‘Be careful what you wish for’ is the ominous phrase told to children all over the world when they are desperately grasping for something they don’t quite understand. In this case, young Walaa Khaled Fawzy Tanji wants nothing more than to gain a firm grasp of power in a world she has absolutely no authority over. Walaa dreams of joining the Palestinian National Security Forces – a wish she ends up getting at a price. Director Christy Garland’s up-front and veracious documentary spans five years of Walaa’s life. From age 15 where her mother is released from an Israeli prison after serving eight years for being involved in a failed suicide bombing, to age 21 where she finally secures her dream job of being a police officer. Garland produces a candid and forthright exploration into Palestinian identity, naive trust in institutional forces, and the gruelling nature of training in the Palestinian military.

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Photo © Murmur Media, Final Cut for Real & Wildling Pictures 

Balata is the largest refugee camp in the West Bank, originally intended to only accommodate 5,000 refugees, the region that spans an area of 0.25 square kilometres is now home to 27,000 individuals. It’s an area accustomed to weekly raids by both Israeli and Palestinian forces, violence, and high levels of unemployment. Here, is where Walaa and her family resides. While What Walaa Wants never tries too hard to make an outright commentary on the Israel-Palestine conflict, it’s impossible for the film to hide the stifling impact Israeli rule has upon Palestinian civilians. Walaa does not have the privilege of being blind to political conflicts and violations of human rights; it’s what she sees everyday as she wanders the narrow alleyways of Balata. In one scene, Walaa is even caught boasting about how she videoed a gunman shooting outside her house. Nevertheless, amidst the protests and gunfire, the Balata camp is still a community full of families– hence why Walaa is so fiercely wanting to protect it.

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Photo © Murmur Media, Final Cut for Real & Wildling Pictures 

One of the most fascinating aspects of this doc is seeing Walaa grow up and develop as an individual. From a high-spirited and reckless patriot, to a downbeat and frustrated trainee, to a mature but morally conflicted stone-faced policewoman. 15-year-old Walaa is a cocky and ambitious force who loves to show off for the cameras – it’s hard to deny that the crew’s presence brings out Walaa’s performative side. She prances around her family apartment, lecturing everyone about how she can’t wait to get a gun, so she can waver it over people’s heads for respect. Whilst pre-training Walaa is hopeful about the future, her military-training self is a lot more dismayed and frustrated with her situation. Walaa discovers that revolution and change are not as straightforward as she once thought. She fakes being sick to get out of training, throws strops when she’s told off, and she looks petrified when she holds a gun for the first time. Her mask of confidence and carelessness crumbles. Despite Walaa’s desperate attempts to prove herself as a fiercely independent entity, we’re often reminded how she is only a teenager stuck against something much more powerful than her.

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Photo © Murmur Media, Final Cut for Real & Wildling Pictures 

Even after she’s finished her training, Walaa still comes across a whole host of dilemmas when it comes to individual morality against state power. If her lifelong goal was to be in the military, so she could protect the people of Palestine, then she has had to reflect on what it means to ‘protect’.  As a police officer, she is confronted by her family about her questionable use of state force. Walaa’s mother tries to reach out to stubborn Walaa, crying ‘I never thought you’d be interrogating women! …shame on you… they’re making you do their dirty work’. Walaa refuses to be shamed, insisting the violence is necessary as it’s the only way civilians will listen, repeating ‘it’s my job!’. Walaa is in denial that her hopes of protecting Palestinians hasn’t come out quite the way she planned; she’s unfortunately become a part of a ruling much bigger and stronger than her own morality.

What Walaa Wants is about the compromise of naive hope and ambition when it comes to changing the world. It’s an eye-opening and honest depiction of military training and the moral issues that come from joining such forces. If Walaa’s dream is to be an omnipotent state officer, waving her gun over the head of civilians to gain ‘respect’, then she must deal with the moral backlash that comes with such idealistic fantasies. Walaa wants to find revolution and purpose by joining the military but finds that she is within a force a lot bigger and more brutal than her simplistic desires for hope and change. Indeed, what Walaa wants it not only always what Walaa gets.

Rating: 4-stars

Written by Abi Aherne

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About View of the Arts

We are enthusiasts of the arts, passionate about cinema, theatre, and literature. Maggie is a freelance film producer, production manager and she also works with children. Sanja is a freelance translator, occasional writer and a perpetual dreamer. Film is her first and longest-lasting love. Roxy is an Arts Journalist, who writes for several magazines and websites.

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