Bethlehem Is an Unstinting Look at Israelis and Palestinians Caught Between Worlds


An unstinting look at the impossible choices faced by Israelis and Palestinians caught between worlds, Bethlehem plumbs the destructive aspects of the double-agent mode of statecraft.

This accomplished debut feature by Yuval Adler provides an all-encompassing portrait of winners and losers in Israel and the West Bank city of the title, though ultimately all participants become losers in a conflict that affords only poor options.

Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i) is a teenager living in the shadow of his militant older brother Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), yet Sanfur himself is an informant for Israeli Secret Service officer Razi (Tsahi Halevi). Sanfur is hardly an Israel sympathizer, clearly having been forced into this position, and his situation only becomes more untenable after Razi uses him to track down and execute Ibrahim.

Refusing to take sides or vilify his characters, Adler finds the humanity in all parties — the film shows us the moving funeral of a Palestinian militant but also depicts Israeli soldiers who, in the course of simply trying to do their jobs, get pelted with rocks.

The film suggests that there can be no equanimity when neither prideful side is willing to abandon even a trace of skepticism about the other; ironically, its warmest relationship is between Sanfur and Razi, who are momentarily able to drop their hostilities and make something akin to a connection.