Since 2007, the organization B’Tselem has distributed cameras to more than two hundred volunteers throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The resulting recordings testify to the many instances of violations of human rights, function as evidence in courts of law, and receive wide exposure on the Internet.
In November 2012, footage reached the B’Tselem video archive of soldiers entering a home in Hebron to carry out a “routine” night search for reasons unknown to the family members. Diaa and Shatha al-Hadaad, brother and sister, took the family video camera and documented the night in its entirety. After the search failed to yield results, the soldiers made Diaa stand facing the wall outside the house and told him they would not leave until he stopped smiling.
Through the minimal editing of B’tselem’s video department, the raw footage became a short documentary film. The film director is the absurd reality of the West Bank, with the filmographers, the family members, and the B’Tselem video staff listed in the credits.
The film “Smile, and the World Will Smile Back” competed in the Jerusalem Film Festival’s short film category, after the film was selected for and screened at the Berlinale Film Festival and at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Canada. In anticipation of the film screening, Yoav Gross, the director of B’Tselem’s video department, said, “B’Tselem’s cameras are known mostly for the straightforward documentation of injustice and violations of the law. The al-Haddads’ camera manages to convey something beyond the images usually captured by B’Tselem lenses. It offers us an unmediated view of everyday life under Israeli military rule, allowing us to briefly see the world from the point of view of the other.”
In an interview with Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Gross added that “there is an irony that spans the entire length of the film. Diaa’s smile is a smile of irony. In a certain sense, it seems that both the soldiers and the Palestinians are aware of the irony and the hopelessness of the situation. […] In the occupied territories and in Israel, it is permissible to film soldiers and public servants. The law says this explicitly. And as the film shows, soldiers are usually aware of this and allow it. And in my opinion, this is a very positive thing, the fact that filming has become such an organic element in this reality. The army has itself founded an operational documentation unit, which runs parallel to our project, and the settlers have also founded their own documentation unit, and they say they founded it in reaction to B’Tselem’s project. Every situation today is recorded from the point of view of the Army, from the point of view of the settlers, and from the point of view of the Palestinians. This undeniably reduces violence and generates awareness of the participants in the public eye, and it also allows us to see what is happening there.”