The Israeli Documentary “West of the Jordan River” Relies on Too-Straightforward Interviews

Director and on-camera interlocutor Amos Gitai resists follow-up questions that could enrich the material


The maddeningly unfocused Israeli documentary West of the Jordan River doesn’t reveal anything insightful about Gaza settlers’ reasons for either supporting or rejecting a two-state solution. Director and on-camera interviewer Amos Gitai gives all his subjects, from Israeli journalists to Palestinian workers, freedom to talk about whatever related topics they want. That includes one Israeli journalist’s gloomy predictions about his country’s perceived “suicidal” fate, and an impassioned Israeli newspaper editor’s praise of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s consummately pragmatic character.

Unfortunately, Gitai (Kadosh, Free Zone) never challenges his subjects’ more provocative claims, as when still-serving Israeli deputy minister of foreign affairs Tzipi Hotovely says that the Israeli military should not leave the Gaza settlements: “Disengagement isn’t the solution.” As an interviewer, Gitai tentatively pushes back but then immediately gives up after she sternly states, “I don’t see any moderation from Palestinian society. There’s only radicalization. I live in the real world, not a fantasy, Amos.”

Even the most affecting human interest stories Gitai has collected would benefit from a few pointed follow-up questions, including his brief discussion with an Iraqi immigrant whose son was killed by Palestinian military action. Personal loss may be a universal experience, but what does Gitai’s subject mean when she says that Israelis don’t understand the “Arab mentality” while the members of an “Arab home” are all characteristically willing to serve lunch to their hungry neighbors at 11 a.m.? Another interviewee may be right when she says that “every community has its own narrative,” but not every story’s meaning is clear without thoughtful explication.

West of the Jordan River
Directed by Amos Gitai
Kino Lorber
Opens January 26, Quad Cinema