9 Star Hotel is the facetious name that Palestinian construction workers give to the pile of rocks that marks their clandestine nightly abode — a group of cardboard enclosures and tin-covered huts hidden in the brush-covered hills above the Israeli town of Modi’in. It is also the name of this week’s POV film about the daily travails of these “illegals” as they hide from police at night so that they can work in Modi’in during the day.
The Palestinian men are neither militants nor activists, but ordinary youths placed by history in extraordinary circumstances who emerge as fully human — flawed and sympathetic. Caught in a strange and dangerous no-man’s land between an Israel that must enforce laws to protect its citizens and a Palestinian Authority that can’t or won’t help them, they must risk capture and live in makeshift shelters simply to survive.
As a film made by an Israeli that takes the point of view of its young Palestinian subjects, 9 Star Hotel holds out a model for understanding, even across significant divides. The vérité-style documentary reminds viewers that behind all the political contention that so often defines regions like the West Bank, there are human stories. The film’s subjects face universal struggles to make a living, care for family and prove their manhood. Individual tragedy is counterbalanced by resilience as the young men dream of a brighter future, despite the uncertainties that define their current situation.
Ahmed has no hope of fulfilling his dream of becoming police officer because he can’t read and write. How is the experience of the men in the film like or unlike the experiences of day laborers or undocumented workers in other places? How is their situation like or unlike other places where borders divide areas of wealth and poverty?
Reflecting on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, Muhammad says, “If you shut a cat in a room, won’t it jump at you?” If you could recommend to the Israeli government one policy change that would improve the lives of the men in the film, what would you recommend and why? Assume that the Palestinian Authority was not constrained politically. Similarly, what one policy change would you recommend to the Palestinian Authority?