LYD IN EXILE, a creative documentary, unearths a contested history and uses the language of speculative fiction to reimagine life in modern-day Palestine. In 1948, during Israel’s founding, an event transformed the city of Lyd. Hundreds of Palestinian civilians were massacred by Israeli forces and most of the city’s inhabitants were sent into exile. These events were part of a larger history called the Nakba (catastrophe), the Arabic term for the erasure of Palestine. The Nakba began in 1948 with massacres throughout historic Palestine and culminated in the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their land.
Seventy years later, Lyd is now called Lod in Hebrew and the city that once connected Palestine to the world is now the capital of Israel’s drug trade –– disinvested and divided. But what if the Nakba and, specifically, the massacre and expulsion in Lyd had never happened? LYD IN EXILE combines dystopian, documentary footage and animated fictional scenes to portray two simultaneous realities –– the non-fiction reality in which the Nakba happened and continues to impact the present, and a fictional alternative reality in which the Nakba never happened and Palestine flourishes as a pluralistic society. Documentary scenes feature a Palestinian metal worker in Balata Refugee Camp who is trapped in exile, never before seen Israeli archival footage of Zionist soldiers admitting to the war crimes they committed in Lyd in 1948, a Palestinian teacher in Lyd fighting to keep Palestinian identity alive for the next generation, and other characters who refract the complexities of life in Palestine/Israel. Through animated fictional sequences, the film colorfully and often humorously imagines what life would be like for these same characters if the Nakba had never happened and the open wound left by the massacre and expulsion was closed. However, this animated, idealized reality is also imperfect and fragile. Throughout the film, the documentary and animated realities collide into one another. Their struggle with each other is a constant tension, leaving the audience wondering which one will prevail.
Manar Meme, an educator in Lyd who is committed to passing on Palestinian identity to the next generation.
Eissa Fanous, a survivor of the Nakba who is a poet and artist.
Jehad Baba, a metal worker who has lived in Balata refugee camp his whole life following the expulsion of his family from Lyd over 70 years ago.
Palmach Soldiers, Archival footage introduces the audience to the Palmach soldiers who committed the massacre and expulsion in Lyd.
LYD IN EXILE embodies a perspective on the founding of Israel that average Americans know little about. Viewers experience this history through lives of those who experienced it, Palestinian survivors of the Nakba and their families. Deeper still, we uncover rare archival footage acquired from the Palmach Military Archive. It features the very Israeli soldiers who committed a massacre that killed over 250 Palestinians in Lyd (also known as Lydda), and who expelled 50,000 Palestinians from the city in 1948 in what has become known as the Lydda Death March.
The timing and socio-political context for this film is incredibly opportune. According to polls conducted by Brookings, Gallup, and Pew Research, Americans have strong but divided opinions about Israel and Palestine. Positive sentiments about Israel have greatly increased among Republicans post-9/11. The opposite is true among nearly half of Democrats. Liberal Democrats stand out as having more sympathy for Palestinians than ever before. And numerous millennial Jews, who disavow the racist nature of Zionism as it is manifested in Israel, harness their feelings in activist groups such as If Not Now, JStreet, and Jewish Voice for Peace. Further, with rising xenophobia and nationalism around the world, refugees in general are under threat. Nuanced depictions of refugees counter harmful stereotypes that have very real consequences, as we are currently witnessing in the United States.
There are currently over 5 million Palestinian refugees worldwide, with 1.6 million in refugee camps. Whether in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, or elsewhere, many live in an oppressive limbo without hope for the future. This is why presenting an “alternate reality,” through animation, is a radical act. Conversely, the violence that sustains the occupation of Palestine and the territories sabotages lives and imaginations alike. Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote, ”Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room. It’s not simply a Palestinian question.” The “Palestinian question” is thus universal, it is woven through identity, politics, and history: “Who am I?”
From holistic questions, to the specificity of the 70-year Palestinian predicament, the stakes are high. Will families ever be able to return “home” and reunite with loved ones? Lose their history to the passage of time and suppression by the Israeli state? Be doomed to permanent exile? Are there paths to equality for Palestinians in Israel? Or will the apartheid state deepen? Prime Minister Netanyahu has even called Arabs in Israel a “demographic bomb,” reflecting the fear among Jewish Israelis that Palestinians represent an existential threat to the country’s Jewish identity.
Palestinian citizens of Israel, an umbrella term for a diverse group of Arab identities, make up 20 percent of the country’s population but are systematically marginalized. The 2018 passage of the “Nation State Law” codifies apartheid, stating that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” It makes Hebrew Israel’s official language, devaluing Arabic. The law states, “Jewish settlement is a national value,” and demands the government “promote its establishment and development.” Reminiscent of the U.S. 1862 Homestead Act, or the Jim Crow South, what was once de facto, is now de jure. Likewise, the fight over Confederate monuments across the U.S., represents a similar struggle: Who do we commemorate? Whose history, or version of history, do we value? Will we continue to memorialize leaders who committed genocidal acts upon indigenous people, or fought on behalf of enslavement of African Americans? The stories throughout LYD IN EXILE embody the above themes in creative, non-linear, ways.
We are the right people to make this piece because we have secured the cooperative access of our subjects, including the rights to the archival footage of the Palmach soldiers discussing what could amount to war crimes. Rami Younis, producer/co-director, is a Palestinian filmmaker, writer, activist, and native of Lyd who knows many of the subjects personally. Younis was recently awarded a “Religion, Conflict, and Peace Fellowship” at Harvard Divinity School to continue his work on Lyd in Exile and cultural activism in Palestine.
Sarah Friedland, director, is a Jewish American woman filmmaker who grew up shielded from the Palestinian narrative around the state of Israel and its creation. Yet, like so many other Jewish Americans, she learned to appreciate the current situation in an intricate way through the lenses of race, colonialism, and empire. She looks to delve into the matters via cinematic exploration that is creative and political in form and process.
Lyd in Exile has been invited to pitch to international decision makers at Cannes Doc Corner and Ramallah Docs.