Director and journalist Basel Adra, in a blue shirt and dark pants lays, on a hill of grass and rocks, with a bulldozer in the background.

‘No Other Land’: A vital Palestinian doc exposes cinema’s hypocrisies

From Berlin to the Oscars, the chasm between the movies and their industries continues to grow

Basel Adra in "No Other Land."

Antipode Films

A timely work of filmic activism and cultural memory, West Bank documentary No Other Land premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February, where it won both the Panorama Audience Award and the jury’s Berlinale Documentary Award, before becoming embroiled in political controversy. Made by an Israeli-Palestinian collective, the film chronicles the expulsions of Palestinian villagers and the demolition of their homes in 2022, while also turning its camera on the inequities between two of its filmmakers. During their acceptance speech for the latter award, the mere mention of these inequities—stemming from the different laws under which they live—would end up receiving chilling responses, not only from the festival, but from the German government. The ensuing ripple effects, however, have been oddly instructive about the hypocrisies of modern cinema, and how what’s on screen has become increasingly cordoned off from everything unfolding outside the frame (a hypocrisy which carried over to last weekend’s Oscars too).

No Other Land was directed by Basel Adra, Yuval Abraham, Hamdan Ballal, and Rachel Szor, but the first two, Adra and Abraham, are also two of its key subjects. Adra, an Arab journalist, has long chronicled the plight of Masafer Yatta, a village in Hebron just south of Jerusalem, where thousands of Palestinians faced expulsion last year. Much of the film comprises rudimentary cell phone and video footage of these expulsions, captured in the moment as IDF soldiers descend on unsuspecting villagers and force them to leave their homes. The excuse provided is that their dwellings may interfere with military exercises, but the form these expulsions take is especially cruel: the townspeople’s homes are razed to the ground by bulldozers.

The bulldozer has, in recent years, become a political symbol unto itself, given its prominence in de-housing and dehumanizing Muslims not only in Palestine, but in India, where the right-wing Hindutva government has been on a demolition spree of late. No Other Land sees its filmmakers rushing from town to town the moment they get word of IDF presence, and they often arrive just in time to capture these callous demolitions, which force the villagers into nearby cave dwellings.

However, this mode of capturing history as it unfolds isn’t new to Adra or his family. By employing older, less technologically advanced footage shot by Adra’s own parents two decades ago—footage of similar armed incursions by IDF soldiers—the film draws a straight line between Adra’s modern activism and that of his family. Not long into the movies, his personal history becomes immediately inseparable from these DIY images of occupation and apartheid. Through Adra’s voiceover, No Other Land frames the very notion of documenting history as a vital political act, albeit one that has risen, for Adra and his family, as a necessary compulsion, rather than a casual creative decision.

A small child in a red outfit stands among rubble of a bulldozed home, against a dessert hill in the background.

"No Other Land" tells the stories of Palestinian expulsion as people's homes are razed to the ground by bulldozers.

Antipode Films

Choice is a luxury unavailable to Adra the way it is to fellow journalist Abraham, though the latter uses his legal and cultural privileges in a way few Israeli dissidents do. He spends time with Adra’s family in the thick of it, recording each minor forced exodus while maintaining a safe distance from the invading soldiers, who are less willing and ready to brutalize an Israeli Jew (though he still remains in considerable danger). Casual discussions between Abraham, Adra, and Adra’s former activist father Nasser reveal the minor ways in which Abraham and Adra’s lives differ, despite living less than an hour apart, from their voting rights to the differing restrictions on their movement. It’s illuminating for the audience, but it also leads to local resentment the more Abraham sticks around.

As much as he’s willing to help local villagers rebuild from the debris, his very presence, as someone who can leave for a better life at any moment, makes him a walking reminder of the occupation and apartheid under which families like Adra’s live. It certainly doesn’t help that Abraham approaches each situation with optimism—an idealistic naivete, perhaps—of which Adra cannot bring himself to avail, having spent all his life battling a rigid, unchanging system. These ideological skirmishes are just as vital to No Other Land as its footage of military cruelty, because while Abraham may not enact the violence seen in the movie, he remains its beneficiary whenever he travels safely across the border.

Director and journalist Yuval Abraham, in a gray t-shirt, stands in front of a building made of cement blocks.

Director Yuval Abraham is also one of the subjects of "No Other Land."

Antipode Films

It's in recognizing this disparity that Abraham, and the film, are able to take on a more empathetic and thus more politically radical bent. The images of bulldozers flattening dwellings both old and new are viscerally upsetting, but to separate them from the larger context in which they exist is folly. By the end of the film, and by the time Abraham took to the Berlinale stage alongside Adra in February, a more explicit and direct recognition of the Israeli apartheid became a necessary part of his worldview, which he acknowledged in his acceptance speech: 

“We are standing in front of you now, me and Basel [Adra] are the same age. I am Israeli, Basel is Palestinian. And in two days we will go back to a land where we are not equal. I am living under a civilian law and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights. Basel is not having voting rights. I’m free to move where I want in this land. Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the occupied West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end.” 

Abraham’s full remarks, along with Adra’s call for Germany to stop sending weapons to Israel, can be seen on YouTube.

However, what should have been a rousing closing coda to this collaboration ended up catalyzing a head-spinning political rigmarole. Despite being Jewish, Abraham’s remarks were quickly branded “antisemitic” not only by Israeli broadcaster Kan 11, but by Israel’s ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor and by Berlin’s (non-Jewish) mayor Kai Wegner. Abraham pushed back against these allegations, but things would only escalate. He claims to have received death threats since his speech. Back in Israel, a mob allegedly threatened his family. Before long, Germany’s minister of state for culture, Claudia Roth—who was present at the awards, and could be seen applauding the filmmakers—released an absurd statement clarifying that she was only clapping for Israeli filmmaker Abraham, and not his Palestinian colleague Adra (in spite of the accusations against the former). Subsequently, the Berlinale refused to stand by the very filmmakers it had showcased, and instead released a statement distancing itself from Abraham’s remarks.

In the days following Oct. 7, the Western art world has closed ranks to clamp down on voices supporting Palestine and opposing the Israeli occupation. Actress Melissa Barrera was fired from her ongoing leading role in the Scream franchise after posting in support of Palestine on Instagram (which was similarly conflated with antisemitism by those in charge), while actress Susan Sarandon, novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Tom Cruise’s long time agent Maha Dakhil faced similar reprimands. This has, in turn, led to something of a double standard in Hollywood—a disconnect between the kinds of films the industry lauds and the opinions it permits—which could be seen on full display at the Oscars this past weekend.

Director and journalist Basel Adra, in a gray and white jacket and blue shirt, stands in front of a building made of cement blocks.

Director Basel Adra is also one of the subjects of "No Other Land."

Antipode Films

Ukrainian war doc 20 Days in Mariupol won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and its filmmaker’s calls against Russian occupation were met with a rapturous response. Meanwhile, The Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer’s acceptance speech for Best International Feature, in which he decried the Israeli occupation of Palestine, has since been the target of backlash akin to that received by Abraham. Glazer, a Jewish filmmaker, rebuked the co-opting of his Jewishness and of the Holocaust in order to justify ongoing atrocities, a fitting sentiment from the director of a holocaust drama about ignoring ongoing genocides. It was one of several such high profile works from last year celebrated by the industry, alongside A-bomb drama Oppenheimer and Native genocide saga Killers of the Flower Moon, all of which deal with the kind of compartmentalization that leads to human horrors. All the while, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters outside the Oscar venue went un-mentioned during the broadcast, and no winner except for Glazer touched on the ongoing bombing of Gaza, despite the clear thematic connection between these movies and current events. 

The Oscar ceremony unfortunately goes hand-in-hand with the No Other Land debacle. The latter is an urgent and rousing film about dehumanization that, despite being showered with accolades, has since seen its filmmakers’ perspectives be decried by the very people who platformed their work. The majority of winners on the Oscars’ stage—from the filmmakers of Oppenheimer, to the team behind winning animated short No Other War, to The Zone of Interest’s own Best Sound winners—inadvertently assisted in making the Oscars feel hermetically sealed from events in Gaza, and from the outside world, despite the ceremony touching on similar cases of war and occupation elsewhere (the broadcast’s in-memoriam segment began with a clip from late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, so it’s not like the Oscars avoid politics altogether). 

To laud art while ignoring the humanist concerns of which it speaks is nothing short of an ethical abdication, and both Berlinale and the Academy Awards have recently failed to clear this bar. However, as long as brave filmmakers keep producing clear-eyed works like No Other Land which understands the vital need to document history in the moment—and which forces audiences to take a closer look at themselves, and the high-profile institutions charged with showcasing and awarding movies—hope for a more radical political understanding still remains.

Directors and journalists Basel Adra and Yuval Abraham stand facing each other against a field in the background.

"No Other Land" co-directors and subjects Basel Adra, Yuval Abraham.

Antipode Films

Published on March 12, 2024

Words by Siddhant Adlakha

Siddhant Adlakha is a critic and filmmaker from Mumbai, though he now lives in New York City. They're more similar than you'd think. Find him at @SiddhantAdlakha on Twitter