Lia Tarachansky is an Israeli filmmaker and journalist who is creative, compassionate and courageous.
She was in Saskatoon and Winnipeg this fall to screen her film “On the Side of Road” and to talk to audiences about coming to terms with what it means to be a Jewish settler on Palestinian land. I and several MCC colleagues were privileged to view her film, hear her speak, and engage her in conversation.
Lia was born in Kiev, Ukraine, moved to Israel as a child, and studied in Canada, before returning to Israel as a journalist. Back home she began to report on the Israeli occupation of Palestine for a variety of alternative media. She soon embarked upon her ambitious film project—telling the “other” story of 1948, namely, the story of the Nakba.
As a Jewish Israeli, Lia grew up celebrating Independence Day, the May anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. But along the way, she learned there was another story: the story of the Nakba or “catastrophe” for Palestinians. Some 750,000 Palestinians—two thirds of the Palestinian population—lost their homes as a result of forcible displacement by the Israeli military in the weeks and months after Israel’s declaration of Independence.
Realizing that most Israelis are discouraged from knowing this story, Lia set out to tell the truth about 1948. She scoured archival documents, photographs and newspaper reports, and sought veterans who fought for the Palmach (an elite Israeli fighting force) in 1948. Some of the veterans she interviewed admitted to committing atrocities against Palestinians in their efforts to ethnically cleanse the land of its indigenous population.
Lia expresses profound sadness for the violence and injustice committed against Palestinians, realities that have only become more brutal over the decades. At the same time, she feels compassion for the trauma of those Israeli veterans who participated in the atrocities, many of whom have carried their actions in secrecy and silence for decades.
Lia acknowledges that telling the truth about 1948 is a great taboo in Israel. In 2012 the Israeli government in fact criminalized groups that commemorate Nakba Day in May. Although the “Nakba Law” has not been fully implemented, it has cast a chill over Palestinians—and their Israeli allies—who regard the day in May as one of mourning, rather than one of celebration.
In her film, Lia also describes her own personal journey of coming to terms with the truth of Israel’s existence and, in particular, its continued theft of Palestinian land. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel gained control over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and began an ambitious settlement building project. Today hundreds of thousands of Israelis[i] live in Jewish-only settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Israeli settlements in Gaza were evacuated in 2005,) on land that most of the world, including Canada, considers occupied territory.
Lia grew up in Ariel, a large Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank, only a short distance from a number of Palestinian villages. But she admits to never noticing those villages, the people that inhabited them, or the call to prayer emanating from their mosques, until her exploration of her country’s history. She admits to being blind and deaf to the Palestinian reality. In fact, she had never met or spoken to a Palestinian until she did so in Canada, during university.
In her short life—she is in her early 30s—Lia has come a long way, geographically, politically and personally. She has become a truth teller, committed to telling the history of her country honestly and in such a way that will hopefully open the ears and eyes of her people to the reality of the Palestinian people. “We have to know our history if we are going to move forward into the future,” she says.[ii]
More than that, she says, the current travesties must end. Not only must the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and people end. But so must the brutalizing of Israeli youth who are required to enforce the occupation through mandatory military service. “We continue to force our young men and women to do horrible things,” she says. “The human cost in this mountain of tragedy is enormous and it must stop.”
Lia sees her writing and speaking and film-making as her act of hope and an expression of her vision for just and peaceful co-existence between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. “This is my truth and this is the way that I am going to continue hoping . . .”
Lia Tarachansky is a courageous voice for justice and peace in the midst of a seemingly intractable conflict. She is a prophet and a truth teller.
by Esther Epp-Tiessen, public engagement coordinator for the Ottawa Office.