"Ford Transit" shows us how the charismatic driver of a makeshift West Bank bus negotiates the treacherous border, and gives an ear to the Palestinian passengers' points of view along the way.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Many dramatic films don't have a character as good as Rajai Khatib, who drives one of "The Fords" that take Palestinians from checkpoint to checkpoint as they cross from the West Bank to Israel and back again.
The Fords, as everyone seems to familiarly call them, are leftover, U.S.-supplied police vehicles that Israel passed on to Palestinians when they were too old to be reliable anymore. The stark white hulks swarm over the territories picking up professional men in suits, waiters in bowties, religious leaders in full garb, old matrons in headscarves, singing kids wearing face paint in the red, green, black and white of the Palestinian flag.
|Directed by: Hany Abu-Assad.|
Featuring: Rajai Khatib, Hanan Ashrawi, B.Z. Goldberg.
In Arabic, some English and Hebrew with English subtitles.
|Walter Reade Theater
Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam
Sat., June 14, 2003, 9:15 p.m.
Mon., June 16, 2003, 9 p.m.|
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(They also permeate the film "Rana's Wedding," a drama by the same director, Hany Abu-Assad, which is also playing at this year's Human Rights Watch Film Festival. "Ford Transit" makes an excellent companion to that outstanding drama.)
The men, whose sense of machismo seems as pronounced as that of Israeli men, bicker reflexively and even come to blows, but shut right up when a pretty young girl in a T-shirt gets on for a few stops. Some passengers insist they're politically aloof, but many have strong opinions to share, which is partly the point of sitting in the Ford Transit with a camera.
The other point is to watch Khatib zip around the territories doing business, avoiding roadblocks, trading traffic reports with other drivers, dodging real bullets, and keeping his bucket of bolts on the move. If there's a backup on the highway, he spins his shuttle around, plunges off the road, and coaxes it over a sandy hill to a more promising route. "Palestinians are like ants," he says with pride. "They find a way around any roadblock."
The glib young driver has his own ideas about politics, people and the pointlessness of Israeli security checkpoints. "Yes, it's true," he says, mocking the Israeli position. "Since the roadblocks, you never hear of any suicide bombings."|
In fact, it looks like it would perfectly simple to cross the border on a bombing mission if you want to. We see large contraband packages smuggled across the border that aren't bombs but could just as well be, and have to wonder what good the inevitably porous border security is doing. From the Palestinians' point of view it is damaging any prospect for peace and hurting both sides without improving security at all.
Khatib bitterly jokes about Palestinians' nightly revels in the coastal discos and beaches a sarcastic comment since the hot spots he's referring to are securely in Israeli territory, walled off from the West Bank by these very roadblocks. It's worth noting that even if some kind of Palestinian homeland is established in the West Bank, its inhabitants will still be in a kind of negotiated cage from which they still might never be allowed visit the sea a short drive away.
Among the Ford's passengers (planted, most likely) are some especially interesting notables. One, an unnamed Muslim leader, makes what seems to be a winking apology for the suicide bombers, which are a subject of contentious debate among all the passengers. "Before condemning the violence, we must consider the causes," he says. Another man sees the bombings as a reflection of Palestinian leaders' own failure, the ultimate burden on an already burdened people.
Human-rights activist Hanan Ashrawi, who herself holds a position with the Palestinian Authority, discusses that burden. And filmmaker B.Z. Goldberg (whose documentary "Promises" was a highlight of the 2001 Human Rights Watch festival) is the one Israeli on the bus, and one of the most thoughtful speakers here about both the justifications and the shortcomings of the contemporary Israeli mind.
There's nothing fancy about "Ford Transit" without trying to underestimate the work that went into it, it feels like a case of just turning on the camera and letting people talk. The film offers no big revelations. But the chance to hear what ordinary West Bank Palestinians are saying among themselves is worthwhile, to begin with. Much of what we see on this trip is valuable for underlining the seeming futility of cutting off the Palestinian territories. And the bright, charismatic Rajai as the Han Solo of the West Bank, is worth the price of admission by himself.
|MAY 28, 2003|
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Reader comments on Ford Transit:
Budur from MUSTAFA CANSIZ, Jan 23, 2004
FT from Ahmet, Jan 26, 2007
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