Please welcome Co-Director and Co-Producer Gina Angelone in the comments
It’s Better to Jump tells the story of the Palestinian city of Akka (literally “acre”) which is part of historic Palestine, and now sits on the coast of northern Israel. In 1750 the Ottoman Empire ruler Daher el-Omar built a wall on the ocean side of the city, atop an 11th century Crusader wall, which has protected it from invasions over the centuries. The wall stands from 33 to 43 feet high, 3 to 6 feet thick, and local Palestinian residents whose families have been there for 10 or 20 generations — or longer — consider it a rite of passage to jump off the wall and into the sea.
The filmmakers use this tradition as a metaphor for the spirit that’s allowed the dwindling Arab community that remains in Akka to resist attempts to displace them, in spite of the hardships that they must endure in order to stay there. Many left during the 1948 “ethnic cleansing” of Palestine, and more recent attempts to “gentrify” the beautiful coastal city by bringing in Europeans and building it up as an arts community which further reduced the population. In 1995 there were more than 8000 Arabs living in the old city; now that number is down to some 3000.
As the residents note, the tactics being used to discourage them from staying in their homeland constitute a “slow death,” a choking of the native population who feel like refugees, despite the fact that they were born there. Forty percent of all industry in the city used to come from fishing, but that business has been all but wiped out due to industrial pollution that killed the fish as well as stringent military regulations that prevent boats form going out far enough to find healthy fish. It’s hard to imagine someone sitting down and saying “how do we adopt policies that will pollute the waters so badly that it will kill the local fishing industry;” but after watching the film, you are left thinking that it’s more difficult to believe they didn’t.
“Why don’t you go live in Gaza,” one school teacher says she is told, but she explains that this is her home. Permits are required to fix up your home in Akka, but those interviewed say such permits are not granted to Arabs, who must live in disrepair or go elsewhere.
Despite all of these shock doctrine tactics the native Palestinian population still endures, and the filmmakers wrap this around to the metaphor of jumping off the wall into the sea. “Whoever hasn’t jumped off the wall is not from Akka,” is the old adage. And as one local resident says, “Palestinians make leaps of faith every day.” “It gives you a certain level of courage to face your future,” says another.
It’s Better to Jump is not a didactic, ham-fisted movie, but rather has the gentle pacing appropriate to the historic city. The story of the Palestinian displacement is told against the beautiful backdrop of Akka, which is still lovely despite the unbelievable environmental mismanagement. If you know someone who isn’t familiar with the Palestinian situation, or thinks they know something they don’t, it’s a very well-crafted, easy to understand film that persuades with heartfelt stories and hope, rather than fiery rhetoric and outrage. And the lovely scenery and the spirited interviewees are uplifting for anyone.