By Rohan Narula
Acre or “Akka” (the original Arabic translation) is a coastal city in northern Israel. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world. The Arab people of Akka trace their history back to the Canaanites in 30th Century BCE, which only means that Akka has been their home for over five thousand years. The city, originally Palestinian, was captured by the state of Israel in 1948.
“It’s Better to Jump” is about the identity and isolation of the Arabs of Akka. They feel that they are not treated like normal people. They feel neglected, unequal and unvalued in their own home. The saddest part is that the sentiment expressed by the people is not anger or anything remotely revolutionary but the acceptance of defeat and a plea to be treated equally. “The Israeli citizens are cared for. In our city, no one cares for us except God,” says Fatma Badran, a wife and a mother.
The defining issue highlighted in the documentary is that of gentrification. With years of neglect, the quality of life in the city becomes rusty and stale, which leads to a decline in the value of homes. At that point, wealthy citizens offer the desperate homeowners a bone, which they readily take. Slowly and steadily, the poor old homeowners start a new life elsewhere as the area is slowly taken over by wealthier residents.
The problem is that the people believe that this gentrification is systematic and methodical. They believe it is a result of the Israeli government dismantling the social structure and the economy of the city piece by piece. Today, the Arabs only occupy a third of the population of Akka. “They are occupying the grounds of my childhood, of my town. It’s a cultural invasion, destroying all your history and upbringing,” says Makram Khoury, an internationally renowned actor from Akka.
At the heart of this piece is the ancient sea wall, which surrounds the city. This wall is an integral part of the city’s culture as jumping from the wall into the sea is almost a necessary right of passage for all its residents. This wall is used as a crucial metaphor in the documentary, as the implication is that with the consistent occupation of the city by wealthy outsiders, the original residents, now poor and helpless, are being pushed against the wall. The title suggests that it’s better to jump than to live your life in a corner.
But, despite its earnest and intense and important message, the documentary has a one-sided perspective on the situation. A good villain, no matter how horrible it may be, always has good reasons for his actions. It’s easy to antagonize Israel if we only hear the opinions of one side. If, and only if, we hear Israel’s take on the problem, we can have a fair debate on who is right and who is wrong.
“It’s Better to Jump” is a brave, thought-provoking and heartfelt work of art that is important enough for everyone to see. The issues presented are heartbreaking but they are real and universal. However, its importance will be diminished by its very biased portrayal of the situation.
Rohan Narula is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.