Mayor (2020)

December 26th, 2020
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: David Osit; Documentary with Musa Hadid; USA/UK 2020, 89 min.

Mayor is clearly a passion project for David Osit. So much so he co-produced, directed, co-edited and even filmed this engaging documentary that  follows the real-life political saga of Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Ramallah, during his second term in office.

Ramallah is about ten miles from Jerusalem and surrounded on all sides by Israeli settlements and soldiers. Most of the people who live there will never have the chance to travel more than a few miles outside their home, which is why Mayor Hadid is determined to make the city a beautiful and dignified place to live in. By Western standards these people are impoverished, most – included the Mayor – do not even have a TV in their homes. So Hadid’s immediate goals are to repave the sidewalks, attract more tourism, and plan the city’s Christmas celebrations. His ultimate mission: to end the occupation of Palestine. Rich with detailed observation and a surprising amount of humour, Mayor offers a portrait of dignity amidst the madness and absurdity of endless occupation while posing a question: how do you run a city when you don’t have a country? 

Hadid comes across as an affable middle-aged man, married with two children, he is particularly proud of his moustache. He is also a mischievous diplomat who enjoys football. During a local match he is asked by some kids if he is “for Fatah or Hamas”, he answers that Al Fatah does not exist any more, and “so we have nobody to liberate us”.

Like most of his supporters he is hoping for an independent Palestinian State, but until that is achieved Hadid is more interested in giving his city a good image around the world. And this needs planning and careful consideration. How should they style the city? Discussions begin with local councillors and a logo is created: “WeRamallah”, featuring in huge letters round the city, where the mayor particularly enjoys hanging out at the “Cafe de la Paix”, opposite his office in the modern Town Hall.

When President Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, back in December 2017, also promising to move the American embassy there, rioting broke out in the West Bank. Clearly there was opposition to any US presence, let alone intervention. Today nothing has much changed. The filmmakers accompany Hadid to the edge of the town where the fighting between emboldened Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth still rages. Sometimes the clashes become a little bit too close for comfort. Despite the animosity there will still be a Christmas tree in the city centre – some people campaign for a slogan that lights up with “Jerusalem is our Capital”. Once again, Hadid will have to compromise between municipal services and political messages.

Hadid’s work is never done, and involves ongoing compromise between the townspeople and the Israeli forces. Meanwhile mixed messages come from abroad: Hadid reads a statement from US Vice-president Pence who wants to protect Christians in Palestine. Hadid wishes he could just bring about continued peace, and end occupation. Meanwhile, Prince William visits Ramallah and makes a conciliatory speech, asking for the normalisation of the situation. But back in Whitehall, celebrations for a Hundred Years of the “Balfour Declaration” are underway, as if there is anything to celebrate in the former British Mandate. And there are more contradictions: while Hadid can visit Washington DC, Oxford and Bonn (Germany) to talk about the situation at home, he cannot visit Jerusalem or the nearby coast.

In the midst of the mayhem some younger members of his staff are having another celebration of sorts: “They can put us in a slum, but we still can have a party”. Finally, there is a major confrontation with Israeli troops, who use teargas outside City Hall and make arrests in the Cafe de la Paix”, before everything peters out. The following morning, the debris is cleared away, and in the evening fountains play light games with the music rousing a celebration of hope in a land where conflict has always been the watchword.

Mayor is a humane feature that tells a human story, trying to see the conflict from a purely humanitarian angle. Hadid is a great advertisement for compromise and hope: he is a steady lighthouse in a turbulent sea. AS

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