God on Our Side

Suleiman is a self-identified Palestinian but he appears neither nationalist nor Marxist. He may have been raised a Christian but he is hardly fundamentalist. He's a man of reason. What is more superfluous than Suleiman's daydreams of vengeance in a country where they are daily enacted? Except insofar as this elegant farce reflects a deep human tragedy, the title Divine Intervention may not even be ironic.

This week at Film Forum, one can find the two preeminent "others" of those reasonable Israeli Jews who might identify with Suleiman. The Settlers, by Ruth Walk, pays a visit to the handful of religious zealots who, protected by the Israeli army, have settled amid some 100,000 Arabs in the West Bank town of Hebron—a biblical site with a sorry history of 20th-century bloodshed. Arabs slaughtered 67 Jews in Hebron in 1929 and drove the rest from the town; some 65 years later, Brooklyn-born doctor Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Muslims at prayer. It's suggestive of the settlers' mind-set that when Walk, who shot as well as directed the documentary, first interviews one youngish mother of 12, her subject matter-of-factly refers to Goldstein's "murder." Forget his victims—or even the fact that his evil deed perhaps intentionally precipitated the first major instance of terrorism to follow the Oslo accords. Arabs are understood, literally, as a blot upon the God-given landscape.

Avenging angel: Manal Khader in Suleiman's Divine Intervention
photo: Courtesy Avatar Films
Avenging angel: Manal Khader in Suleiman's Divine Intervention


Divine Intervention
Written and directed by Elia Suleiman
Opens January 17, at Angelika

The Settlers
Directed by Ruth Walk
First Run
January 15 through 28, at Film Forum

Close, Closed, Closure
Written and directed by Ram Loevy
First Run/Icarus
January 15 through 28, at Film Forum

Walk hangs out with the smiling settler women (only one man deigns to address her) in their spotless prefab dwellings, accompanying them and their children to afternoon music and drawing classes and a rally against a new market planned for Hebron's sacred center. It's the same madness as Elia Suleiman's border crossing. The lyrics to the music played are an anthem to the power of irrational certainty: "We're here, we're here—the land is ours for ever and ever." Good for us, bad for you. The other side of the coin, Ram Loevy's Close, Closed, Closure, tours Gaza, another eternal flash point that is currently "a prison with 1 million inmates."

Loevy, who made this documentary with an Israeli and Palestinian crew, supplies a self-conscious voice-over. Is his movie superfluous? Loevy shows the vagaries of the border crossing, the incongruously suburban settlements, an Israeli-owned industrial zone, and mainly a family whose child lost his legs because he was denied timely admittance to a hospital across the green line in Israel. The mother cannot contain her bitter resentment, unleashing a torrent in which, among other things, she demands to know why all Israelis have become right-wing fanatics. (To counterpoint this, Loevy records the dialogue of the deaf between the Israeli secular leftists who demonstrate daily at the Gaza border, attempting to explain to orthodox right-wingers the political—rather than religious—basis of Zionism.)

As both documentaries were largely shot before last spring's wave of suicide bombings and the brutal bulldozer war they provoked, one can only assume an even more hopeless situation today. Whatever their differences, however, the settlers and Palestinians do share some common ground: Each demonizes the other. All see themselves as unique victims. And everyone, of course, has rock-headed faith in divine intervention.

Related article:
"Stateless Cinema: Palestinian Film and Oscar Eligibility" by Kareem Fahim

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