The Stones Cry Out Trailer from Yasmine Perni on Vimeo.
Palestine is the cradle of Christianity, but “the living aspect of Christianity in Palestine is disappearing,” warns Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi in Yasmine Perni’s recent film The Stones Cry Out (2013).
Perni, a native of Italy, has lived in the Arab world since childhood. A journalist, photographer and researcher, this is her first documentary.
The film’s synopsis:
In 1948, tens of thousands of Palestinian villagers were driven from their homes in what was officially dubbed “Operation Broom,” intended to literally sweep tens of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in the fertile hills and valleys of the Galilee, and make way for settlers in the newly created state of Israel.
Elias Chacour, now the Archbishop of Galilee, was just a little boy when Israeli troops ordered his family out of the Christian village of Kifr Bir’am. He left the vilage with a blanket on his shoulder, walking to his new home, a cave.
Today Kifr Bir’am is an Israeli national park, the houses of the village are crumbling, the church is abandoned.
After the Galilee came the expropriation of the West Bank in 1967, the settlements, the wall. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, is now hemmed in by the wall, cut off from Jerusalem, and robbed of much of its agricultural land.
All too often media coverage of the conflict in Palestine has framed it as a conflict between Muslims and Jews, largely ignoring the fact that Palestine was the birthplace of Christianity, that Palestinians are both Muslims and Christians, and that Palestinian Christians have played a critical role in their land’s history and the struggle to maintain its identity.
From 1948 up to today, through wars and uprisings, leading Palestinian Christians, including the late president of Bir Zeit University, Gabi Baramki, Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi, civil society activist Ghassan Andoni, Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah and others recount the unwavering and sometimes desperate struggle of all Palestinians to resist Israel’s occupation and stay on their land.
The stones are still alive
And here are the paths still distinct despite the years
winding between the abandoned houses
as if to plead/to say
"Come, return to us
march, dance on us"
Chacour’s native village Kifr Bir’am – also spelled Kufr Birim – has recently been in the news as Palestinian youths, descended from its original inhabitants, have been reestablishing communities there and in other historically Christian villages such as Iqrit, as part of the “Summer of Return” movement.
As Nadim Nashef wrote last month, the stones placed by Palestine’s Christians are coming back to life:
Now living in two small rooms built as extensions of the still-standing church, Iqrit’s youth activists today sleep in the village in shifts in order to maintain a permanent presence there. This summer a small football stadium was also built, a potent symbol of the will and permanence of their return.
Iqrit’s community has been organizing summer camps for its younger members annually since 1996; this year approximately 200 youth between the ages of 8 and 16 attended. The aim of the camp was to help the youth develop their identity by teaching them about their own history, and connecting this to the wider Palestinian history before 1948.
In addition to the summer camp and the newly permanent presence, villagers hold religious celebrations during Easter and Christmas in the local church. The village’s cemetery is also still in use.
The youth-led, grassroots approach of Iqrit is very much indicative of the movement as a whole. Youth took the lead in 2013’s “Summer of Return,” ensuring that demands for the right of return find a renewed voice among the latest generation of the dispossessed.
One village which has adopted Iqrit’s strategy of youth-based return is Kufr Birim. Located close to the boundary between Israel and Lebanon — not far from Iqrit — for the past few years Kufr Birim has played host to summer camps for children.
This summer, people with family connections to Kufr Birim have also decided to maintain a permanent presence in the village, centered around the old community’s surviving church. However, their initiative has not been without obstacles.