First Published: 2017-05-24

Film warns of Israel's 'suicide' at Cannes
"West of the Jordan River", by Israeli director Amos Gitai, claims country's government is leading the 'Jewish state' towards a precipice.
Middle East Online

Gitai was badly injured serving in the 1973 war

TEL AVIV - A new documentary warns of Israel's slow "suicide" if it pushes ahead and annexes large swathes of the West Bank.

"West of the Jordan River", by acclaimed Israeli director Amos Gitai, claims the country's government -- the most right-wing in its history -- is "sleepwalking" the Jewish state towards a precipice.

Gitai -- who premiered the film at the Cannes film festival Wednesday -- said the "maximalist thinking" of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that has led to more settlement building in occupied territories "could have disastrous consequences" for Israel.

They are leading "us towards self-destruction", he warned.

He said everything that was wrong with Israel right now is symbolised by the country's controversial Culture Minister Miri Regev, who caused a storm when she appeared on the Cannes red carpet last week in a dress adorned with a panorama of Jerusalem to celebrate "50 years since the liberation and reunification" of the city.

The Palestinians and the international community regard the city's east as under illegal Israeli occupation.

Regev's right-wing populism and "Netanyahu's cynicism... is leading us down a blind alley. Everything they do is not for the good of the country but to pick up a few more votes on the far-right of (their) Likud" party.

"West of the Jordan River" highlights "the constant harassment and attempts to silence" peace activists who are trying to strive for a settlement with the Palestinians.

- 'David against Goliath' -

Gitai, who was badly injured serving in the Yom Kippur war in 1973, said his film is a tribute to "these courageous people who are attacked, who are not allowed to speak to schools and who are menaced on a daily basis by the Israeli government. It is a David and Goliath fight to preserve the human spirit, and this is touching."

The film follows groups like Breaking the Silence, set up by former Israeli soldiers to talk about the reality of life in the occupied territories, and The Parents Circle, a cross-community support group for families who have lost loved ones in the conflict, as well as journalists from the liberal Haaretz newspaper who report on Palestinian areas.

"There are no angels in this conflict. Both sides are angels and bastards," Gitai said. "The people who don't want peace exist everywhere in this region.

"I didn't want to do the usual stuff -- 'all the Palestinians are terrorists and all the Israelis nasty settlers'.

"I was looking for the cracks in the wall. People who are working to change this situation."

Picking up where his acclaimed documentaries "Field Diary" and "Arena of Murder" left off, Gitai traces Israel's malaise to the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist in 1995 as he was trying to push through a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Since then he insists Israel has not had a leader with the vision or courage to "make peace with its neighbours".

- 'We have to be honest' -

But he said the Palestinians share blame for the quagmire.

Gitai said that after Rabin ordered the withdrawal of the Israeli army, "terrorist attacks in Israeli cities were at their worst which helped the extreme right to demonise Rabin and kill him."

In one scene in the film he even engaged in a heated debate with a bereaved family at the wake for their son who was killed after attacking settlers.

"You have to be honest. You can only make peace with your enemies, not your friends," Gitai argued.

"After these words (to the Palestinian family) which are not easy to say, the father who had good reasons to disagree with me, asked me to share a meal with them. I was very touched," he said.

In another memorable encounter in Hebron, a smiling young Palestinian boy tells him he wants to be "a martyr when he grows up".

"We have to start by saying the truth. By looking it straight in the eye," said Gitai. "Then look for a solution."


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