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concordia 13/04/2017 - 10:00AM

“We woke up and found ourselves closer to death, more than ever.”

Mohamed Jabaly wasn’t expecting the summer of 2014 to turn out the way it did when he started filming. No one did.

Jabaly’s 2016 first feature film Ambulance is a dark and sobering first-person look at the 2014 Israeli bombings of the Gaza Strip in Palestine, which is of course one more grisly chapter in what is today known as the Israel-Gaza conflict. That summer, 23-year-old Jabaly began shadowing a Palestinian ambulance crew, camera in hand, as they went about their unfathomable work day attending to the injured. The overworked, dedicated crew race from one war zone to the next, treating innocent citizens whose lives are at risk 24/7.

What appears to be a veritable nightmare on the screen is sadly a sombre reality for countless Palestinians at the time, and for many, to this day.

“We woke up and found ourselves closer to death, more than ever,” says Jabaly, as he recounts the beginning of the bombings. The bombardment was part of an ongoing larger socio-political conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, which features Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands. As Jabaly informs, the bombings lasted 51 days, and destroyed 18000 homes. 500000 people were forced to leave their homes and left to secure their own safety and shelter in a context where such things are in short supply. 

The film zooms through Gaza, rushing from one endangered and violated life to the next, bearing witness to those whose beloved homeland is being ravaged through a lens of terror.

Jabaly speaks of the ambulance as a place of security. “The silence he exuded baffled me,” he says of the ambulance crew chief, Abu Marzouq. Indeed, Marzouq and the ambulance team bring an interesting sense of calm within the chaos.  

Ambulance offers a necessary look into the reality of Palestine in 2014 from the perspective of people who are helping as much as they possibly can. No matter how fast Marzouq drives, he can’t keep up with the bombing campaign’s devastation.

“They gave us a one-minute warning,” says one citizen with desperation in his eyes, standing in the rubble of what used to be his home.

The film raises complicated questions as to the role of video journalists, and the always-scrutinized implications of wielding video cameras in instances of horror and terror. Jabaly’s questions to the crew are often left unanswered: Marzouq and other members of the team often look uneasy with the lens pointed directly at them. Some scenes give the impression the camera is an intrusive but necessary element of this history, while other moments shed light on the crucial importance and acceptance of the camera in times of conflict.

Cinema Politica Concordia screened the Montreal premiere of Ambulance on Monday, March 13. While unfortunately Jabaly couldn’t be present in-person because of unjust immigration policy here in Canada where the young filmmaker was denied a visitor’s visa, we were honoured to have him participate is a post-film discussion over Skype.

“Every moment has a story,” said Jabaly during the discussion.  The filmmaker explained he wanted to make this film human, with a focus on the real people directly affected by political tension. “I didn’t focus on the violence because we are tired of seeing blood.”

Thanks to Jabaly’s dedication and creativity, we see much more than blood in Ambulance – we see the perseverance of life and the resilience of a people struggling under violent occupation.

(Danielle Gasher) 


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