A clash of civilizations: suicide bombers and kidnappers on one side spewing hateful, nihilistic rhetoric, and one of the world’s most powerful armies on the other, reining down its massive force to subdue the local population and maintain its occupation. These are the archetypes that characterize coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Caught in the crossfire are thousands of Palestinian and Israeli civilians who reject violence and who seek to build a secure, peaceful future for their children. Reverberations from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are felt worldwide. It is perhaps the most divisive, polarizing and documented political issue of our time. Encounter Point moves beyond sensational, dogmatic and canned images to tell the story of an Israeli settler, a convicted Palestinian fighter, a bereaved Israeli mother and a wounded Palestinian ex-prisoner who sacrifice their safety, public standing, communities and homes in order to press for a grassroots movement for nonviolence and peace. Their journeys lead them to the unlikeliest places to stem hatred among their peoples and confront fear within themselves. Encounter Point explores what drives these and thousands of other like-minded civilians to overcome anger and grief to work for peace. Without dogma or righteousness, it implicitly asks why, with the world’s cameras focused on this conflict, we have never heard about these courageous and vital efforts? The film’s protagonists, true civic leaders, endure suicide bombings and checkpoints to meet with militants on both sides, the wounded and apathetic masses. Audiences are left with a sense that the gulf between Israelis and Palestinians is at once bridgeable and tremendously wide.
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Over the last decade, in the face of devastating violence and pain, thousands of ordinary people have been stepping forward to end the bloodshed, preserve human rights and promote reconciliation among Israelis and Palestinians. Yet even though Palestinians and Israelis who support peace outnumber the militants, their voices are continually drowned out by sensational, explosive headlines. Keenly aware of this gap in media coverage, I assembled a crew of Palestinians, North Americans and Israelis to document a few of these forgotten heroes. After 475 preliminary interviews, 2 years of research and 16 months of production, our multi-national, multi-lingual team selected a handful of subjects from both sides, built unprecedented relations of trust with them, and gained deep access to their lives and work. Encounter Point tells the story of several Palestinians and Israelis who have sacrificed something deeply precious to them as a result of the conflict. These characters have lost liberty, community, public standing, safety and homes. Some even lost children. Yet all have confronted their anger and grief in order to press for a dignified end to the conflict. As Ali Abu Awwad, one of the main protagonists of the film states, “Sometimes people ask me, ‘how can you do this after all you’ve been through?’ But I tell them, ‘I don’t have to love Israelis to make peace with them, and I’m not asked to forgive the soldier who killed my brother, I will never forgive him.’” Our subjects’ stories are by no means romantic; they face widespread opposition, and at times trip on their own feet. Yet they persevere. We follow them from Telmond to Tulkarem; from a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv to the funeral of a 12-year-old Palestinian girl in Bethlehem, to the first conversation between a former Israeli settler and a former Palestinian prisoner. The film’s subjects are at the vanguard of a movement to push Palestinian and Israeli societies to reach a tipping point, forging a new consensus for nonviolence and peace. Perhaps years from now, their actions will be recognized as a catalyst for constructive change in the region. Shot in Arabic and Hebrew by a team that wholly mirrors the subject matter, Encounter Point is a film about hope, about true courage and, implicitly, about silence – the silence of journalists and politicians who pay little attention to vital Palestinian and Israeli grassroots peace efforts. As Robi Damelin, a bereaved Israeli mother states, “There is no pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, there is pro-solution.” Encounter Point moves beyond sensational images and challenges all of us to look for the civic leaders within our midst.