There’s many things that a person might look like and you’re one hundred percent positive who they are. And when you talk to them, you’re shocked that they’re completely the opposite. Like whoever looks at me, “No way you’re an Arab.” But I go like, “Oh, dude, I am an Arab!” So, don’t concentrate on the first impression. If you think you don’t like the person, approach them to know who they really are.
-Rawan (Palestinian, Muslim)
by Lisa Gossels, Director
When I introduce “My So-Called Enemy” at screenings, I always say that making the film was an eight-year journey of both learning and unlearning for me – and a stripping away of personal narratives that I was raised with. My hope as a documentarian is that audiences will experience some of that same transformation when they watch the movie.
I live in downtown Manhattan and shortly after 9/11, I remember engaging in some heated political conversations with close friends about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. When I tried to express any nuance in those discussions, I came to understand how wars could be fought on words and how easy it is to reduce conflicts to black and white terms.
At a conference two months earlier, I had the privilege of meeting Melodye Feldman (the Founder of Building Bridges for Peace), and four participants from her just-completed summer program. After listening to the girls’ dramatic stories about how the program had changed them, I begged Melodye to let me film her program the next year! I was excited that Building Bridges for Peace empowers teenage girls because, as Nicholas Kristof wrote, “Focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism.”
Melodye explains, “If peace is going to happen in the Middle East, women have to be part of the process. Women have a different way of communicating. At Building Bridges we are teaching our girls how to be leaders in communities that don’t give equal voice to women. So the question becomes, ‘How do we empower them to change the world?'”
While the Building Bridges section of the film is essential (and the work the organization does is extraordinary), for me “My So-Called Enemy” is really about what happens to the young women after they leave the program and have to navigate the realities of their lives back home in the Middle East, having become friends with their “enemies.”
I grew up in a progressive, inclusive Jewish household, raised with the activist values of social justice for all and the importance of tikkun olam, “repairing the world.” Thanks to my upbringing and longstanding Buddhist yoga practice, I worked hard to make a balanced, intimate, character-driven film that would break people’s attachments, assumptions and negative stereotypes about Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Christians, by putting a human face to the politically and emotionally divisive Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And, by virtue of this, to all conflicts.
“My So-Called Enemy” is about the transformative power of knowing “the other,” or “the enemy,” as a human being and how creating relationships across personal, political and physical borders is a first step towards resolving conflict. As Rezan, who is Palestinian and Christian, says in the movie: “Peace starts with me and the friends around me.” By watching “My So-Called Enemy,” viewers will experience the possibility and hope that come from listening to each other’s stories.
I made “My So-Called Enemy” because I believe it is important to amplify the voices of young women like Adi, Gal, Hanin, Inas, Rawan and Rezan who “are hoping and working for something better,” as Rawan says at end of the film. At its core, “My So-Called Enemy” is about building bridges and taking down walls between our “self” and the “other” and the power of women to be change agents.
“My So-Called Enemy” will be challenging for some viewers, and that is partly the point. If viewers don’t agree with some of the girl’s ideas, I hope they will empathize with their stories. One of the main messages in “My So-Called Enemy” is that we all are human and have the same basic needs: food, shelter, security, education, healthcare, dignity, hope and love. Time and again in screenings, I have seen the power of the women in the film to open hearts and minds and create space for dialogue about not only the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but issues that divide us in our families, schools and communities.
When the Building Bridges participants go home, they often feel isolated in their new understanding. We see in the film how living with knowledge of “the other” is much harder than living in ignorance. I made “My So-Called Enemy” because I believe our only hope is in understanding each other. As Adi, who is Israeli and Jewish, says near the end of the movie, “There’s no excuse not to have dialogue.”
I can’t say that we will see peace in the Middle East or in the world in our lifetimes. But, as I stand on the shoulders of the courageous and intelligent young women in “My So-Called Enemy,” I owe it to them to remain hopeful.