Some drama off-camera in Mideast conflict film

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 23, 2014 at 6:03 am •  Published: April 23, 2014
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AL-EIN REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank (AP) — An American director's short film about an Israeli army raid in a Palestinian refugee camp ends with a surprise — literally involving a rabbit, though not one pulled from a hat. The story told in "The Warren" is meant to question the ways Israelis and Palestinians see each other as a result of their long-running conflict.

The diverse cast and crew — Arabs and Jews, locals and foreigners — struggled with those issues off camera as well during several days of filming in the al-Ein camp, a former militant stronghold near the West Bank city of Nablus.

In identity-bending twists, those playing Israeli soldiers included a conscientious objector who quit the Israeli military to protest its practices in the West Bank; a former conscript whose unit patrolled the camp a decade ago; and six members of the Palestinian security forces who put on Israeli army uniforms as extras in the film, and were also asked to protect the two Israelis.

The two ex-soldiers said they revealed their identities only to a few camp residents to stay safe — although their cover story of being foreigners was hard to maintain once they started bellowing orders in accent-free Hebrew while in character.

Producers, meanwhile, had to bring in props from Israel that might have raised suspicion had they been stopped at Israeli checkpoints, including rented Israeli military uniforms and M16 rifles that had been rendered unusable.

"The drama of the production exceeded (that of) the film," said Guy Elhanan, 35, the Israeli actor who plays an Israeli captain leading his unit into a house in search of a wanted Palestinian.

The 10-minute film follows the soldiers as they raid and ransack the house and at times hold the residents at gunpoint. The tension escalates when the soldiers fire a stun grenade into a crawl space after hearing a noise and then ask the family patriarch to go into the suspected hideout.

Eventually, the elderly man emerges with his back to the soldiers, then slowly turns around, holds up a rabbit and hands it to the soldiers.

"We stop the film the moment the surprise comes out," said director James Adolphus, 36, an American documentary maker. "It's about creating dialogue after the curtain comes up."

He and others involved in the film spoke after leaving the camp.

Israel continues to carry out arrest raids in West Bank towns and camps — areas that are nominally under Palestinian self-rule. Although Israel retains the right to arrest suspects, the raids are a key source of Palestinian resentment. The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as part of an independent state.

Durgham Sahli, a community leader in the al-Ein camp, said he welcomed the crew at the request of Palestinian security officials. Though initially unaware of the presence of the ex-soldiers, he said he had no objections "as long as the movie portrays our reality."

Adolphus said the film focuses in part on changes in the soldiers' perceptions. The title's "warren," or labyrinth of rabbit tunnels, stands for the seemingly intractable conflict that generates fear on both sides, he said.

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