Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012, Irish: Apples of the Golan
Saturday, 18th February, 4.15pm, Cineworld

Apples of the Golan, Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth’s absorbing documentary, attempts to tell part of the complex story of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The opening narrative tells us that before the 1967 Six Day War, there were 139 Arab villages in the Golan Heights region. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during that war – and now only five villages remain. All of the others were destroyed. Over 138,000 Syrian Arabs were forced from their homes. The documentary tells the tale of those that remain in one of those five remaining villages, Majdal Shams. They are a proud people and stood firm against Israeli national identity being forced upon them in 1982. They are not recognised as being Syrian and refuse to be Israeli  – as a result their status is classified as ’undefined’.

A heartbreaking aspect of the film is that all the people we meet in the village have family in Syria. Family they cannot visit as they are not allowed cross the ‘ceasefire line’, providing for some moving scenes of families separated from each other. Only students, pilgrims and brides can cross over from the Golan Heights into Syria – and apples. The apples from the Golan Heights are transported and sold in Syria for better prices than they get in Israel. The apples are essential for the villagers as a source of income as well as a metaphor for survival. ‘The apples are like the soul of the Golan people,’  one villager explains, ‘how they cling to life.’

The documentary also points out how the area supplies Israel with one-third of its water, which, along with its strategic vantage point overlooking southern Syria, was one of the main reasons why Israel occupied the Golan Heights.

In a brief Q&A after the screening Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth explained how the film was born out of a chance encounter with Gearóid O Cúinn, the film’s executive producer, who had been doing some human rights research in the Golan Heights. This set the ball rolling for the idea for the film. After getting backing for half the film from the Film Board and securing matching funding elsewhere, Walsh and Beardsworth spent 8 months over and back filming the documentary.

A well-structured documentary that tells part of a complex story with skill and craft, Apples of the Golan is a striking tale of the strength and spirit of a people determined not to lose their identity and the land that it is tied to.

Steven Galvin


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