“Something there is that does not love a wall,” the poet Robert Frost famously noted. Simone Bitton would probably call that thing humanity. Her disturbing and compelling documentary Wall charts the progress of the immense, meandering, and still-unfinished barrier that the state of Israel is erecting along its border with the West Bank’s occupied territories. Bitton was born in Morocco to a Jewish family; fluent in Hebrew, French, and Arabic, she now divides her time between Paris and Jerusalem. She considers herself both a Jew and an Arab, and the wall, she tells a Palestinian psychiatrist in her film, seems to cut straight through her own identity.
She interviews him via remote hookup, since he’s stuck in Gaza; for in this tiny region, nearly insurmountable borders grow like wildflowers. The wall is the boundary to end all boundaries—”the greatest engineering project Israel has ever undertaken,” a general in charge of its planning and construction tells us. Bitton focuses much attention on the technical details, the tons of cement and miles of barbed wire, the cameras and alarms, and the trenches and roads that run alongside it. Her camera also captures sheep grazing beside it and (with bitter irony) Palestinian workers helping to build it.
Bitton gives short shrift to the security issues the wall is meant to address. (A Jerusalem resident who once came uncomfortably close to a suicide bomber tells her, “When I stand next to a bus, I pray for the light to turn green. What about you?”) And her film’s stately, dirge-like pacing occasionally becomes tiresome. But the wall itself, an insistent and funereal physical presence, raises still deeper and more troubling questions. Is this the marvel Israel wants to leave future generations—its pyramids, its Eiffel Tower? What shared illness in these two societies created it? And how will anyone ever look beyond it?