The Tinderbox Director Gillian Mosely On Challenging Her Perceptions Of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Director Gillian Mosely joins us to discuss her directorial debut, The Tinderbox – Israel & Palestine: The Untold Story (in Cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from 25 March, 2022). The film is a deeply personal journey of one woman forced to challenge everything they’d been taught about the conflict in Israel and Palestine.

For ticket info – https://thetinderboxfilm.com/

Q: Can you tell us about your upbringing and how you were raised to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

A: I was raised going to an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in London and the importance of Israel was just assumed. When we moved to the USA the American side of my family were more overtly politically Zionist and the importance of Israel to us/Jews was central. This said, although he died before I became interested in politics myself, I have since heard that my (British) Father was sometimes critical of the actions of the Israeli State.

Q: What prompted you to go on this journey and make this film?

A: When I was 17/18 I met Tamer Al’ Ghussein in a nightclub and we became lifelong close friends. Because we were mostly interested in clubs, fashion and parties at the time, it was at least five years into our friendship before we even realised that I was Jewish and he was Palestinian.

His family would be speaking around the dinner table about houses or land that had been taken, etc, and this slowly started to register. What they were saying was very different to the information I’d been given. The experience prompted me to start researching the situation. Once I did, I felt I had to make a film, if only to debunk the numerous myths around. These include the ones I grew up with, and, many in more mainstream circulation. 

Kobi Farhi and Abed Hathout in The Tinderbox

Q: There are a wide range of voices in the film. Can you tell us about the collage of voices you put together?

A: Originally, I wanted to reflect as many Holy Land perspectives as possible but the film would have been about ten hours long! So, I largely stuck to Palestinians and Jews whose views felt broadly representative of the people I encountered as we researched and then started filming.

They were all great and I had to make some tough choices, but some stood out and demanded more time, like Mayese, who memorably compared her daily life in the West Bank, to her life in the USA where she went to university. How many of us in the West need to think about what time water or electricity will be available? For the most part for the Vox Pops, we randomly stopped people in the street, but did go back and set up a small handful of interviews from perspectives we felt were missing.

Q: I’m sure you had many striking interactions. Which of those stand out most to you?

A: It’s going to sound absurd but almost all of them, not least because there were so many extremely articulate people, many, with heart-rending stories. We found Mayese going into a grocery store, Gilad on holiday with his girlfriend, Jack was at work at his restaurant, and Baha, whose office is in the hippest café/bar in town. It all felt like normality that I could easily relate to, except that it wasn’t normal.

Then there were the film’s main characters who were all incredibly passionate and articulate. Muna just wanted to show the world how a ‘normal’ Palestinian Christian woman lives. She’s a wife, mother, and school teacher. And although she lives just a few miles from where Christianity began, she’s part of a rapidly dwindling population. Israel lives closest to her, inside a Jewish settlement on the West Bank. This in some ways was the hardest Rubicon to cross as I am personally opposed to settlements.

Like Israel Medad, Kobi and Issa have spent their lives advocating for what they believe in. The latter two want to bridge divides and believe in human rights as an absolute, but as a rock singer inside Israel, Kobi inspires from the stage, whilst Issa, whose movement of non-violent resistance also inspires, has been arrested a number of times for conveying not-dissimilar views.

I also found I liked everybody I spoke to whether I agreed with them or not, and in a way, this itself was the stand out takeaway from our filming trips, along with hefty questions about the nature of democracy.

Issa Amro in The Tinderbox

Q: What for you was the biggest misconception that you debunked during the making of this film? 

A: I’d been living with or had seen a number of myths which had become commonly accepted not just within my family but also sometimes in the mainstream: there were numerous tropes suggesting all Palestinians are terrorists when it turns out that the Palestinians did not initiate the violence; so many people I know believe that Israel was founded because of the Holocaust, when events leading up to the foundation of the state of Israel really began during World War One; and, perhaps most damaging, that this is something going on far away, and that it has nothing to do with us.

So perhaps, above all in Britain, I want to remind/show people that the British (and other Western countries) were in charge when the cycles of violence we are witnessing today were catalysed…

Q: The film is the culmination of three decades spent studying and questioning this complex conflict. How do you reflect on your personal experience and journey to make this film? 

A: This is something I don’t think I was able to express in the film. It’s really been part of a bigger journey to understand who I am in the world and where I do or do not fit into the stories I was told by my family and society, about who I am. For many/most Jews, the importance of Israel is ingrained from such a young age that it is an intrinsic part of our identity. My introduction to Palestinians as friends (see above) was unusual and so I was given a key to prise open the door.

I have also spent 20+ years doing a daily yoga and meditation practice which has helped me look inward, sift through external noise, and try to see a greater and kinder whole. And, I am obsessive and very nerdy about history. I know some people will disagree but I strongly believe that the answers to challenges faced by us today can all be found in history. So somehow these three things conjoined to allow me to step back, try to assess what I was seeing objectively, and to form an opinion (and the desire to tell the world about it!)

Q: I know there are a lot of people my age and younger who have little to no education on this conflict, especially its origins. What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

A: More than anything else, this is what really inspired me to make the film. So much (particularly about our colonial past) never gets taught in schools. These events started over a century ago and this is a subject that is almost never out of the news, yet most people in this country do not know that Britain governed Palestine under the League of Nations (early UN) Mandatory system when the cycle of violence that we are witnessing began. How are we going to resolve today’s situation if we do not have a basic understanding of how, when, and why, discord first happened?

And about how intrinsic to this Britain was? It’s also a discussion that can get toxic extremely quickly and I hope that basic well-researched facts can help us get past this. The situation needs resolving with equal human rights, a must, and we will never do this if we get stuck in the lands of myth, belief, echo chambers, and mud-slinging…

Muna Tannous in The Tinderbox

Q: What are your hopes for the film and for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

A: My hopes for the film really follow on from this. Can we form a new narrative within our wider society that is formed from carefully researched first-hand sources? Can we then use this information to find a fair and just solution? It’s not for me as an outsider (albeit one who has the right to move to Israel at any moment) to tell people there what to do, but I would hope that this can be done internally through a genuinely well-informed democratic process, such as well-run citizen’s assemblies. The Palestinian territories have been so carved up by Jewish settlements that it’s hard to know how a two-state solution could work, but I have heard of interesting suggestions of a federal system. 

In another arena, there has been a huge very vocal movement in the West to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. This needs serious unpacking. Zionism, a movement originally intended to bring a Jewish national home in what’s now Israel had numerous forms. Zionist pioneer Ahad Ha’am suggested cultural Zionism to take place over a number of years and in relatively small numbers, while revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky (who wanted as much territory as possible and was idolised by former Israeli PM’s Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu) is what’s playing out today.

So, to be anti-Zionism as an ideology is a different thing to being anti-Zionism as it has been enacted. I also have a problem with named democracies demonising criticism of governments. Surely the ability to criticise ‘democratic’ governments is one of the underpinnings of Western democracy? 

I also believe that the conflation of these two things is actually endangering Jews rather than making us safer. The Guardian has reported that incidents against British Jews spiked last summer during the escalated violence there. So, to me, it seems obvious that to keep conflating anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is a mistake. Assuming the Guardian facts were correct this means that political/militaristic actions in Israel are having an effect on the lives of some Jews in Britain. Diaspora Jews need to face this situation honestly, rather than using dead cat tactics. These are not working. 

Finally, racism is racism and this really applies across the board. For me, racism of any form is unacceptable. Likewise, basic equal human rights must happen within the international borders of Israel – now.

The Tinderbox – Israel & Palestine: The Untold Story is in Cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from 25 March, 2022. Find out more about the film and screening info here: https://thetinderboxfilm.com/

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