[documentary] Bereaved and abandoned

The German passports belonging to Ibrahim Kilani and four of his five children killed in an Israeli airstrike along with their mother (TEI)

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 29, 2021

Not Just Your Picture, by Anne Paq and Dror Dayan (2019)

At the center of Not Just Your Picture, an hour-long documentary by Anne Paq and Dror Dayan, is the obliteration of a Gaza family in an Israeli airstrike.

Anne Paq, a photographer and videographer, is a longtime contributor to The Electronic Intifada. Dayan, in addition to being a filmmaker, is a Palestine solidarity activist based in Berlin and the UK.

Some 150 families in Gaza lost three or more members in Israeli attacks in July and August 2014, resulting in some 750 deaths.

Among them were Ibrahim and Taghrid Kilani, their five young children and four of Taghrid’s siblings.

They perished together when Israel bombed the Gaza City tower in which they were staying, as Ibrahim thought the area would be safer than their home in northern Gaza’s Beit Lahiya.

Not Just Your Picture was produced in 2019 but is only now being screened in theaters after COVID-19 restrictions put events on hold last year.

Since then, Israel has wrought fresh horrors on Palestinians in Gaza.

Fourteen Palestinian families lost three or more members in Israeli attacks on their Gaza homes this May.

In their documentary, Paq and Dayan do not dwell on the spectacle of Israeli airstrikes. Theirs is a film about a family, not war.

Not Just Your Picture revolves around Ibrahim, shown in the first scene being toasted by his German father-in-law from his first marriage.

The father-in-law acknowledges the hardships Ibrahim went through to realize his dream as an engineer and to set up a life for himself in Germany.

Montages of family videos allow the viewer to see Ibrahim embracing his wife and playing with his young children in Germany. He is more than a victim; he is someone who led a singular, irreplaceable life.

Viewers learn that Ibrahim’s family in Gaza scrimped and saved to help him fulfill his ambitions, as his devoted, chain-smoking brother Saleh recalls.

After 20 years in Germany, Ibrahim returned to Gaza in 2002. His children Ramsis and Layla were 12 and 9 at the time, respectively.

In Gaza, he eventually remarried and had five children with his second wife, Taghrid.

Layla and Ramsis recall with emotion the terrible day they learned that their father, Taghrid and their children were killed.

The unthinkable loss would propel their lives in new directions.

Closed doors

Not Just Your Picture shows Ramsis traveling to meet an official from a human rights group as he seeks justice for his family. He is told that there is no movement on the case.

Angela Merkel’s government has not formally acknowledged what happened to his family, which is particularly painful for Ramsis. He reckons with the fact that pursuing justice through legal channels would take decades and “would basically be my life.”

Meanwhile, Layla, politicized in her grief, feels compelled to form her own analysis of the situation of injustice in her father’s homeland. She seeks to understand what would make someone “fire at a building without knowing who’s inside.”

She travels to the West Bank, where she is shocked by the blatant discrimination that Israel exercises against Palestinians there.

In one scene, a settler in Hebron’s Old City tries to shoo away Layla and her tour group as they visit the shuttered shops along Shuhada Street.

“This is my country!” the settler yells at the group before admonishing two Israeli soldiers standing nearby, waving his finger in their faces.

The filmmakers let viewers see the power structures at play in Palestine for themselves, rather than explaining the history or context through voiceover narration or interviews with experts. By doing so, they show rather than tell.

The siblings, meanwhile, have video calls with their uncle Saleh and their extended family in Gaza.

An interpreter translates from English to Arabic during these calls, which are cut short by the chronic electricity crisis in Gaza – a direct result of Israel’s severe blockade on the territory.

The blockade also prevents the family from being in the same room together. Despite the geographic proximity between Gaza, where Saleh lives, and Ramallah, where Layla is staying, the two cannot meet.

This more than anything seems to upset Saleh. Layla blames the situation on Israel, but she is corrected by her uncle, who says, “It’s not Israel’s fault; it’s the fault of the world.”

Indeed, it is the fault of Israel’s international friends like Germany, whose leaders pledge their unconditional support for the state no matter what it does to the Palestinians living under its occupation and apartheid rule.

Scandalous silence

It is because of the shameful, shocking and scandalous absence of accountability that in 2021, Israel can massacre yet more Palestinians in the sanctity of their homes.

The dramatic spectacle of Israeli violence might be the obvious focus for a film. But Paq and Dror choose instead to depict the more insidious and invisible violence of how Israeli policy fragments families.

Ramsis and Layla were never able to visit their father after he moved back to Gaza, last seeing him in person when they were 11 and 9, respectively. Ibrahim’s young children in Gaza had never met their older half-siblings in Germany.

Ibrahim obtained German citizenship for his children in Gaza to connect them to Ramsis and Layla. He bought a home in Beit Lahiya close to the sea because he wanted his children in Germany to visit.

But that family reunion never came. And neither has any condemnation from the German government after the massacre of six of its citizens in an Israeli airstrike.

The only thing Ramsis has received is a carefully worded letter of condolence from an employee at the German diplomatic mission in Ramallah, writing in a personal capacity, not on behalf of the government.

Not Just Your Picture shows Ramsis and Layla, marginalized by their government, building a relationship with their family in Gaza and deepening their connection to the Palestinian cause and their Palestinian identity.

Their father’s family in Gaza express pride after watching a video of Ramsis making a speech and advocating for justice during a conference in Europe.

They encourage him to remain active in support of the Palestinian cause.

As one of his relatives explains: “If you speak up, you die, and if you don’t speak up, you die. So speak up!”

It’s a message that all viewers should take away from this film so that no more families are erased from existence in Gaza.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada