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Real life hoop dreams for Israel’s Gaza evacuees

Posted By David Bender On October 26, 2006 @ 10:00 pm In | No Comments

Home Game chronicles daily life before and during the evacuation of the 30-year-old farming community of Netzer Hazani, in the southern Gush Katif settlement bloc, as its teenage basketball players prepared for a tournament.While media coverage of Israel’s evacuation of 9,000 Jewish residents from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005 focused on the political and physical struggle between the government and its citizens, Israeli filmmaker Yaron Shane and producer Avi Abelow chose to focus on the human aspect.

The massive police operation, which garnered the world’s attention and brought emotions to a fevered pitch within the country, played out on very same day as the final game of the annual high school basketball championship between the 22 Jewish communities in Gaza.

Therein lies the backdrop for Home Game, the duo’s recently-released film. A movingly edited amalgam of hundreds of amateur film clips, recorded by the residents themselves, Home Game chronicles daily life before and during the evacuation of the 30-year-old farming community of Netzer Hazani, in the southern Gush Katif settlement bloc, as its teenage basketball players prepared for the tournament.

Shane and Abelow carefully pieced together the myriad personal and public dramas taking place both within and beyond the echoing walls of the sports hall into a cohesive whole.

“The ultimate goal [of the film] is for people to put aside their political orientations and religious affiliations and whatever baggage they have that stops them from feeling empathy for their fellow countrymen who go through tragedies; and in this case… the people, the families and the youth of Gush Katif, who went through an unbelievable tragedy,” Abelow told ISRAEL21c at a screening of the film in Tel Aviv.

Shane says he and Abelow initially prepared a four-minute clip for Internet play and said that they “didn’t know it would be a full-length documentary in the beginning.” But when the two saw the site counter quickly rack upwards of 50,000 hits, they knew they had to produce a longer, more detailed look at the turbulent events.

“I told Avi he needed to get more footage,” Shane said, noting that he’d already seen many clips by people who had filmed the basketball tournament that took place every summer in Gush Katif.

The basketball tournament “was really a big thing that we didn’t know about. Usually, it was only basketball and beach; but in the summer of 2005, they were dealing with a few more issues,” he adds dryly.

“The day that the finals took place [August 15] was after they were supposed to leave their houses,” Shane explained. The players and families had to request special police permits to travel from Netzer Hazani to the neighboring village of Neveh Dekalim, a few miles away, were the games were to be played.

“So the games did go on… you have to understand that these people weren’t sure, they were hoping and believing that it [the disengagement] might not take place. They were focused on their lives and what was going on, and trying to live their lives… as ‘surreal normal,’” said Shane.

Elidad Schneid, Netzer Hazani’s point guard, who appears in the movie, both in on-the-parquet action and in direct interviews with the filmmakers, recalls the mixed emotions he felt while playing basketball at the same time his family was leaving their home for the last time.

“When you watch the movie again, everything comes back, the feelings and the pain,” he told ISRAEL21c. “It was very hard to think about the game, because everything was very tense. Our thoughts were about what had happened back home.”

Security forces had just concluded handing out writs of evacuation to the village’s members. “We all spoke about it when we sat together before the game,” he says, but adds that the bleachers were packed, not the least of which with family, friends, and his then-fiancĂ©e, Adi.

In a game at the start of the tournament, Netzer Hazani had squeaked past Neveh Dekalim by one point, and Schneid was sure that they were the top dog team, emphasizing that his crew – and no less than six of his brothers who were on the squad in years past – had beaten their arch hoop rivals at several meets.

Both teams did their best to focus on the game, despite the turmoil brewing just outside: But a last quarter rally that brought Netzer – who were down 14 points – to within two points of Neveh just wasn’t enough. They were no match, and lost by five points, 52-47.

“After the game… I saw that everyone was ‘within himself’,” Schneid said, as his teammates were lost in their own thoughts about their soon-to-be-radically futures off the parquet. But in a final effort to lift their spirits, he grabbed a megaphone and led an impromptu pep rally, running around the court, inspiring both teams and the crowd into chanting at the tops of their lungs, one last time, for Gush Katif, and Israel.

“It was a very special moment. I told the team that with the strength and determination [that they showed during the game], they would be able to save their homes,” he said.

But it was not to be, as family after family were carried, or dragged in tears, from their homes in drama that played out on TV screens around the world.

Although Schneid stays in close contact with his teammates, he doesn’t have time to play much anymore: He and Adi wed soon thereafter, and relocated to the West Bank settlement of Eli, where Schneid now studies in a paramilitary academy. He still sleeps in his team’s uniform, though.

According to The Jerusalem Post, Home Game will next screen for high school and youth groups in Israel on November 5, a date chosen for its proximity to the anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. The hope, filmmakers says, is that the film will create tolerance between different sectors of Israel’s population.

Over 10,000 people, in Israel, the United States and Great Britain have already viewed the film at screenings, often held at Jewish community centers, synagogues and private homes. Abelow is working on getting the film shown at the country’s cinematheques and film festivals, and on Israeli television.

“Unbelievable,” says Abelow, when asked about the tenor of reactions to the film.

“When I talk about responses, [It's] about the gamut of individuals: from people who are right-wing religious, left-wing secular; people come away from this film feeling that something needs to be done to change the situation.”


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