After living in the Golan Heights for four years, first-time Irish directors Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth deliver a fascinating documentary on identity.
During the Six Day War in 1967, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. Pushing some 130,000 Syrians over the border, it separated families and friends forever. Before the invasion, there were 139 Arab villages in the region. Only five remain. Walsh and Beardsworth home in on one particular village, Majdal Shams, that is separated from the Syrian border by a patrolled minefield.
It’s here the filmmakers find a population of 22,000 Druze struggling to hold on to a sense of self. After Israel met with resistance when it tried to enforce Israel nationality on those who remained, those who refused are ‘undefined’, a term a patriotic grandfather can’t understand. He drums the importance of Syria and loyalty to its president, Bashar al Assad, into his grandchildren. A woman who hasn’t seen her family in ten years harangues the soldiers at the border for refusing to let her see her dying father. A bride is forced to give up her passport as she makes her way into Syria for good. Then there are the apolitical, music-loving teenagers, kids born after the occupation with little connection to the Syrian homeland or Israel, using music – particularly hip hop – to express their disillusionment.
While Apples of the Golan doesn’t personalise these stories, it remains a warm, human documentary with a spin-the-dial approach. Walsh and Beardsworth flit from one story to the next, offering up snatches of lives lived for only a brief moment before moving on to the next.
Apples of the Golan may look one-sided as the Jewish residents are reduced to cameos and by its use of imagery, e.g. the fish dying in a tank and on a shoreline. Walsh and Beardsworth would ask to look more closely. We’re led to believe that a former prisoner is describing torture at the hands of Israeli soldiers until he reveals his interrogation was in a Syrian prison. A man cuts open an apple, claiming that only on the Arab side do apples produce five seeds, a pip for each star on the Syrian flag, while the Israeli apples only produce four; later an Israeli harvester proves this to be a falsehood.
With apples the major export in the area for both Israelis and Arabs, the metaphor that these two communities may have more in common than they care to admit is pertinent.