretary for a grammar school, makes many sacrifices for the education of Palestinian youth.

Most of the time, Israeli soldiers detain the school bus at the checkpoint. They create closures of the checkpoint with tanks. It not only scares the children, but it keeps them from their education. If they make it to school, problems arise on the return trip: sometimes the soldiers forbid the children from returning home. These threats terrify the children into tears. As a result, Sawsan rides the school bus. If problems arise, she calms the children.

“This is what creates a reaction,” says the bus driver to the soldier. “Do we deserve this punishment?” Most of the time, the soldiers ignore them for hours. The soldiers will not speak to them, so it exhausts everyone on the bus.

“Back the bus up and turn it off,” the soldier says. Then, silence.

Frightened and restless, the detention causes commotion on the bus. The documentary illustrates their daily, living situation is not conducive for a learning environment.

“Children have a right to live,” Sawsan says. She emphasizes the importance of education, because it brings awareness and opportunities.

When she arrives home, the sun has almost set. Late dinners are normal and the extended schedule is tiresome.

Through the peoples’ lives, the film illustrates their daily challenges. Travel to work, school and community activities creates stress and anxiety. Every two weeks, Sylvia, a pharmacy student, travels from Tubas to Nablus for school. She does not always make it. Under normal living conditions, the trip is fifteen minutes. With checkpoints, her journey turns into several hours. People represent different themes in the film, such as freedom and movement. Religious themes are prominent and focus on religious events in Christianity (for example, advent).

A family from Zababdeh play oud, violin and drum together. They say it creates distance from the occupation. Zababdeh is a Christian community predominantly. One woman talks about her life in Haifa and how they fled in 1948.

“Our whole life has been wandering, war, fear,” she says. She loses herself in the Arabic musical scale, called the maqam. “You forget your exhaustion, anger,” she adds. Faith and music mean survival.

In Jalame, the construction of the wall hurts the people economically. Before the wall, Israeli-Jews shopped at their businesses. Now, the Israeli-Jews are not allowed to cross the checkpoint. A man points to a field of dirt. It used to have Arab shops and businesses. Soldiers demolished the buildings. Where a man sells vegetables, a piece of cloth hangs over the crates. Soldiers told him they would destroy it. The film pervades with similar life accounts.

The construction of the wall means land confiscation. The Jalame community is 70 per cent farmers.

“Where the wall goes, it takes, like a river,” one man says. In these difficult times, people worry about bread and milk for their children. Work is scarce and corn plots are not enough.

This film travels through the lives of a community often ignored in the conflict. It shows that no matter the faith, Palestinians face the same problems and tragedies.

The Sanders’ said their project is “a labor of love.” Their film gives exposure to the overlooked, Christian community. Their lives are a vital part of the Palestinian Diaspora.

Although the Israeli-Palestine conflict places religion at the forefront, people – no matter their religious denomination – have many shared values. People pray for peace. Regardless of their religious differences, people are the salt of the earth.

Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.