What’s Written on the Walls
Produced and Directed by Angela O’Hara
In Gaza city, the writing is on the walls. Everywhere you are surrounded by words: from propaganda and political slogans to verses from the Qu’ran and advertisements for washing powder. However, mostly there are names and faces of the martyrs or shaheed: Palestinians who died due to the Arab/Israeli conflict. What’s Written on the Walls is a documentary project that traces the stories behind the writing on the walls, uncovering the complex and diverse histories of five Palestinian families of different backgrounds whose family members have become shaheed.
In 2002, Angela O’Hara came to Gaza to work as an art teacher at an international school in Beit Lahia and became immediately aware of the tragic and desperate state of life in Gaza, a condition that to her appeared hidden from the rest of the world. From that moment, she felt the imperative to do something, however small, to make this condition visible to the world. Straight away she became involved in the small but vibrant cultural life in Gaza, writing about Palestinian artists and teaching with the Arts and Crafts Village. She began to do research for an installation of paintings and objects that explored the themes of loss, void, and memory with reference to families who lost family members in the conflict. She wanted to create intimate portraits that reflected the complex and diverse experience of life in occupied Gaza.
What was striking immediately to her when arriving in Gaza was its heavily politicized environment, an urban landscape where the city walls themselves were memorials to the dead, bearing a constant circulation of martyr posters, spray-painted names, and inscriptions. The documentary project, What’s Written on the Walls, developed out of the emotional interviews that O’Hara and her team filmed of families of shaheed as research for the installations and from footage of the inscribed urban landscape that to her spoke to how deeply Gazans were entrenched in the tragedy, loss, and politics that surrounded them. After moving to Belgium with her husband, Firas Arafat, she completed the production with the assistance of Johann Dehandschutter, director of the Atelier of Film and Video Kunst at the Royal Academy of Art, Antwerp. Together they combined the raw High 8 video interviews with archival footage from Ramattan Studios in Gaza to create a unique and powerful documentary about the vulnerable place of the individual in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
O’Hara now lives in Toronto, Canada, with her two-year-old son, Zein El Hayat. She is an artist, activist, and graduate student at York University where she studies an integrated programme of Anthropology, Cultural Studies, and Film and Video. She is presently working on her third documentary on Palestine.
The documentary film is available through Vtape, www.vtape.org.