The lives of Palestinian Arabs under Israel’s occupation of the West Bank can be circumscribed, given the presence of Israeli checkpoints and the closures that restrict their movements. Ameen Nayfeh’s feature film, 200 Meters, which opens in New York City theatres on November 18 and on digital platforms on December 6, delves into this troubling issue.
The central character, Mustafa (Ali Suliman), is a resident of Tulkarem, a town in the West Bank close to the Israeli border. His Israeli Arab wife, Salwa (Lana Zreik), and their three children live nearby in Israel.
The concrete security wall built by Israel after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising cuts across a gully, separating Mustafa from his family. At night, they can see each other from their respective balconies 200 meters apart. During the day, when Mustafa works on construction sites inside Israel, he can visit Salwa and his kids.
Nayfeh takes his sweet time explaining their problem. In the first scene of this often absorbing movie, Mustafa grows agitated when Salwa informs him she plans to register their son in a sports program at a Jewish club in Haifa. Mustafa, a mild mannered, thoughtful person, seems to object to her plan. The implication is that he opposes Israel’s existence and cannot reconcile himself to any form of coexistence between its Jewish and Arab citizens.
Only later in the film do we learn that Mustafa is eligible for citizenship due to his marriage to an Israeli citizen. Given his political beliefs, he has rejected that possibility. Which means, of course, that he is the author of his misfortune, a point that Nayfeh fails to address.
Salwa is fed up with their situation, but Mustafa prefers the status quo, which requires him to obtain an Israeli work permit and wait in a long queue to enter Israel.
When he’s informed that his permit has expired, Mustafa can no longer work or see his family in Israel. Nor can he visit his son, who has had an accident and remains hospitalized in Hadera.
In desperation, he pays a Palestinian an exorbitant fee to smuggle him into Israel. Among his fellow passengers is Anne (Anne Unterberger), a German cinematographer who claims to be of partial Palestinian descent.
En route to Jerusalem, they pile into the car of an Israeli smuggler, who gets into an altercation with Anne. Passing a group of Jewish settlers, Anne’s Palestinian acquaintance compares their settlements to a cancerous growth.
As they approach an Israeli checkpoint, the tension builds. Will they be allowed through? Will Mustafa be reunited with his son and family?
200 Meters distills the essence of his plight without descending into shrillness or propaganda.