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(2001) / The Settlers (2003)
Arabs and Israelis
living as unfriendly neighbors is the subject of two eye-opening Israeli documentaries
screening together at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Both are set in the
West Bank city of Hebron, and both reveal the regions never ending tension by
putting real faces on a conflict thats been so widely reported for so long, the
headlines have become cliche. The films' combined impact leaves the impression that
future understanding--let alone peace--is anything but likely between Arabs and Jews.
The films focus on opposing populations. Detained shows the
lives of three poor Palestinian widows, all young, living with their children in a
decrepit apartment building oddly situated between two territories. The Israelis occupy
the front, complete with soldiers on patrol, and Palestinians control the rear. The women
are mostly resigned to their situation, and admittedly are far from happy. Directors Anat
Even and Ada Ushpiz intersperse scenes from their daily lives with snippets from
one-on-one interviews in which the women candidly talk about their fears, sorrows and lack
of hope. The images range from the mundane (cooking for the kids to ironic (sweeping
bullet shells off the rooftop after Israelis set up a shooting range there) to sad
(Israelis out on the street while Palestinians are stuck inside, bound by a curfew).
Contrasting the effectively imprisoned Arabs in Detained, the
Orthodox Jewish families in The Settlers live in immaculate and well-stocked
mobile homes reminiscent of American suburbia. Their small, closed community, surrounded
by a vast landscape of Arab dwellings, sits over an archeological site at which scholars
are working to prove the Jews divine claim to the land.
Director Ruth Walk focuses on several women, matriarchs of large
families, as they go about their daily lives, taking care of their children and
maintaining their homes. Their combination of strident religious conviction and
obliviousness to social and political intricacies is chilling; they nonchalantly point to
the bullet holes in the walls and windows of their homes, and appear not to be overly
distressed at the constant violence at their doorstep. Commenting that they dont
like Arabs much at all, the women pay little attention to the fact that their minority
community is a place where Arabs have lived for ages, too.
One of the films most disturbing scenes shows the Jews parading
in the streets, celebrating their holidays, while the vast majority of Arabs, under
Israeli guard, are prohibited from going outside.
- Leslie Katz