The Inner Tour (2001)


(director: Ra’anan Alexandrowicz; cinematographer: Sharon De Mayo; editor: Ron Goldman; music: Muhssein Abep Al Hamio/Ehud Banai/Noam Halevi/Semann/George Yosef; cast: Dorian Cohan, Yusef Abu Leil, Abu Mohammed, Abu Dahab; Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Raed Andoni/Liran Atzmor; Belfilms; 2001-Israel-in Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles)

“Serves as an historical document of how the occupation affects the ordinary Palestinian.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Inner Tour is an affecting documentary about a diverse group of Palestinians living in the West Bank who through a quirk in the law are allowed to be tourists and visit their homeland for the first time since the occupation. They take a three-day bus tour in 2000 across the “Green Line” and go inside the heart of Israel. The film aims to show an Israeli audience how Palestinians look upon their occupation. It was filmed just months before the historical Arab-Israeli intifada picked up steam in the form of suicide bombers and the IDF closed off the Occupied Territories with their tanks. The violence has been ongoing ever since, which makes the film’s hopes for increased communication an even more urgent need. The young Israeli director, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz (“Martin“, 1999 documentary on Dachau), has made an objective film, one that humanizes the Palestinians by showing their pain. It couldn’t have been accomplished without the cooperation of the Arab producer Raed Andoni, who believed in the film’s peaceful aims and brought the Palestinians aboard for the tour.

The documentary is separated into seven chapters, which are titled after a piece of dialogue in that section. The film goes out of its way to be unobtrusive, which is both good and bad. It allows the group to be natural, but it doesn’t really build any tension or get more out their reactions than the obvious.

The Palestinians in the group of about 12 are an old man, a few couples, young widows, children, and a single young man. Whether rich or poor, they all suffer from the conflict and in bursts of strong emotions show signs of homesickness, separation, and loss. They visit the Galilee Sea, where most see a beach for the first time. They also admire the countryside orchards and remark how well the Israelis take care of the land. One of the men uses a map of Palestine to refresh his memory of where the Arab villages were in 1948 that have been replaced by Jewish settlements. They visit a kibbutz, Hanita, on the site of a former Arab village which was founded in 1938 near the Lebanese border and look on with interest as an original settler guide in the kibbutz’s museum shows photos and tells of how the Arabs at that time brutally attacked and killed the heroic Jewish pioneers. It is interesting to note how the Palestinians have a different view of those events than the settlers. In a touching scene, a young man weeps as he meets his Lebanese mother after not seeing her for 8 years. The meeting transpires on the border across a fence and barbed wire separating them, as he explains that since he’s a Palestinian he can’t leave to see her. She tosses him a packet of family photos. Later on in Tel Aviv he mentions that he is confused at how he would act meeting Jews on the street, since their soldiers killed his father in Lebanon. There’s an interesting talk between an embittered widow living in the refugee camps with a number of children and a young woman whose husband killed an Israeli soldier to act out his militant aims and for that received a life sentence. She suffers, but refuses to show it openly. The widow’s husband was killed by soldiers entering the camp during a disturbance. They talk about how they would react if the widow met her husband’s killer and the suffering wife met the mother of the murdered Israeli soldier.

On the third day the group arrives in Tel Aviv and are in awe of the big buildings and modern conveniences and wealth of this city as compared to their poverty back home. Abu Dahab was a prisoner during the last intifada and takes a taxi to visit the site where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. He met Prime Minister Rabin while a prisoner and appreciates that he took time to speak to him and answer his concerns in a respectful manner, and thinks dialogue can bring about peace. Most of the others in the group took in the bustling Tel Aviv nightlife by visiting nightclubs or amusement parks. On the way home past the Ben-Gurion Airport an old man dressed in Arab garb, Abu Mohammed, stops off in a field of dandelions where his father is buried after being killed in the 1948 war. His mother and son and daughter were also killed on this spot, where his house used to be. In this emotional climate, he gives his grand-daughter a dandelion to chew on and tells her to watch the thorns (The visit brings back pleasant memories, but he’s also pained by his loss). There’s the feeling he has that it is patience and the will of God that will eventually restore what is his, as he holds out hope to regain his homeland by having faith. It must be a revelation for the Israelis to see that even the Palestinians who are not militants have this deep desire to return to what they call their homeland.

“The Inner Tour” clearly shows how differently both sides view the same thing, as one side calls the land Israel while the other calls it Palestine. These are both the children of the patriarch Abraham, but with so much hatred to overcome on both sides it is very difficult to be optimistic about the future in that region. Since it is no longer possible to communicate so openly since that tourist loophole has closed, “The Inner Tour” serves as an historical document of how the occupation affects the ordinary Palestinian.