Under Review: ‘Abu Jamil Street’


Twenty-five feet underneath Abu Jamil Street is a parallel avenue, busier and more lucrative. It is one of at least 200 tunnels that works as an underground highway between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. It’s a money-maker for both Egyptian merchants and Palestinian traders.

But here’s the situation not explained in the film. The Palestinian Authority under Arafat and the Fatah party used to have the power in Gaza. However, in response to political pressure, the Hamas (meaning Islamic Resistance Movement) party candidates were able to win the majority of seats in the Palestinian Parliament by 2007.

The problem is that Hamas had been known internationally as a terrorist organization, continually attacking Israel. Because of this, once Hamas won control of Palestine both Egypt and Israel condemned the new government and formed an embargo, effectively cutting off trade access for the Gaza Strip.

As long as the Hamas party rules in Gaza, Egypt and Israel have pledged to continue the embargo. As long as there is an embargo there will be tunnels that transport goods from Egypt to Gaza. Even though there are periodic crack-downs by Egyptian police who confiscate the goods (a benefit to them), this is not done often or pervasively enough to affect the lucrative business for the Egyptian merchants who are able to charge much more for their goods in the underground smuggling network.

There is no narration in this cinema vérité-style production, and the participants, surprisingly unmasked and stating their names, talk freely about their thoughts and opinions.

One man tells us, “It’s very dangerous work, but we have to take the risk. Either we live, or we die. Either I make money or I lose everything. That’s the game.”

While the film takes us to a UN warehouse where Palestinians can buy huge bags of chickpeas, flour and sugar for a small amount of money, these items do not sustain the population. Without the tunnels the Palestinians would not be able to get the other foodstuffs they need. Even livestock is transported underground.

We go with the nervous families in the film who have to find shelter in the middle of the night from Israeli bombs. While the bombing occurs when it’s dark, during the day the men return to rebuild the tunnels, risking their health from the toxic sand because white phosphorous residue is cleverly integrated into the bombs contaminating the tunnels and causing headaches.

A Palestinian made an analogy joking to his friends. He compared their situation to a Tom and Jerry cartoon. “Between Israelis and Palestinians, it’s like Tom and Jerry. Israel is Tom and the Palestinians are Jerry. And it’s always Jerry who wins. Tom thinks he’s smart, and waits for Jerry. But Jerry’s never fooled. Our history’s like the cartoon. They won’t admit it. They oppress us, and oppress us…And after, it explodes. It’s like a rocket. The bigger the pressure, the bigger the explosion.

    “It’ll be the same with us. And it’s Israel who’ll suffer, not us. Even if 1,000, 2,000 or 10,000 Palestinians die. There’s one thing they haven’t understood. A Palestinian woman makes babies. At the start of the year, there are births. At the end of the year, there are births.”

“Abu Jamil Street” shows the uncanny resistance and survival of the Palestinians who are trapped on a little strip of land without a means of export or import. The bombing of the tunnels only serves to guarantee the tunnelers full-time employment and assure Egyptians that they can legitimately continue charging high prices for goods because they prove tricky to deliver.

No matter what your politics are, this kind of documentary without the barrage of expert testimony, narration and editorializing is refreshing and thought-provoking. “Abu Jamil Street” is just one little slice of the picture that lets us know just how intricate and complicated the problems in the Middle East are.


Director, Producer and Writer: Stephaned Marchetti and Alexis Monchovet

Length: 58 minutes
Language: Arabic subtitled in English (French available)
Country: French Production
U.S. Release: July 14, 2010

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