Jeannette Catsoulis, a reviewer for the NY Times, wrote “Brief Lives, Violently Extinguished” on a new documentary film about the terrible human toll of Israel’s invasion of the Gaza Strip in Dec. 2008-Jan. 2009. This is most of her short article:

A brutally uncompromising blast of outrage, Vibeke Lokkeberg’s “Tears of Gaza” is less a documentary than a collage of suffering. Dropping us smack in the middle of the Israeli attacks on Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, the film tramples politics beneath the raw weight of civilian testimony. Woven together, these monologues of bereavement and confusion, illustrated with images so terrible they repel rational explanation, form a tapestry of human misery that’s impossible to shake off.

…. Postcarnage interviews allow the stunned reactions of three surviving children to shape a quiet meditation on lives irretrievably altered.

Unwaveringly committed to a method that spits on context, “Tears of Gaza” forces us to ask a single, electric question: Amid this much horror, does context even matter?

My own review at The Forward’s Arty Semite blog does not dispute the brutal facts of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead”; I am repelled by the human cost of this military action and feel nothing but compassion for the three Palestinian children featured in the film. Still, although I understand it, I disagree entirely with the contempt for context displayed by the filmmaker and endorsed by the NY Times reviewer.

The title I suggested but was not chosen for my Forward article is “A Martian View of Gaza”; there is a paragraph where I speculate on what a Martian might think if suddenly dropped into a devastated German or Japanese city right after World War II, without any notion of Nazi and Japanese aggressions and atrocities. If Israel had not faced the elevation to power of a virulent Jew-hating movement (one that draws inspiration from the spurious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” for its founding charter) and years of sporadic and sometimes heavy attack from a territory it had totally withdrawn from in 2005, this war would not have happened.

This doesn’t mean that Israel shouldn’t have been more open to dealing with Hamas or that its blockade was more harsh than it needed to be. Nor does it mean that the Norwegian filmmaker endorsed the excesses and provocations emanating from Gaza; she claimed to have made her film as a testament to the anti-war cause. But can a story of conflict be fairly told if only one side’s point of view is presented?

For what I assume to be stylistic reasons, the following was omitted from my Forward piece by the Arty Semite editor:

Israel was provoked by thousands of rockets and other assaults on its territory. Yet this searing work of propaganda conveys something we need to be reminded of: the paramount need to resolve conflicts non-violently, or at least with a carefully restrained use of force that attempts to pinpoint sources of attack.
Without eliminating the attacks on Israeli towns (it has reduced them to a degree), the widespread destruction makes it harder for Gaza Palestinians to reconcile themselves to living at peace with Israel.

Also omitted was my discovery that the Arabic word for blood is the same as in Hebrew: dom.

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