Making documentaries about the Middle East, where political realities shift instantaneously, can be a tricky business. But Israeli director Ilan Ziv’s wrenching The Junction (conceived with Lebanese author Elias Khoury) looks beyond the current wave of violence, to its roots in a culture of tragedy and denial. The title refers to a crossroads in Gaza, between an Israeli settlement, Netzarim, and a Palestinian refugee camp, Nusseirat. In September 2000, David Biri, an Israeli soldier, was killed there by a roadside bomb while escorting settlers home. Two days later, the second intifada erupted, and another young man, Fahmi Abou Ammouneh, died there amid clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinian civilians.
In interviews, Ammouneh’s bereaved mother and sister maintain that he died a “shaheed,” or martyr, a word that echoes chillingly throughout their discourse. Biri’s father remembers a promise he made to his little son, that when the boy grew up, there would be no more wars. David’s best friend, El’ad (who had lost his brother in a 1995 suicide bombing), killed himself weeks after David’s death. “This is a land where one should be forbidden to raise children,” his father declares. The junction, once bustling with orange groves and apartment houses, now lies in ruins, a warning to the region of what may lie ahead.
Slaves of the Sword: Ariel Sharon, a gripping documentary by Paul Jenkins, follows the rise of that controversial figure, from military hero to national disgrace (after the debacle of Lebanon), and on to the office of prime minister. “Sharonism,” as one journalist calls it, is “a form of nonstop aggression.” A West Bank settlement mayor gleefully describes Israel’s current leader as the “Daddy” of her movement. For those who seek peace, these are not hopeful signs; yet the film ends on a note of guarded optimism, if only because its story remains unfinished.