Legendary filmmaker Menachem Golan was just three months old when the 1929 Palestine riots broke out in Jerusalem. More than 243 Palestinian Jews and Arabs died in violence a British Commission of Inquiry blamed on Arab “animosity and hostility towards the Jews …”
The massacre inflicted on the Palestinian Jewish community little more than 100 miles from the home where a baby who grew up to bring dozens of international films and theatrical productions to audiences across the world was a wake-up call to Jewish leadership who had hoped compromise and conciliation would provide the foundation for lasting peace among Palestinian Jews and Arabs.
In its report on the massacre, the commission led by Sir Walter Shaw reported 133 Jews killed by Arabs, 339 other Jews injured, and 110 Arabs killed and 232 other Arabs injured, “mostly by British police trying to suppress the violence.” In 1929, the Jews of Palestine did not have the resources to defend themselves against massacres.
The findings of the Shaw Commission revealed a strategy that continued throughout Menachem Golan’s 85 years.
The commission cited Arab media that had published stories “of a character likely to excite any susceptible readers.” At the time, those provocative stories resulted in many Jewish worshippers at the holy Western Wall being beaten and stoned by Arabs.
At 19, Golan served as a pilot fighting for the survival of the Jewish State through its 1948 War of Independence. Along with his commitment to protecting his country and people, Golan passionately pursued his love of theater, studying at the Old Vic School, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and New York University. His first work in the field began as an apprentice in Tel Aviv’s Habima Theatre, where he produced plays while preparing to work on the big screen through his work assisting veteran filmmaker Roger Corman.
Perhaps the most critically acclaimed film of Menachem Golan’s career, 1977’s Operation Thunderbolt, couldn’t have better portrayed the reality of Golan’s own 48 year life at the time.
With blood, sweat and tears, the Jews of Palestine had gone from helpless victims of Arab massacres 100 miles from the home of his birth to a nation that could carry out a daring, successful rescue of Jews threatened with another massacre more than 2,000 miles away.
Menachem Golan died surrounded by family in Jaffa, Israel on Friday at the age of 85. He will long be remembered not just for his accomplishments bringing Israel’s story – and many others – to the world, but also as a testament to the courage, ingenuity, tenacity, and, yes, chutzpa, of a People who despite overwhelming odds, refused to remain victims to a world almost always silent to its pleas.