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By Mark Bell | December 6, 2013

Documentary feature It’s Better to Jump takes a look at the northern Israel city of Akka. Bolstered by a huge seawall, the city has stood the test of time for centuries, repelling invaders as well as fostering a multicultural community within its limits. The complexities of the Israeli occupation and colonization over the last sixty plus years, and changing borders and boundaries connected with such, has proven to be one of Akka’s greatest challenges, however.

Contemporary Akka is a mix of indigenous Palestinian populations living in homes they’ve held for generations, as the culture changes all around them. The fishing industry has long since become defunct, and the youth, faced with fewer opportunities, have turned away from education to drugs and crime. With certain limitations on what can be done to improve their living situation under Israeli law, many Akka natives have found themselves living in poverty, in homes that barely qualify as more than caves in some instances. Their options limited, it often comes down to selling their homes and moving away, resulting in the area being re-built and re-populated for, at the moment, primarily tourist and commercial considerations.

It could be chocked up to natural decline and change, except laws and regulations have put the city into this scenario by design; like devaluing real estate so you can buy it on the cheap and then flipping it for great profit. In this case, run out the native population and then do what you want with the land. It’s not quite an armed invasion, but it’s just as effective over the long term.

Only not everyone is making the choice to leave, and those that have chosen to stay are the well-spoken interview subjects found in this film. From scholars to artists to soccer stars, the subjects of the film all show their love and devotion for the city of Akka, and their hope that a solution can exist where the rich history of the Akka of yesterday isn’t entirely destroyed, and the culture lost, as time goes on.

In addition to the history and tales of contemporary life (and plight), the film continually works in the uniquely Akka rite of passage of leaping off the seawall to the waters below (hopefully not hitting any of the rocks dotting the coast). While this action is often compared to the idea of a living in Akka also being a leap of faith, or life in general being one of constant leaps, I don’t know that the idea lines up with the contemporary logic all the time. Which is more of a leap of faith, staying in Akka amid deteriorating economic conditions under the hopes that Akka can be culturally reclaimed, or striking out into the world away from one’s homeland?

Then again, isn’t that the type of question that someone would pose when they are trying to get a hold of the land? While I understand the draw of wanting to stay in the land where one’s descendants have lived for centuries, I also can’t help but question if, due to the poor conditions, moving on wouldn’t be the worst decision you could make. Then again, I am not in this situation, nor have I ever been, so I can’t claim to know well enough the internal turmoil going on in Akka. This film gives me a glimpse, but I am still too far removed to fully grasp it.

On a personal note, I’ve also been a nomad my entire life. I was born in South Africa, but my family moved around for my entire youth, and I haven’t broken from that habit now that I’m older. The idea of wanting to stay in one place, regardless of conditions, isn’t just a lack of cultural understanding, it’s a lack of firsthand experience of what it means to stay put.

But it’s also not that simple. The situation in Akka isn’t one of natural evolution, it’s a political agenda that was set in motion to quietly claim the land while making it appear that the inhabitants were leaving voluntarily. In the long view, it’s hard to see a difference between forcibly throwing people out of the area in the short term with making life unbearable to live, enough to the point where people decide to leave, over a longer span of time. The latter seems to involve a choice, but what choice is it, really?

The film reveals that there are those who will stand defiant in the face of the changes around them, but then it goes back to the title. Is it better to jump? What does it mean to jump? Is that staying put, or moving on?

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