An untold story

Filmmaker Yael Kalinsky’s latest documentary recalls the horrors of the 1974 Ma’alot school massacre.

Documentary filmmaker Yael Kalinsky (photo credit: Courtesy)
Documentary filmmaker Yael Kalinsky
(photo credit: Courtesy)
They say that media and arts professionals should never get too close to their subjects, that emotionally identifying with them could cloud their judgment. In that respect, Yael Kalinsky is an exception.
Kalinsky’s documentary, The Ma’alot Massacre – The Untold Story of Fasuta, makes for emotive viewing from start to finish. The film will be screened at this year’s DocAviv Galilee documentary film festival, which will take place at Ma’alot Tarshiha between October 28 and November 1. The northern offshoot of the main DocAviv International Documentary Film Festival, held annually at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque each spring, is now into its sixth year. The lineup includes screenings of over 30 documentaries, from Israel and various countries around the world, in addition to concerts and dance shows, workshops, master classes and a photography exhibition.
Kalinsky admits to having a personal, as well as a professional, interest in the project.
“I have engaged in what I call ‘transparent people’ for some time,” she says. “I have worked as a communication teacher, and I worked with different students on making movies, and I worked with the children of members of the South Lebanon Army (SLA).
That’s when I caught the bug, and I have always looked for people who go unnoticed, and people we don’t know anything about.”
The story of the The Ma’alot Massacre – The Untold Story of Fasuta certainly needs telling. It portrays the untold events surrounding the terrorist attack which took place in Ma’alot in 1974, when three members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) crossed the border from Lebanon and took 115 people – the vast majority of them children – hostage at an elementary school in Ma’alot. En route they entered an apartment building and killed a couple and their four-year-old son.
However, prior to that, they opened fire on a van taking a group of Christian Arab women home to the village of Fasuta, near Ma’alot, from their jobs in Kiryat Atta. One of the workers, a teenage girl called Hasiba, was killed and another was wounded.
The latter episode of the Ma’alot tragedy is almost completely unknown outside Fasuta and its environs, and the incident is not mentioned at any memorial ceremonies, and the survivors – who all suffer from some symptoms of post-trauma – have not received any financial or other support from the state. It is a state of affairs which Kalinsky would dearly like to redress.
“This is simply a human story,” says the director. “These women live under the radar, and they are such charming people.”
The making of the documentary was facilitated by the Knefayim (Wings) documentary film workshop which has operated in Ma’alot-Tarshiha for the past three years.
The Knefayim directors, who knew of Kalinsky’s areas of interest, contacted her about doing something on the untold story of the 1974 terrorist attack and Kalinsky got right down to work. “I am from the area and I normally look for stories in my own backyard,” she says. “I spoke to all sorts of people and eventually I got to these women.”
The subjects of the documentary are Violet Dakwar, and sisters Samia and Suad Natar. They are all in their fifties, and all three are single. “They came out of the terrorist attack with scars, emotional scars,” explains Kalinsky. “Actually, one of them lost the use of one hand, but they are all strong independent women who work and support themselves, and even help other members of their family.”
Although Kalinsky has been on the scene for a while, and prides herself on being a thorough professional, she says she became emotionally involved in the making of The Ma’alot Massacre – The Untold Story of Fasuta.
“It was an emotive project for two reasons,” she says. “First of all, it addresses my environment, my locale in the Galilee. The Galilee has this arresting natural aspect to it, with all these wonderful landscapes. But the Galilee is also about the people who live here, and these people have stories to tell.”
And Kalinsky is eager to let the rest of the world know about them.
“I feel this sense of mission, to help get the stories out there,” she declares. “I work with Arabs and Jews as part of my daytime job, and I hear all kinds of stories and it is a shame they don’t reach the general public. People need to hear them, and this project offered me the opportunity to convey just one of those stories.”
Kalinsky is evidently not only a professional in terms of filmmaking per se – she clearly knows how to approach people and how to encourage them to talk about themselves, with the greatest sensitivity. Not only had Dakwar and the Natar sisters never before talked publicly about their horrific experience, which took place a full 40 years ago, they had not even discussed it among themselves in the interim. There are some touching moments in the documentary, and the odd occasion when you think the interviewees are going to burst into tears, and there is just a sense that Kalinsky might be going too far. But then she pulls back and allows the interviewee to regain her composure. There is no zooming in on tortuous facial expressions.
This is not emotional pornography.
Even so, considering the women had kept their ordeal bottled up inside them for a full four decades, it must have been tough to get them to talk, and to stay with them as they unraveled their painful story.
“One of the women, Violet, was eager to talk about it from the start, but it was much more difficult with Samia. She wanted to talk but she needed help to find the emotional strength to get it out.”
At the end of the day, however, Kalinsky feels the making of the film created a winwin situation for one and all.
“I think that I hadn’t made the documentary the women would have left the memory of the terrorist attack untouched for much longer, because it is something that is painful for all of them. Now they are very interested in the project and want to know about anything in the media about it, and want to come to the screening at the festival.
We have come a long way together.”
For tickets and more information about DocAviv Galilee: (04) 957-3050 and