From Ramallah to Recoleta

In the film Mayor (2020), by the American David Osit, there are at least two memorable scenes: one is when Musa Hadid, mayor of Ramallah, the Palestinian capital administered by the National Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, asks for a television set to follow the news about the decision of the Donald Trump’s administration to move its embassy to Jerusalem. One would assume that the set should already be in Mayor Hadid’s office, but in Ramallah things are not like in any other municipality in the world: without resources, even forced to attend to traffic tickets due to lack of personnel, and overwhelmed by the infinite domestic problems and the arbitrary incursions of the Israeli army, Mayor Hadid is looking for a television set to get an idea of what is happening. A secretary runs around, an aide waves his arms. Hadid, a poised and good-natured man, incapable of getting irritated and losing his patience, waits in the office for someone to bring the damn set to learn the details of the damn news.

Mayor premiered just a year ago at the True/False Film Fest documentary festival, and the arrival of the pandemic forced its distribution through Film Movement (it can be viewed streaming via Film Forum). The peculiarity is that Mayor is not a war film, nor one about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and certainly not an ideological film. It is a film about Mayor Musa Hadid and his effort to make the city a place of gathering, work, and habitation. To inhabit, for Hadid, is to take care of one’s own and the world around you, however hostile that world may sometimes be. The funny thing is that the mayor’s condition for filming Mayor was that Osit would not consider him as the main character in the film. The director agreed but asked to revisit the subject after the film was shot. The whole film revolves around the idea of avoiding platitudes about the Middle East, Palestine, its people, the conflict with Israel, the complex cohabitation and identity of the two communities. For Osit, all the effort was put into avoiding that the audience related the film to the archetypal and worn-out images shown about Palestine: hooded militiamen marching to combat, streets burning between tires and people throwing stones, soldiers shooting, demonstrations, gnarled and dark skies. Left-wing kitsch, in the end, very suitable for the Western eye. In the director’s words, the aim was to “ensure that the film was not rooted in the idea of a previous conflict or a political narrative of the place. The film is about a man who is mayor of a city, and as you follow him, you follow the story where it unfolds.”

And the story of the conflict does indeed arrive, but in a way and at a moment it becomes possible to leave out any ideological or religious beliefs to side with Hadid in defending the habitat of Ramallah. At a municipal meeting, a councilwoman proposes to install a banner promoting activism with the Palestinian national cause, and Hadid objects: the city government belongs to the city, he says, it has no external causes outside of improving the real lives of the people and trying to solve their problems. Then come the Christmas preparations with a play of lights and water in the main fountain that has a difficult prognosis for success, Trump’s announcement about Jerusalem, the attempts to get a TV, the anti-Trump protests in the streets, Hadid enjoying a few hours of rest at home. More than an authority in the traditional sense, the mayor of Ramallah is a firewall, an expert conflict technician and a plumber seasoned in crises and blocked pipes.

Then comes the second memorable scene of the film: it is night, the light and water fountain has managed to overcome the mechanical difficulties, but in front of the municipality building the young Palestinians clash with the young soldiers of the Israeli army. It is night and the situation is tense outside and inside the building. Hadid decides to go out into the street. He is the local authority, and he demands respect for the municipality’s facilities. The scene is memorable because it has not a hint of hatred but rather conviction, astonishment at the blatant clumsiness shown by the Israeli government in dealing with its neighbors. And Osit keep close to the point: radio and TV reporters rush up to the mayor as the soldiers retreat while throwing tear gas canisters around the building. Then Hadid says what every viewer wants to say: What are those Israeli soldiers doing in that place and at that time? Why did they come? What do they want to do? To make it clear that Ramallah is a city under occupation? The word comes out of Hadid’s mouth like a lament hidden behind an insult: he even corrects himself at some point to clarify that it is indeed an occupation.

The following days the municipality works to repair the damage left by the soldiers’ incursion. The scene precedes the Christmas celebration. Ten minutes away, by car, Jesus was born more than two thousand years ago, and Ramallah celebrates its status as a Christian city with a play of water and light at the municipal fountain. The neighbors gather around with their families, slowly, as if summoned by the blue tonality that the water jets acquire in the night of the small square. This is what it is all about, nothing more. To create a city, and to turn those who live in it into citizens of the place.

There ends Mayor, the film about the mayor of Ramallah, and I am left thinking about Musa Hadid’s fortitude and good judgment compare with the bad luck that we Chileans suffer: to have the mayor of the Recoleta municipality, Daniel Jadue, as the de facto representative of the Palestinian community. A member of the Communist Party and candidate for the presidency next year, Jadue was singled out for his remarks among the ten most serious anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, according to the regular registry of the Simon Wiesenthal International Center, a Los Angeles-based NGO dedicated to denouncing xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism worldwide. Jadue may have felt honored by the mention. A Fatah militant, he entered politics through the Palestinian cause, but withdrew from Arafat’s group in protest against the 1993 Oslo accords that placed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the administration of the Palestinian National Authority, with Ramallah as its political and cultural capital.

Paradoxically, Jadue has accused, from his position as a councilman, the local Jewish community of “dual loyalty” and of serving as agents of Israel to influence the Chilean media. The same accusation could be brought against Jadue regarding his political biography in his relationship with Palestine, first, and then with the Third International that aligned all the communist parties behind the Soviet CP. Where Recoleta falls in this journey only the voters can know. The fact is that Jadue has been a good mayor, successful in his plans for a popular pharmacy and other communal initiatives, to the point that he ascended to the pantheon of potential presidential candidates knowing that he has two fundamental allies: the Chilean Communist Party, and the largest Palestinian community in the world residing outside the Arab world, with 350,000 members and a powerful financial and commercial network.

The dual loyalty however lies with the “Zionists,” as Jadue refers to Jews who are not in favor of wiping Israel off the map (Zionist, in the dictionary, is one who supports the existence of an independent Jewish state, like the Mapuches when they fight for autonomy from the Chilean state, or like the Palestinians who fight for a state of their own neighboring the state of Israel). It is precisely this “dual loyalty” placed by Jadue over the Chilean Jewish colony that triggered the condemnation of the Wiesenthal Center, since the accusation is included in the definition of anti-Semitism used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

In any case, the reactions in Chile to Jadue’s inclusion in the top ten for anti-Semitism in 2020 were not long in coming. From the head of the Christian Democrat party, Fuad Chahin, to an International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (sic), based in Argentina, and including a group of 40 progressive Jews close to Jadue, the complaint became an accusation against the Wiesenthal Center for “uncritically adopting opinions that distort reality coming from sectors of the Chilean ultra-right,” as the statement of the progressive Jews says in its final part. I review the names of the signatories: some of them are friends, others are very close friends or almost brothers because of the lives we have lived, and even some relatives. Paraphrasing Jadue himself, who has repeatedly said that he has no problems with Jews but only with Zionists, I would say that I have no problems with communists but only with anti-Semites. My problem is six million problems, according to unbiased figures, which is the toll left by anti-Semitism in the Holocaust, less than a century ago. Even more: I believe that the proven loyalty of Communist Jews to the party bears no relation of equivalence to that of the party to the Jews in its own ranks. When anti-Semitism has dominated the course, the party has been diligent in separating the deviant elements from the course dictated by the history of the triumphant proletariat.

But the question is to know: one, if the Wiesenthal Center is being manipulated by the Chilean ultra-right; two, if there are Mossad agents infiltrated among the 15,000 members of the Chilean Jewish community to influence the decisions of the Ministry of Cultures; and three, if Daniel Jadue (a Hebrew name if ever there was one) maintains his dual loyalty to the Palestinian struggle and acts as a sounding board for Hamas in Recoleta. As they are all absurd hypotheses if you consider them separately, it is better to put them together under the theory of racial supremacy formulated by Jadue himself in a 2014 interview with Eduardo Muriel and published in Spain: “The Palestinians, and I am talking about the melting pot of peoples that make up the ethnic strain, the Palestinian family, which is not a unit but an absolutely polyhedral and multicultural mix, have developed a formidable resilience capacity. You see the Arab cities and you know that they were there thousands of years ago. They have been built up. You see Israeli cities and they look like a blueprint. They do not respect geography, history, they have no sequence, they are born by spontaneous generation. It is something that does not have a pre-existence, you cannot pull the thread and search in the ancestors. In Arab cities every house speaks of the identity of its own family. In Israel there is no identity, but an absolute standardization.”

Ah, what luminous the future looks with President Jadue. The last time someone spoke this way about his singularity, the “German strain,” it was a chancellor who came to power promising peace and took sixty million souls to the grave, ten percent of them Jewish souls. From one mayor to another, from Ramallah to Recoleta, from Musa Hadid to Daniel Jadue, there is one who knows where his heart and his people are, and there is another who seeks his enemies with the sword of the holy innocents.

Roberto Brodsky (b. Santiago de Chile, 1957). Writer, university professor, scriptwriter, critic, and author of op-eds. His novels include The Worst of Heroes [El Peor de los Héroes] (1999), The Art of Being Silent [El Arte de Callar] (2004), Burnt Forest [Bosque Quemado] (2008), Poison [Veneno] (2012), Chilean House [Casa Chilena] (2015), and Last Days [Últimos días] (Rialta Publishing House, 2017). He lived for over a decade in Washington, working as an associate professor at Georgetown University. He has lived for long periods in Buenos Aires, Caracas, Barcelona and Washington DC. In mid-2019 he moved to New York.


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