'I Wanted to Make a Left-wing Movie, but Ended Up Showing How Wonderful We Are'

Nili Tal, whose documentary 'Saving Nur' tells about Israeli volunteers who aid a sick Gazan girl, says she doesn't think the movie is too forgiving.

Saving Nur
Nili Tal

“Forgiving? Give me a break. There are two terror attacks within my film, I was even caught up in one of them myself and kept filming,” says Nili Tal when I suggest that her film “Saving Nur,” which follows a Gazan girl in need of a liver and kidney transplant, takes an overly forgiving attitude toward the Israeli side.

“I went to Duma to meet the Dawabsheh family,” she continues. “Have you been to Duma? Have you ever seen a burned child? I saw him in Sheba [Medical Center, Tel Hashomer]. I made a true film, as I see life and see the people. Don’t forget that Nur and her parents received tremendous medical treatment here. Dr. Elhanan Nahum, director of the pediatric ICU at Schneider [Children’s Medical Center] didn’t go to sleep at home with his wife and children when Nur’s life was in danger. The surgeon, Dr. Michael Gurevich, rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night to operate on her for the sixth time. He had barely changed out of his pajamas. My film sketches a situation. Situations that I don’t control. Life controls them.”

Tal has been making documentaries for more than 40 years. She started out back in the 1960s as a journalist for Haaretz, but by the 1970s began bringing film crews to record many of the lesser-known sides of life in Israel. In recent years she made “Ukraine Brides,” a documentary series about Slavic women who come to Israel to find Israeli husbands, and “Etched in My Body,” which profiled several wives of polygamist cult leader Goel Ratzon.

Now for the first time, Tal has directed a very political movie with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its center. “Saving Nur,” which will be shown tonight on Channel 1, follows a little girl from Gaza who is seriously ill and needs a life-saving kidney and liver transplant. Her young parents, who have little money, manage to raise a million and a half shekels through an online campaign that attracts donations from Palestinians, Israelis and people from other countries. The sum is raised in just four months, something of small miracle.

Adding to the miraculous atmosphere are Jewish volunteers from Israel, bereaved parents who are members of the Parents Circle – Families Forum, who drive children from Gaza to hospitals in Israel. In one of the film’s peak moments, Nur’s mother Maha Hajj says that if her daughter should die following the liver transplant surgery, she would want her organs to be donated to Israelis first. This statement seems almost subversive considering that it comes from a Palestinian mother who needs to obtain countless permits in order to leave Gaza to get medical help for her child.

“I wanted to make a totally left-wing, political movie,” says Tal. “Yuval Roth, whose brother Udi Roth was murdered in the territories by three Hamas militants, was supposed to be the hero of the film. Shortly after his brother’s murder, he founded an organization that transports sick Palestinian children from the checkpoints and borders to hospitals in Israel. And his wife, Yael, is a steadfast member of the Women in Black who stand at the Gan Shmuel junction, holding signs that say ‘Evacuate the Settlements’ and ‘Free the Territories.’ I said to myself: ‘This is it, the time has come. Here are perfect characters for a film against the occupation.’ But darn it, wouldn’t you know it – instead of a leftist film I ended up with a ‘right-wing’ film that shows how wonderful and kind we are, helping sick Palestinians and driving them back and forth too.”

Did you get to speak to other Gazans? Did you get to hear what they think about Israel these days?

“In the film I show my encounter with Salah Abdel Rahman Na’im – a tall and handsome gentleman from Gaza who had come to Israel with his grandson who was going to have open-heart surgery at Sheba. On the way there he tells me that his father, who was a tank mechanic, was killed in the Six-Day War. And that he himself was just seven years old at the time and had to leave school and go to work from then on. Right away I asked him if he hates Israelis and he replied with marvelous candor: ‘Hate Israelis? I have no room for hatred because if I put hate in my heart, there’s no room for love. I have never hated. Hatred doesn’t hurt the one you hate. It hurts you first of all.’ I am certain that Salah was speaking to me honestly.”

Nili Tal.
Element Photography

To what extent do you think his view reflects public opinion in Gaza?

“I don’t know what the public opinion is in Gaza. I met a few people and they don’t hate Israel. I don’t do public opinion surveys and have no ties to politicians. I assume that everyone there wants the same things as here: love, family, health, money. If they have those four things, then people are happy. Don’t forget that Gaza is independent, it’s not under Israeli occupation and there are no Israeli soldiers there. They had democratic elections there and Hamas was elected. So yes, we’re not letting them build an airport or seaport. So what? They’ve found alternative ways to get around.”

You show the efforts made by Israelis on behalf of sick children from Gaza, but meanwhile the Israeli security bureaucracy is making things difficult for Nur’s continued treatment.

“That’s true. The Shin Bet [security service] is not letting Nur’s parents come with her for her periodic checkups in Israel. Every day I send faxes and emails to the Shin Bet asking them to let her come in with her father for her checkups. To issue him a six-month permit like a cattle dealer would get. But I’m talking to the wall. I hope this article will help.”