interview with the director / the film in reference books
Interview with the director
In your documentary Waiting for Sallah El-Din you tell the stories of four people from East-Jerusalem, set in the larger frame of the daily chicanery of occupation and increasing religious practice. In Western media we usually see very dynamic pictures from Palestine: youth throwing stones, shouting women, burning flags, fighters... You present the opposite: a state of waiting. Why?
I didn't think "how Western or Israeli media present Palestinians" when I start to make this film. Everyone looks at reality from his interest, or shows it in a way to support his interest. What is interesting me are people who have to fight everyday in order to find a job or to get a bread or to have a permission that they exist. Those whose "banal" problems are tragedy: if they lost their ID card or want to put their new born children on their ID....they have to queue at the ministry for home affairs from night, maybe they will have the chance to enter in the morning and maybe not!. I live between people who live under occupation, suffering every day, their problem is still basic: to survive! And they don't complain because they are afraid to complain.
Did the outbreak of the second Intifada in September 2000 change the situation of waiting? Did it overcome passivity?
Arabs/Palestinians still live in a constant state of waiting. The "second Intifada" is a political expression, most Arabs/Palestinian are suffering in mute, also at other places around the world.
The four people you portrait in the film are an actor who has his own theatre group, a woman who sells vegetables in the streets, a man whose house was demolished and whose son disappeared and an unemployed worker who has to send his small boy making money. Why did you choose these people? What do their stories stand for?
My need to make a film about Palestinians in Jerusalem, came during my work in Jerusalem, selling books for children from door to door. Many times I found my self advise people not to buy the books, because I saw that it is hard for them to afford their food. Every door I entered had it’s own story, tens of stories touched my heart. At last, when I decide to make the film, I chose the characters and stories with which I felt so close. The story that I want to tell in the film, came from my feelings when observing the characters/stories.
Was it difficult to find people who agreed to have their suffering filmed?
I didn't look for shooting suffering, there are a lot of "sexy" photos of hard violence, that occur every day in Jerusalem against Palestinians. I wanted people to tell their story through their daily life. People there are afraid, they are in stress all the time. The Israeli Authorities use a "brilliant" way to depress people, make them afraid of their shadows. It took me time to make people trust me and feel safe. For example, women who sold vegetables were afraid that I worked for the Israeli Authorities. It is hard to enter to every story in Jerusalem, some times I really had to be alert to the Israeli forces or municipality workers as well as Palestinian criminals in Jerusalem.
The opening scene of your film is a street scene in front of the Israeli ministry of home affairs with people lining up at night. It is a very humiliating and in a way violent scene, yet the camera and the words are poetic. Also in your film Diary of a Male Whore, which touches various levels of violence, there is lot of poesy. Can you explain why you use poetic elements in your films?
Maybe I want to see/show life in those films in a poetic context, it is more interesting to see the poesy in what is called "violent scenes".
Waiting for Sallah El-Din was produced by the film and television department of Tel Aviv university, where you studied. How was the cooperation?
I don't have a good experience studying in Tel Aviv University. I had to fight in a lot of ways with the heads of the department because they prevented me to make Diary of a Male Whore there. But I succeeded to make them a lot of "head ache" so they wanted to get rid of me so fast. They agreed on Waiting for Sallah El-Din as my "final project" after three minutes of meeting.
Do you already know what your next projects will be?
In these days I am shooting a documentary about Palestinian refugees who live inside the Israel state. I also work on a feature film.
(Interview with Irit Neidhardt, May 2002)
Abdel-Malek, Kamal (2005): The Rhetoric of Violence Arab-Jewish Encounters in Contemporary Palestinian Literature and Film, New York, p.119
The theme of waiting for salvation is presented in Bi-Intizar Salah al-Din (Waiting for Saladin), directed by Tawfik Abu Wael (Palestine, 2001). Saladin, as mentioned above and is well known, was the Muslim commander who defeated the Crusaders in the battle of Hittin (Palestine) in 1187, and is often invoked by modern Arabs as the hoped-for hero who would unite them against the present-day Crusader-like state of Israel. It is Arab East Jerusalem in the year 2000. Palestinians wait for the Messiah, Godot, or Saladin? What's the difference? The film shows the lives of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem under occupation, without most elementary rights, despite being considered citizens of Israel.
Documenting the Middle East - by Irit Neidhardt for P.O.V. No.22 - On Documentary Film
[...] Natreen Sallah El-Din/Waiting for Sallah El-Din opens with a short text introducing Sallah el-Din. The first image is of the moon followed by a close-up of the ear and cheek of a sleeping man. A place-seller who is soon getting up for his shift in front of the Israeli Home Office, which is situated in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have to apply for everything at the Home Office: identity-cards, travel-permits, birth-certificates, marriage-licenses, death-certificates... The queues are long and those who can afford to buy a place, as is known from other societies that suffered from shortages or military occupation. The camera is with these cool, small-time criminals and an old man who came in the middle of the night to ensure himself a place on line. This time he does not want to wait in vain; he needs his papers for the pilgrimage. He does not understand why there should be thirty people in front of him, he sees only three youngsters. Another old man is sitting on the sidewalk with his typewriter. He helps people with the forms that need to be filled out in Hebrew and not in Arabic. These scenes happen every night during the week. From off-screen a voice reads a Palestinian poem about waiting as a Palestinian, waiting for everything, being trapped in a state of immobility. The portraits that follow show people and their daily struggle to keep their dignity. To finance himself as a student at the film department of Tel Aviv University, Tawfik Abu-Wael sold books from door to door in East Jerusalem. Having Israeli citizenship, his status is different from that of East Jerusalemites. The society is fragmented and most Palestinians from the different areas (inside Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza) do not know much about each other due to the political situation. Selling children's books in East Jerusalem, Abu Wael found himself again and again in the situation of advising people not to buy the books as they could hardly afford their food. His approach to the film and the story he is telling is not related to a specific time or event but rather looking at long-term issues. Regarding the question as to whether the outbreak of the second Intifada changed the situation of waiting, he replied in an interview: "Arabs/Palestinians still live in a constant state of waiting. The 'second Intifada' is a political expression, most Arabs/Palestinians are suffering in silence, like people in other places around the world." Natreen Sallah el-Din/Waiting for Sallah el-Din is Tawfik Abu Wael's graduation film. He was not interested in what Israelis or potential Western spectators would say about it but rather felt an urge to tell this/his story. Other than Alia Arasoughly, Abu Wael had no connections to Western institutions by that time that could have sponsored the film. [...] read full text