The award winning short film The Present, set in the West Bank, about a father and daughter going shopping, shows the dystopian reality of everyday life for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Rush hour at Checkpoint 300 near Bethlehem finds men corralled into narrow spaces, trying to get to work in the jostle of others navigating the obstructive infrastructure of the Israeli occupation. The Present begins with Yusef making his way through the real-life early morning slow movement of men at this checkpoint that can take hours to get through, with others climbing along the bars above to bypass the crowds. Later, waking up late on his wedding anniversary, Yusef plans to buy a present for his wife, Noor, in Beitunia, and sets out with his young daughter Yasmine with a shopping list of groceries to buy.
On their way to go shopping they must pass through a checkpoint. Palestinians, some elderly and some with young children, are made to stand in line at the checkpoint, armed soldiers with guns interrogating them about where they are going, while Israelis are able to drive past without any trouble. What should have been a fun outing for father and daughter turns into an ordeal, as Yusef and his young daughter are subjected to the humiliation of being detained in caged areas while their belongings are searched. Upset at their treatment and needing the toilet Yasmine wets herself while they are caged.
“I’m really sorry dad, but I couldn’t hold it,” she tells her dad afterwards.
“My love why didn’t you say something?” Yusef asks.
“It’s okay dad. There was nothing you could do.” his daughter replies burying her head into his side at the indignity.
“Okay my love. It’s okay. No problem. We’ll fix it,” he reassures her.
Finally arriving at the shops, Yusef gets Yasmine a change of clothes, a bar of chocolate and a tiara. After grocery shopping, with Yusef unable to find any painkillers for the chronic back pain he suffers from, they go to buy the anniversary present they came for – a new fridge. Arriving at another checkpoint with the delivery truck, they are unable to pass again and Yusef tells the driver to leave them there with the fridge and that he will return his trolley later. Thus begins an even more harrowing ordeal as they try to get home with the fridge.
Winning the Audience Award for Best Film at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival where it premiered, the Oscar-nominated short film went on to win other awards, including the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film in 2021. In an interview with Middle East Matters, British Palestinian filmmaker Farah Nabulsi says about the film that there are “over a hundred Israeli checkpoints all over the West Bank, and this is just a story about one of them.” Nabulsi wrote the script for the film after she was deeply affected by what she saw when she visited Palestine for the first time in 25 years. The Present is well acted by Saleh Bakri as Yusef and Mariam Kanj as his daughter, who bring the difficult emotions of the scenes to life, with the relationship between them convincing as a genuine and doting father-daughter bond.
Centring and bringing awareness to the everyday plight of the Palestinians, as The Present succeeds in doing by focussing on the injustices and indignities experienced on a daily basis due to the occupation, is the first step in recognising and righting what is going on today in Palestine. The Present shows us the heart-breaking injustice and institutionalised abuse of the Israeli occupation and its everyday reality for normal people trying to go about their lives. It shows the cruelty and abuse of power at the heart of the Israeli attitude towards Palestinians in the inhuman responses of the soldiers at the checkpoint to Yusef’s pleas for them to be kind and recognise their shared humanity. It is hard not to think these soldiers are perpetrating on others something of what was done to Jews in WWI, being rounded up in camps and treated like cattle. How can this cycle of trauma be broken and healed? The formation of Israel was in large part a response to the ethnic cleansing of Jews in WWI, and its transgressions against the human rights of the Palestinians are no doubt partly due to unprocessed and unhealed collective trauma. This in no way excuses their treatment of Palestinians. It brings up the question of whether anything can be done to address the unhealed psyche of a people whose ancestors survived a genocide. How many generations does this trauma ripple through, how many more generations of Palestinians will it continue to ripple through, and what can be done to protect them from the oppression and abuses of power that are being perpetrated right now?