My Settlers, Right or Wrong
There is a lot to be learned about Israel at the movies these days. In The Gatekeepers, a wrenching Israeli doc by Dror Moreh, six former directors of Shin Bet, Israeli internal military intelligence, tell of their frustration with an aggressive occupation of the West Bank and call for negotiations with leaders of Palestinian organizations whom they fought for decades. (It makes you wonder who decided to go through with the targeted killing of a Hamas leader in Gaza that helped unleash the recent violence there.)
In The Law in These Parts, another Israeli doc which just closed at Film Forum, Ra’anan Alexandrowicz takes on former judges who formulated and refined the legal underpinnings of the occupation. Land considered to be uncultivated was seized for settlements, based on Ottoman laws, and the seizures were affirmed by these judges. Thousands of Palestinians were imprisoned on suspicion of supporting participants in the Intifada. Alexandrowicz concludes that Arabs living in the occupied territories were deprived of their rights so that Israelis could live comfortably. The judges essentially agree with him.
As a truce holds, barely, in Gaza, Soldier on the Roof, Esther Hertog’s film (winner for Best Debut and Best Dutch Film at IDFA), watches the same crisis observed from on high in The Gatekeepers and The Law In These Parts — the Israeli occupation of Arab lands. In the West Bank city of Hebron, home to holy sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims, some 800 Israeli Jewish settlers live under military protection in the center of that town of 120,000 Arabs. Here is their web site. Israeli soldiers are everywhere the settlers go. The soldiers also watch the town from atop its buildings. Palestinians have been thrown out of their homes nearby. “They didn’t want to live here any more,” smirks one soldier knowingly. Just in case the point needs making, this ain’t Fiddler on the Roof.
Arabs who walk nearby are stopped, made to stretch their arms against the walls, and searched. Accompanied by soldiers, armed Israelis conduct tours of Jewish sites in Hebron, where they push shopkeepers aside to climb onto structures and pose for pictures. We see the same scenes of those Hebron tours from the 1970’s in The Law In These Parts.
While that humiliation persists today, the settlers’ kids throw rocks through the windows of Arab houses with impunity. No one among the settlers and the soldiers seems to mind that Hertog’s camera is recording all of this, and you can’t say that the settlers don’t have their say in this doc. You get the word from on high in The Gatekeepers and The Law In These Parts. You get some shocking ground truth in Soldier on the Roof.