“We Are Victims of Our Past…” – Israel’s Dark History Comes to Light in New Documentaries

The 34th annual Jerusalem Film Festival opened on July 13 with a screening and greetings in Sultan Pool, a valley in between the West Jerusalem and the Old City. Sitting in the large amphitheater under the open sky, one could see both the gorgeous old Jewish neighborhood of Yemin Moshe on one side, and the walls and steeples of the Old City on the other. The next day, three men, Palestinians, citizens of Israel, came out of Al Aqsa Mosque and shot two Israeli Druze police officers who were guarding the compound. The police officers, themselves Arabs, died. Their assailants were killed too. This terrible incident started a new cycle of escalated violence and retaliations between Israelis and Palestinians.

But if you were at the beautiful Cinemateque, a site of the Festival, you’d never know about these political and military developments—there it was business as usual. People went to see movies, or spread out on the lawn chairs; they ordered drinks or ice-cream and had lively conversations. From where they sat, they could clearly see not only the Old City, where thousands of Palestinians were protesting the new restrictions, but also the Apartheid wall (or a Separation Barrier, its Israeli euphemism), that cuts across communities in the West Bank. But no one talked about it at the screenings or during the breaks.

This culture of denial is the Israeli reality. It is as if another wall comes in between the vibrant, flourishing, and exciting Israeli cultural production and the facts of the occupation on the ground. But once in a while, there is a breach in this wall of denial, and through the cracks one can glimpse the pain and the trauma, the terrible toll the violence takes not only on victims but also on perpetrators.

The wall of denial excluding the past is especially thick. If 1967 is discussed occasionally and reluctantly (think about such films as The Law in These Parts or Censored Voices), the 1948 is still a non-starter. Whenever the War of 1948 (known in Israel as a War of Independence) is discussed, the violence of Israeli military-in-the-making against the Palestinians is justified as necessary for the survival of the new Israeli nation, which had to be established in the aftermath of the Holocaust.

Today, both Israeli and Palestinian cultures exist in the shadow of these original traumas—the Holocaust and the Nakba (the Arab name for the War of 1948). The third generation has been raised with this complicated legacy. This new generation of Israeli artists and filmmakers dare today to deal with that trauma, and not only with the trauma as victims, but also as perpetrators.

Born in Deir Yassin, a new documentary by a young Israeli filmmaker, Neta Shoshani, which premiered at the Festival, is a case in point. Deir Yassin was an Arab village near Jerusalem that signed a non-violence agreement with the nearby Jewish neighborhood of Giv’at Shaul. Both sides adhered to the deal, but in April 1948, the Zionist paramilitary forces—Irgun and Lehi—conquered the village. When they ran into trouble, they called on the more mainstream Haganah for help.  Approximately 110 villagers were killed, others were expelled. Rumors of a massacre in Deir Yassin spread across Palestine, causing panic and leading to mass exodus of the Arab population. The events in Deir Yassin had far-reaching consequences for both Jews and Palestinians. Arguably, it is at the root of the Palestinian refugee problem, whose displacement paved the way to the establishment of Israel as a Jewish majority state. The massacre at Deir Yassin implicated Zionist forces in violence: the victims turned perpetrators.

The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article or to download the PDF version.

Tikkun 2018 Volume 33, Number 1/2:73-76


Comments are closed.