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Background

Church Street Market is a corner store in a intimate San Francisco neighborhood owned and operated by Yousef Elhaj. A little more than a decade ago, Yousef was faced with the choice no father should have to make: watch his children grow up without food, clothes and shelter, or leave them indefinitely to find work to pay for their needs. Many businesses suffered greatly in Palestine during the Second Intifada, and Yousef was unable to escape its impact. Yousef’s brother Abraham, already living in San Francisco, convinced him that the only option for his desperate financial situation was to travel to the United States and find work that could support his family back home in Bethlehem. Leaving his wife and children, his youngest son only a year old, Yousef stepped on a plane to start over. At the counter

Through years of hard work, Yousef slowly built the Church Street Market business while bearing the loneliness that comes with living in a completely new world separated from immediate family. During this time, he did everything possible to remain a good father to his children from another continent; calling nearly everyday and trying to parent over the phone. Keeping his head down and his hands busy, his unwavering goal was to bring his family from Palestine to live with him in the United States. After six years establishing himself, he began the process of ensuring a reunion—working through the long and arduous steps of immigration, further complicated in this new era of homeland security.

Finally, after years of working and waiting, Yousef was granted permission to make the long, difficult trip back to Bethlehem to see his family and close his former life forever. Through Jordan, across borders and checkpoints littered throughout the West Bank, aboard buses and taxis, Yousef arrived back home— one vastly different than the one he had left. Greeted by family and friends, Yousef was quickly accepted back into his old life, but in his absence, his three children have grown up and have begun to make their lives in Bethlehem as young adults.

In Palestine Yousef spent time reconnecting with his family, returned to the house he grew up in, and visited places he hadn’t seen in years, observing the impact of the occupation firsthand—the lively, bustling Ramallah that is still full of vibrant energy; the oppressed Hebron, where stores operate under metal netting and the constant imposition of the settlers living above the city; and Bethlehem, his home town whose future state remains uncertain.

yousef_palHe was troubled by the wall, the checkpoints, and the occupation, but overwhelmed by pride in his culture, his country and his family. Suddenly, the dilemma of taking his children away from their lives and their homeland formed in his mind. After years of heading steadfast towards the singular goal of his family’s immigration—a new future in Bethlehem, vibrant and alive, became possible.

The film follows Yousef’s journey, his struggle, and the ultimate decision that he makes with his wife and children about their future together. The film explores the complex themes of cultural identity, the difficulties of legal immigration, and economic isolation. It strives to inspire empathy, build awareness, and increase understanding—compelling viewers to consider their own assumptions and biases; reflect on how they relate to their neighborhoods and larger communities; and imagine how to consciously live life in a real and significant way. We invite you to join us in exploring the themes and issues that surround this journey, and hope that you will share this story with your own community.

 

 

For any information regarding the film, contact us at info@thecornerdocumentary.org

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