Une bouteille à la mer (A Bottle in the Gaza Sea) was shown at the recent Other Israel Film Festival sponsored by the Manhattan Jewish Community Center. It is a film about the friendship between a young Jewish woman living in Jerusalem and a young Palestinian man from Gaza sparked by a message in a bottle. The film opens with the sounds of conversation coming from a Jerusalem café, silenced by an explosion. Later, a lone Israeli soldier throws a bottle containing a message into the sea. The message is from the soldier’s 17-year-old sister, Tal Levine (Agathe Bonitzer) who wants the question answered, “How could someone strap a bomb to themselves, walk into a café, and kill innocent people?” Her message is found by Naim Al Fardjouki (Mahmud Shalaby), a twenty year old living in Gaza. He reads her message, accepts her invitation to respond by email, and a friendship ensues.
The film portrays their lives lived only 60 miles apart but separated by a wide gulf of fear. Their friendship slowly bridges the gap, even though their experiences put them in different worlds. Naim experiences the hardship of life in Gaza as he faces a bleak future as a fatherless only son. He works for his uncle, but has no reason to expect anything good out of life. Tal, on the other hand, has a large family, goes to school, and has moved to Jerusalem from France. However, she is gripped by fear as she daily waits for another bomb to go off. As the two exchange emails, they discover a common humanity and need for love and acceptance.
Though they find friendship, they still struggle to overcome the conflict in which they are trapped. Rockets are constantly fired into Israel’s south, and Israel invades Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. How can a Jewish Israeli and a Palestinian find peace in the midst of war?
The film grapples with themes of reconciliation, peace, conflict, love and hope but offers no easy answers—there are none. Tal and Naim experience only a momentary transcendence of the ever-widening barrier between Israelis and Palestinians as Naim drives by Tal at a checkpoint during the heart-wrenching climax of the film.
It is a film that speaks to the crisis in the Middle East today. Sirens are sounding in Tel Aviv and war seems imminent. Israelis and Palestinians today find themselves in the same position as Tal and Naim. Can enemies discover humanity in one another? How long will history repeat itself?
As a Jewish believer in Y’shua (Jesus), I see the brokenness in our world as rooted in our broken relationship with God because of sin. I believe that brokenness has been dealt with by the death of Y’shua. Because he bore our sins, we can be reconciled first with God and then with each other. Palestinians like Naim are alienated from Israel, kept out by a militarized border, and Israelis are alienated from their Arab neighbors. But it is not the wall or the checkpoints that are at the heart of the separation. It is fear and hatred. At the root of these basic emotions is sin, and this is what I believe Messiah came to deal with. Even in a world marked with fear, violence and war, we can experience God’s peace.
I believe that only through the Messiah Y’shua can there be peace that brings real reconciliation. If Tal’s message to Naim can forge a friendship between two enemies, how much more can God’s message unite once-enemies into brothers and sisters?