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“Lyd”: Palestinian & Jewish Directors of New Sci-Fi Doc on How 1948 Nakba Devastated Palestinian City

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A new film about the once-thriving Palestinian city of Lyd, now known as the Israeli city Lod and home to Ben Gurion Airport, has begun screening in the United States. The film is a “science fiction documentary” that depicts the Palestinian city both with and without the 1948 Nakba, when over 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and villages. In Lyd, Israeli soldiers massacred hundreds of Palestinians in Dahmash Mosque during their takeover of the city. “We use the story of Lyd to symbolize the story of the Nakba, the Palestinian Nakba, the demolition and expulsion of over 600 villages all across Palestine,” explains Rami Younis, a descendant of Nakba survivors from Lyd. Younis and Sarah Ema Friedland, the co-directors of Lyd, join Democracy Now! to share excerpts from their film and discuss the vision behind their project.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We end today’s show with a new film about the once-thriving Palestinian city of Lyd. It’s a science fiction documentary that depicts the Palestinian city both with and without the Nakba in 1948, when over 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and villages, their property confiscated, 15,000 killed. When Lyd became part of Israel, its Palestinian residents were killed or exiled. Lyd is now known as Lod. The city is home to Ben Gurion Airport. The film examines the Lyd’s history and also presents an alternate reality in which the residents were not expelled in 1948. This is the trailer.

LYD RESIDENT: [translated] This tree has lemons, oranges and grenades! Every day they would throw something at us. And we kept it as a reminder of what we went through. I don’t want to go through a second Nakba.

LYD: [translated] I am thousands of years old. Everything changes. I’m not saying I want to be a utopia, a perfect city. I just want my exiled sons and daughters back. I want to prosper again. The story of Lyd is the story of Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for the new sci-fi documentary feature film Lyd. On Friday, I spoke to Palestinian writer and activist Rami Younis, who’s co-director of Lyd. He is originally from Lyd. We also were joined by his co-director Sarah Ema Friedland. I began by asking Rami to talk about Lyd and why he made the sci-fi documentary.

RAMI YOUNIS: Lyd was occupied in 1948. It was a city that once connected Palestine to the world. It had the Palestinian International Airport there. Also, due to its geographical location, it was a very important Palestinian bustling city. And then the occupation happened, and the city was almost completely demolished. And unfortunately, the story of that place hasn’t been fully told, so we decided to tell it.

However, how do you tell a story that’s been told so many times before? I mean, it’s the story of the Nakba, essentially. So we wanted to have a special twist. We wanted to do something that’s a bit outside the box. And we figured, “OK, let’s imagine an alternate reality in which that occupation and the atrocities of 1948 never happened in that place.” I mean, how would the reality be like if it weren’t for these atrocities? So, we decided to go a bit crazy and do something that’s a bit unusual in the Palestinian film landscape. And fortunately, I had a co-director that believed in the same idea, and we clicked. And there we are, having our New York premiere.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a scene from the film Lyd with city planner Orwa Switat.

ORWA SWITAT: [translated] In Lyd, as opposed to Haifa, Acre or Jaffa, history was completely erased. They used bulldozers and tractors to completely clear the historic Palestinian structures. The Israeli planning policy, from the occupation of 1948 to this day, erases historic Palestinian space and imposes their own history of this place, starting with the important historical moment, which isn’t called “the 1948 occupation of Lyd,” it’s called “the 1948 liberation of Lyd.”

This entire Zionist narrative does not only exist in private, but also in public space. As a Palestinian, you can walk around your neighborhoods and see that the street you live on is called “Tsahal [Israeli Army] Street.” The roundabout that you drive through is called “Palmach,” where the massacre happened in 1948. Names in public space, landmarks, these symbols deliver a clear message to us Palestinians, natives of this land, that this not our land. You are not indigenous to this land. You are not owners of your homeland. You are vistors.

AMY GOODMAN: Sarah Ema Friedland, talk about that massacre that he’s referring to in 1948. And tell us where Lyd is.

SARAH EMA FRIEDLAND: So, Lyd is the present-day city of Lod in Israel. It’s 15 kilometers from Tel Aviv. It’s where Ben Gurion Airport is now. During historical Palestine, as Rami said, it was the city that connected Palestine to the world. But now it is devastated and disinvested and divided by the Israeli occupation.

So, the massacre that happened in 1948 happened in a central mosque in Lyd called Dahmash Mosque. And there were — Lyd was one of the last cities to fall during the Nakba. There were like 50,000 people in Lyd in that moment, because lots of people from different towns that had already been conquered by the Israeli state had come to Lyd and were defending the city. And so, when the Palmach soldiers came in, there was a lot of resistance in Lyd. And some of this resistance was coming from Dahmash Mosque, but there were also civilians — women, children, men, everybody — in the mosque. And so, the Israeli soldiers, the Palmach soldiers —

AMY GOODMAN: And why are they called Palmach?

SARAH EMA FRIEDLAND: So, Palmach is one of the brigades, the kind of militias, that was pre-Israeli occupation forces, before the state of Israel that was founded. And so, these different militias during the Nakba were responsible for conquering many, many different towns and cities throughout historic Palestine.

So, when they came to Lyd, there were many different atrocities that were committed in Lyd, but the one we focus on is in this mosque. And so, a Palmach soldier fired a anti-tank missile into the mosque and killed around 200 people. Of course, we don’t know, because, you know, as we know, the records are kept by the people in power. And so this was a really devastating moment, because when Lyd fell, that was kind of almost like a symbol of the end of the resistance. And so, after that, there was an expulsion from Lyd where about 50,000 people were expelled from the city, and a thousand people were kept in Lyd in a ghetto by the Israeli state in order to keep the infrastructure of the city going.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the scene from the film Lyd where the Nakba survivor Eissa Fanous recounts being held captive by Israeli soldiers as a child.

EISSA FANOUS: [translated] This is me here. This is Sameer Al-Aboudi. He was with me when the Israeli army took us to Dahmash Mosque to remove the dead bodies. The decomposed bodies smelled really bad, dreadful. A week or two after the massacre, they took us in the Israeli army vehicles — me, Samir Aboudi, Rasheed Fanous, Khalil Abu Judoub — no, Khalil al-Belleh — to Lyd. We weren’t captives. We were children, like me, maybe a little older. I was probably the youngest. They took us there, dropped us off. “Take out the bodies.” Pulling, the bodies were falling apart, rotted. The smell was horrendous. We’d take the bodies out, and Israeli soldiers would burn them. At the end of the day, they would drive us back home. They took us two days in a row.

AMY GOODMAN: A 1948 Nakba survivor — of course, 1948 is the time of the founding of the state of Israel — speaking about what happened in Lyd. And this is personal for you, Rami. This is your family. You had ancestors, you had relatives who survived and didn’t survive 1948?

RAMI YOUNIS: So, yeah, I’m a third generation of, you know, Nakba survivors. Like Sarah said, only, well, less than 1,000 Palestinians were allowed to remain in Lyd. And we use the story of Lyd to symbolize the story of the Nakba, the Palestinian Nakba, the demolition and expulsion of over 600 villages all across Palestine. So, in a way, the story of Lyd is the story of Palestine.

And to us, you know, working on this film, Sarah and I, when we were shooting, not just Eissa Fanous, the person we just showed, who unfortunately has died before we were able to finish the film, so also we’re paying tribute to him by mentioning his name and showing this clip. So, filming this, filming them, was also our way of documenting what happened in 1948 for the ages, because we want to show that what happened in the past, you know, is still affecting what’s happening today, and what happened in the past, what started in the past, in 1948, is still ongoing. So, by telling these stories of these people, by documenting them, by capturing their accounts and showing them to people nowadays, maybe, we’re hoping, people will get a wider perspective of what’s happening in Israel-Palestine. And maybe they’ll be a kind and nice reminder that, unlike some people would like us to think, the world did not start on October 7th.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go to this Palmach soldier. This is quite amazing. This is another scene with a member of Palmach, the Israeli militia group in 1948, but this is what? 1989, it’s decades later, when he is interviewed. And if you can set that up for us, Sarah? If you can set up why you have footage of a soldier from 1989 describing what he did in 1948?

SARAH EMA FRIEDLAND: Yeah. So, we were able to access this footage from the Palmach military archive in Israel. I had read about these clips, and Rami and I talked about it. And the Palmach, you know, in 1989, decided to make a TV documentary about all of the battles that happened during 1948, all the invasions. And so they took these soldiers back to the places where they committed their war crimes, and they filmed with them, because for the state of Israel, this is not anything to be ashamed of. You know, they are — 

RAMI YOUNIS: Oh yeah, they wanted to celebrate their [inaudible], yeah.

SARAH EMA FRIEDLAND: They are proud of this history.



AMY GOODMAN: But this is one soldier who wasn’t proud.

EZRA GREENBOIM: [translated] I want to describe what I saw inside the mosque. There were women, men and children in there. Some, a few, were injured, and I don’t know from what. I don’t know from what. A few were injured. Many were sitting against the wall, terrified, but looking at me. I remember that a small girl was sitting next to the wall, around 12 years old. She was holding her younger sister in her arms. She hugged her and was waving her other hand like a pendulum. With spread fingers, as if to say, “Don’t shoot.” And I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know anything. I remember this sight, and I stormed outside.

Then, in front of the mosque’s door, there was a wall, and in the corner sat a local Palestinian person. I remember his face. He had a round face. He was very injured. I don’t know from what. That was the first time I was that close. And I saw his eyes. Terrified, confused, I have no words. I was confused, but it appeared that in his eyes, I was — I was a murderer. That’s what he saw in my eyes. Then he looks at me and says in Yiddish — Yiddish! — “Hob Rachmones. Hob Rachmones,” meaning in Hebrew, “Have mercy on me.” It reminded me of everything that we faced in exile, the pleas of mercy from Jews throughout generations. And I stormed outside. I stormed outside. And I don’t know what happened inside the mosque afterwards.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a Palmach soldier recounting what he did, in 1989, back in 1948. Rami Younis, as you watch this, your thoughts? He is no longer alive.

RAMI YOUNIS: As a Palestinian watching these, you know, soldiers describing what happened, and before that, and if you watch the film, you see other soldiers who are actually proud of what they did — I mean, you know, they look at the filmmakers, they look at the filmmaker, they look at the camera, and they described how they fired an anti-tank missile into a mosque and then went in with a grenade. And one of the soldiers even said, “And what the anti-tank missile didn’t take care of, the grenades took care of after that.” So, it’s like as if it’s a game to them, as if they’re not killing human beings. And this is the danger of allowing them to keep doing that. And we need to keep talking about that, and we need to show that what happened in 1948 is still happening.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is the state of Lyd today?

RAMI YOUNIS: Not good. Not good. We have a population of around 30,000 Palestinians there. And if you come and see the city, if you have a tour in the city, you will see the stark differences between how Jewish people live there, Jewish Israelis live there, and how Palestinian citizens of Israel live in Lyd. Poverty. It’s a city infested with crime. Almost every week, there are a few murders, unfortunately. And we’ve all been a victim of this, of this crime, and police are not doing anything about it, as you can imagine.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Rami, you are a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what you face? Can you talk about the discrimination Palestinians with Israeli citizenship face? Amnesty International and other human rights groups have recently concluded that — what Palestinians have been saying for decades — this is a system of apartheid.

RAMI YOUNIS: Oh yeah. And if you want to truly understand what it’s like to be a Palestinian citizen of Israel, look no further than what happened after October 7th. We’ve been silent for months, because we were unable to speak up. I mean, people claim — Israelis claim that Israel is a democracy, but it’s not. I mean, if you look at what happened after October 7th — I’m a journalist Amy. You know, I made a career out of being critical and outspoken. I was white. After October 7th, I wasn’t able — I was afraid to even like the wrong post on my social media. People were arrested for sharing the wrong thing, for like liking the wrong thing. And again, I say “the wrong thing.” So, freedom of speech is really impaired. And it’s been like that. And after October 7th, it’s just been insane.

I’m going to give you one more example. The Israeli chief of police said that if people in Israel wanted to demonstrate or show empathy to the people of Gaza, he will take them there himself. Now, this is a public servant admitting that he is willing to commit an illegal act by shipping Israeli citizens into Gaza if they practice their right to demonstrate. If you look at Arab towns and if you look at Israeli Jewish towns, you will see the differences of how people live there. There are a lot of marginalized communities, I would say, within Palestinian citizens of Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this film comes out this year, and then October 7th happens. You were planning to have all sorts of premieres. What happened, Sarah?

SARAH EMA FRIEDLAND: Yeah. So, we premiered the film in August at the Amman Film Festival. It was amazing. They were packed theaters. Seventy percent of the population of Jordan is Palestinian. And so the audiences were so excited to see themselves in the film, to see themselves represented, but also to see, you know, this alternate reality that — where the occupation never happens, right? And so, it was incredible. They had to add another screening. We won two awards. And all these things came into place.

And then October 7th happens. And, you know, the world — everything changes, obviously. Things are not entirely safe for Rami. Also, festivals are being shut down. We were supposed to premiere in Palestine at Palestine Days of Cinema. That festival was canceled. We were going to have our theatrical run, which is starting this week in New York, but we had to pull that, as well. So, it was like a really — it was a very tough time, because it was like we really wanted to share the film. It speaks to this moment. It provides extremely important context. But it just wasn’t.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Rami, it provides a view of the future. This is a sci-fi documentary. What does it mean to say Lyd when there was a Nakba and when there wasn’t?

RAMI YOUNIS: Essentially, this is the way we see it. It’s an exercise in imagination as a basic human right. And if we don’t imagine a different reality, we are just doomed to live in a reality that was created by someone else’s imagination. Now, Amy, if there’s one thing the occupier or the oppressor — I mean, you name it — can take away from us, it’s our ability to imagine or reimagine. So, in our film, we just wanted to create this space in which what happened in 1948 never happened.

Now, when we premiered the film in the Amman International Film Festival, we actually chose Amman, to premiere the film there, because we knew there will be Palestinians there. To our — not to our surprise, actually, we were hoping that they would show up, but Lydian refugees, refugees from Lyd from 1948, showed up and came to watch the film. You know, seeing how profound this was for them, seeing how they were moved by, you know, seeing the place they heard about so much — they dream about going back to that place — and seeing that place without what had happened in 1948 was truly profound to them. And to us, it was very satisfying to see that, you know, this job is needed.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you, finally, talk about the animation in this film? I mean, just the structure of the film is so unusual.

RAMI YOUNIS: So, yeah, we have animation in the film. The alternate reality was created through animation. And the good thing about animation is that you can just run wild with your imagination. You can do whatever you want.

And yeah, so — and we have characters. For example, we have a character from Balata refugee camp, which is a refugee camp in the West Bank. The guy is a welder. He’s always dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But because of the occupation, because he was from a refugee camp, it wasn’t possible. In the alternate reality, we have him as a lawyer in a university in Lyd. Now, Lyd doesn’t have a university. In the alternate reality, it has a university.

And by the way, we also — like, the same characters we have in the documentary part of the film, they dub their own voices. They dub their own avatars, so they were part of the creative process. So, they dub their own avatars in the alternate reality. So, the whole thing was just a lot of fun to work on, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, you talk about the difficulty of expressing yourself in Israel. What about coming here as you release this film in the United States, Sarah?

SARAH EMA FRIEDLAND: Yeah. So, I’m a professor of documentary filmmaking. And, you know, we see across the country just extreme repression happening in our universities, you know, from students to faculty to staff who have spoken out against the genocide in Gaza being suspended. I mean, the encampments that are happening are absolutely incredible. But there are real consequences for all of us, as well. And we’re seeing that happen more and more. But I think that what’s amazing is that people are not afraid. I feel like this is a real turning point in how U.S. people are engaging with what has been happening in Palestine for over 70 years. Yeah, so, I’m curious how it feels for you being here in this moment.

RAMI YOUNIS: It feels — I mean, it feels awesome, to be honest. It feels like I can breathe, I can breathe again. There are a couple of things that are very wrong with nowadays Israel. People don’t understand it. But even the reports on what’s happening on U.S. college campuses at the moment, some Israeli outlets are reporting that Jewish students are being arrested for just being Jewish. However, in reality, we know that Jewish students were arrested because they protested against the genocide in Gaza. So, to the Israeli — the average Israeli is a victim, by the way. The average Israeli is a victim of their own media. They don’t know what’s happening. They don’t know what’s happening across the world and how, like, young Americans are perceiving Israel. So, to me, being out here feels like I can speak my mind. I can — I even got a text from my mom yesterday. It’s like, “Be careful. Be careful.”


RAMI YOUNIS: Yeah, “Don’t post stuff on your social media.” So, I don’t think she got used to the fact that her son is a journalist and I do that every now and then. But, I mean, it feels — I know we have a lot of criticism on American democracy. And I think the current administration will go down in history — unless things change, the current administration will go down in history as the administration that ended American democracy maybe. But it’s much better — the situation in here is much better than in Israel. And I feel like being on TV here, doing interviews, talking to just people on the street, people are willing to listen. And finally, people are willing to listen, but, unfortunately, it took a genocide so that people show interest in what’s happening in Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian writer and activist Rami Younis, co-director of Lyd, originally from the city of Lyd. We were also joined by his co-director, Sarah Ema Friedland. Lyd is currently playing at the DCTV Firehouse Cinema in New York, showings followed by Q&A with the filmmakers. The film will also be shown around the country and around the world, including the Houston Palestine Film Festival next month, the Chicago Palestine Film Festival, at the Laemmle theater in Los Angeles, and Unseen Cinema in Nairobi, Kenya.

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Hana Elias. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude, Dennis McCormick, Matt Ealy, Anna Özbek. I’m Amy Goodman, for another edition of Democracy Now!

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