CHS seniors take a trip to Israel to make an educational documentary with the goal of reshaping the narrative surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
She never intended to make anyone uncomfortable.
While on a trip with her Cultural Leadership group in the summer of 2015, CHS senior Izzy Newmark invited a member of her group to attend the American Jewish Committee forum with her in Washington DC.
“There was a girl in my group who was Muslim and she was a good friend of mine,” Newmark said. “When we left [the forum] she started crying because she felt there was a lot of islamophobic sentiment being expressed [there].”
After the AJC forum, Newmark’s Cultural Leadership group, which is a civil rights training program, discussed the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the way both Israelis and Palestinians are viewed in society.
“From that I started getting the perception that maybe the conversation is more divided than it should be,” Newmark said.
As a follower of the Jewish faith and a young woman, Newmark feels that the conflict is often depicted unfairly.
“I think that within the Jewish community there is a tendency to paint Israel as an entity that can do no wrong and is always right. There is also the perception among a lot of youth that Israel is an evil entity and that the Palestinians are doing no wrong,” Newmark said. “So it’s a very divided sentiment. I was like, ‘This can’t be true. They’re all people. They are living their lives. There’s got to be more to the story.’”
At age 16, Newmark decided she wanted to create a documentary for high school and college students to reshape the narrative around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a narrative which she believes is often portrayed in an incorrect light.
“I thought that was the best way to show students the truth,” Newmark said. “To show what is going on, I decided to create a documentary that outlines the fundamental pieces of this conflict.”
After coming up with this idea, Newmark turned to her mom, Kara Newmark, for guidance. Kara, a business woman, saw Izzy’s aspirations as a learning experience for her daughter.
“I think a lot of times people have dreams and visions and they don’t execute on them. When Izzy came to me, I knew that she might fail, but I wanted to support her in learning how to go after what you want,” Kara said. “I was very proud of the effort and wanted to support her in any way I could.”
Izzy’s project began with raising money to fund a trip to Israel to film her documentary. In her junior year of high school, with the help of her mom, Izzy raised 40 thousand dollars for this cause. In order to do so, she founded Beneath the Veil, the formal name of her project, with the help of her synagogue, Central Reform Congregation. Many of the donations for the documentary came from members of the Jewish Federation, family, and friends of the Newmark’s.
Beneath the Veil ultimately led Izzy to a 10 day trip to Israel in July documenting the effects of the narrative surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict alongside her mom, fellow CHS senior Anis Buttar-Miller, a videographer and former Cultural Leadership member, Mariah Doze.
As a family friend of the Newmark’s, Buttar-Miller joined them on the trip, largely as a way to make his summer more fruitful.
For Buttar-Miller, going to Israel was compelling because of his fascination and study of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
“I liked the idea of getting the personal experience of a world issue that I had considered extensively, but never had any connection with,” Buttar-Miller said.
Buttar-Miller was a part of the filming process in Israel, but it has not been a part of the production of the documentary since the group returned to America.
While on the trip, Izzy and her group spent their days traveling across Israel, going to scheduled meetings with diplomats, refugee camps, and members of the Israeli government. But the group also stopped people on the streets of Israel to gain insight on the opinions of many different types of individuals.
For Izzy, the most important conversations were the ones she and her group had with young people.
“We did a lot of interaction with youth because I wanted to see if there is a chance for reconciliation in my lifetime,” Izzy said. “I felt like the best place to figure that out was with the youth.”
The conversations the group had with the individuals they interviewed while in Israel were often full of emotion. For Kara, this is what made the trip difficult.
“The trip was, quite frankly, one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It was physically demanding, intellectually demanding and emotionally demanding,” Kara said. “We would get up at 7:00 in the morning and go until 10:00 at night. Every minute in between we were engaged in conversation, intellectual and emotional conversations.”
While at a refugee camp for Palestinians in Ramallah, a city in the West Bank, the group met with young Palestinian women. These women told the documentary group about their beliefs regarding Israelis, which Kara remembers as one of the most emotionally challenging moments of the trip.
“One woman, who was 24 years old, who had spent a year and a half in an Israeli prison for terrorism, looked into the camera and said, ‘No jew will be safe in this land for as long as I live, from the Jordan to the sea,”’ Kara said. “That was just the most depressing moment ever. She was the future. It was really hard.”
Although hearing these sentiments was deeply saddening for Kara, she was able to understand where this hatred for Israelis comes from. These refugees live in impoverished lands, namely because of the 1948 Palestinian Exodus.
“There’s no grass, there’s garbage everywhere and feral cats. There’s no water,” Kara said. “You can understand why they’re so desperate that you get to the place where all you feel and see is hate.”
Also while in the West Bank, the documentary group met with a Palestinian man who was expelled from his home as part of the Exodus. Unlike the young women they met with, this man did not have hatred towards Israelis, which was deeply inspiring for Izzy.
“He was the only person that I actually saw a glimmer of hope from within the everyday people,” Izzy said. “I found that refreshing and also uplifting because he was someone who actually experienced it. He was actually kicked out of his home. He has every right to be angry and he was, but found a way to look past that.”
Although Izzy and her group went to Israel with the intent of coming to a consensus on the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they discovered there is not one truth regarding this — something she hopes people are able to learn from her future documentary.
“I thought that I was going to get answers going into this trip. What I want people to get when they watch my documentary is that it’s grey, it’s complicated, and we don’t need to make it uncomplicated in order to understand it,” Izzy said. “We don’t need to be painting it in a black and white sort of frame and I think a lot of people try to.”
Izzy does not currently have a release date for this documentary, she estimates it will be ready to be shown on high school and college campuses in the next year. Kara believes the project will have the ability create a greater understanding regarding this conflict and its effects on how humans, both Israeli and Palestinian, are perceived.
“It’s about creating a documentary that can be used in colleges and high schools to switch the flip of consciousness so that people don’t see things in black and white, which is why they get so extreme. There are nuances and layers,” Kara said. “At the end of the day, people are human beings.”
Izzy hopes her film will be able to allow students to look past the stereotypes regarding both Israelis and Palestinians which permeate through society.
“I want people to come away from it with the knowledge that it is more complicated than what it is painted as. That’s what I came away with,” Izzy said. “It’s bigger than that.”
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