Two Israeli films critical of the Jewish state will contend tonight at the Oscars in the prestigious category of best documentary. A third movie has already made its way to the Berlin Festival. The common denominator between all three is that they are all highly critical of Israeli activity in the territories. It's a type of cinematic Intifada.
I haven't seen "The Gatekeepers" or "5 Broken Cameras" yet, but I have accumulated a great deal of information pertaining to their content, I've listened to interviews by their respective creators and I saw "Rock the Casbah" over the weekend.
"5 Broken Cameras" is the story of the struggle over the security fence in Bilin. Throughout the mostly violent conflict, I found the Palestinians were portrayed fairly. We, the Jews, don't want to build a barrier between a Palestinian farmer and his field merely because doing so would be easier for the adjacent settlement.
I have some arguments to alleviate some of the criticism. Credit is due to the High Court of Justice, which acted to correct the injustice of building a fence along an inappropriate route. The rule of law still reigns supreme. After a prolonged struggle the court's decision was even implemented. One must keep these points of light in mind, just as it's befitting to internalize that "5 Broken Cameras" — co-created by a Jewish leftist and a Palestinian filmmaker — tells the Arabic narrative while being funded by the Israeli public.
I have no objection to Israel funding the presentation of the Palestinian narrative. This is the very essence of democracy. But I do wonder why the Palestinian co-creator objects to the movie being presented as an Israeli film at the Oscars. Because the funding of his film points to the progressiveness of the Israeli democracy he criticizes in his movie? This is pure shamelessness.
The same verdict is shared by the "The Gatekeepers," in which six former heads of Israel's Internal Security Agency (Shin Bet) speak about the actions that they ordered carried out in the territories. To my understanding, the Shin Bet does life-saving work in the territories, even though I, too, prefer the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel so that we can free ourselves of the control over another people that was forced upon us in the defensive war of 1967.
Shin Bet chiefs are allowed to reach their own conclusions. The fact that they only did so after finishing their terms in office casts a heavy shadow on them. If during their terms in office the heads of the service just followed the pack, then they are deserving of criticism. And if they didn't understand what they were doing when they were doing it, the criticism still remains.
If they arrived at their conclusions only in retrospect, or if they didn't find the courage or wisdom to quit their posts during their terms, the least that can be asked of those still active in public service (Yaakov Perry and Avi Dichter) is to no longer publicly deal with security matters. This is the minimum that is morally required of them.
"Rock the Casbah" is a superficial film. The Palestinian woman in Gaza is beautiful like the mythological Delilah and her son is branded as friendly and even a ruddy sympathetic killer, while the Israeli soldiers are divided between those awaiting their release so they can take drugs, those inclined to harm Arabs and those who are mentally unstable but don't receive help. Israelis don't have a chance in "Rock the Casbah."
Two insights emerge from this murky movie situation.
First, I'm not opposed to funding films that are critical of Israel, but can't scripts also be found that portray the Jewish side of the conflict and the heroes who paid with their lives fighting Palestinian terrorism? Something here is deficient at the core.
The second insight is derived from the first. It is possible that Israel's position in the world is so weak that Israeli filmmakers understand that they must harshly criticize their government to receive international recognition for their work. This is an indictment of them, but also of the Israeli government which needs to take moderate diplomatic steps that will lessen the level of hostility toward Israel around the world.