Basketball as metaphor for the disengagement

In the new documentary 'Home Game,' Gush Katif's teenage athletes recall an unlikely basketball tournament staged in the final days before Israel's pullout from Gaza.

October 24, 2006 10:28
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gush katif bb team 88 29. (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)


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Elidad Schneid usually got nervous before major games of the Gush Katif inter-settlement basketball league. As a member of the Netzer Hazani team, the winner of most of the league's championship trophies, he should have been particularly nervous hours before the tournament final against Neve Dekalim. But he wasn't. He was too busy planning for another battle scheduled for the same day: the battle over his home. Schneid is one of the few basketball players interviewed in Home Game, a new documentary following the struggle of the Netzer Hazani community to hold on to its Gaza Strip homes in the days before the fateful August 2005 implementation of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. "During summer vacation in Netzer, we [usually] only talked about basketball and the tournament," he explains in the film, looking back more than half a year after the disengagement. "Last [summer] was a totally different story. Basketball was much less on our minds." At the time, however, the 19-year-old basketball player and his teammates decided to go on with the championship, seeing the tournament as one of their final anti-disengagement protests. The film begins with uniformed Gush Katif teenagers bopping down the court with crowds of kids cheering them on. While the scene may strike some as an oddly cheerful opening for a film on such a controversial subject, the championship is ultimately used as a metaphor to examine the feelings of the teenagers as they battle - physically and spiritually - to preserve the community where many of them grew up. Home Game seeks to show that just as the Netzer Hazani basketball team played on the court, so they "played" in the struggle over their settlement: with tenacity, hope and determination. "Everyone can understand sports - the desire to struggle, win and fight until the end, both on the player level and team level," explains Avi Abelow, the producer of the film. He and the director, Yaron Shane, thought that focusing on basketball would draw viewers of a variety of political and religious shades into the human story of the settlers' drive to overturn the disengagement plan. "Many people around the world and in Israel, in part because of their political or religious orientations, did now allow themselves to empathize with what these people went through and experienced," Abelow said. Abelow developed the idea for the film after taking a leave from his Tel Aviv consulting job to support the Gush Katif settlers. After infiltrating Netzer Hazani two weeks before the disengagement began, he used his digital camera to document what he hoped would not be the Gaza settlements' final days. Despite having no previous experience in the film industry, he assembled his footage to create a short film to help raise money for Gush Katif residents after their evacuation, offering donors a longer version as a bonus. This longer film eventually evolved into a full-fledged documentary. Shane, an experienced director and producer with his own editing and film services company, didn't think Abelow had enough footage for a full feature, so he and the first-time director collected footage taken by Netzer Hazani families themselves. The bulk of their filmmaking, he says, was actually done largely in post-production. The final product has been extracted from over 80 hours of film. Some of the included footage retains a home-made feel, but overall the filmmakers' editing gives Home Game a professional look. "I said to myself, 'This is footage that everyone must see to get [the settlers'] story, their perspective of what they went through," says Abelow. "If viewers are allowed to focus on the people and human story, they could come out of the experience feeling a closer connection to the people and to understand their tragedy, regardless of whether they supported the disengagement plan or not. The film is about creating a connection and empathy for fellow Jews who feel forgotten by their people, not about changing their political opinion." Home Game's insider footage includes teenagers painting the settlement in orange, the color associated with the anti-disengagement movement; a near violent encounter between young settlers and border police; the settlers' return of their weaponry to the IDF; emotional meetings in which settlers discuss painful decisions about how to prepare for their evacuation; the heart-wrenching day of the evacuation itself; and, of course, the final home game. One of the central figures in the film, 19-year-old Einat Yefet, filmed her final days at Netzer Hazani as part of a deal with Channel 10. Scenes from her cinematic journal feature prominently in the movie. "It was important for me to document our struggle - what we've done, all of our creation," she explains in the film. "We feel that no one understands what we are going through." When Yefet and her fellow residents were approached by Abelow and Shane to assist them with the film, she hesitated. But she ultimately decided to participate, she said, not only to influence others, but to begin a process of healing. She describes working on the film as a type of therapy. "After the expulsion we tried to escape," she said. "Not only did you lose your home, but you feel scattered and confused. We had no direction, support or help. For youth who didn't know anything aside from Gush Katif, coping with it was very difficult. We went through a process of repression." Working on the film wasn't easy, she says, with the project forcing her to confront difficult memories she had tried to block. But she persisted. "The first weeks of working on the film were terrible for me, and I cried all the time," she said. "It was like a very difficult surgery, but if I didn't perform it, it would have been very hard to continue." Next month she'll embark on a trip to American Jewish communities to screen the film and raise funds for the Gush Katif community, many of whose members remain unemployed more than a year after the disengagement. Shane, the film's director, says he feels confident that Home Game's youthful subjects are satisfied with the way their story is told. "The fact that they see the film as something that is their own is a compliment," he said. Home Game has screened in more than 50 communities across Israel over the last few months, as well as in several cities abroad. The audiences are usually sympathetic to the Gaza settlers, but Gush Katif documentaries can be a tough sell - particularly to disengagement supporters and those not generally interested Israeli politics. The film was shown to the mainstream Israeli press at a Tel Aviv screening last week. Abelow is working on getting the film shown at the country's cinematheques and film festivals, and says his ultimate goal is to get it shown on a major Israeli television network. Home Game will next screen for high school and youth groups in Israel on November 5, a date chosen for its proximity to the anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. The hope, filmmakers says, is that the film will create tolerance between different sectors of Israel's population.

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