“When there is no-one left to bear witness, how far can we trust the evidence of our eyes alone” Yael Hersonski, director of the movie, ‘A Film Unfinished’ questions. “Even when there are those to bear witness, how far can we trust the evidence of the eyes?” we must ask after viewing ‘The Invisible Men,’ and ‘Within the Eye of the Storm’, two Israeli movies that have recently been screened in South Africa.
Yael Hersonski’s ‘A Film Unfinished’ is a gripping rendition of actual life in the Warsaw Ghetto. In May 1942, just 2 months before the liquidation of the ghetto, the Nazis sent in a film crew in order to film the Jews as a means of propaganda. Four reels of raw film entitled ‘Das Ghetto’ were found in a German archive. Hersonski skillfully weaves this raw footage into a documentary of unforgettable proportions. We see the poverty and degradation of the Jews living in the ghetto, and at the same time we see the Nazi propaganda machination at work. Through the wonderful narration and Hersonski’s masterly direction we are made aware of how easy it could have been for the Germans to depict that that they wanted to, rather than the truth.
Both ‘The Invisible Men’ and ‘Within the eye of the Storm’ purport to represent the truth. And both probably do. But herein lies the crux. There are two types of truth: the whole truth and segments of truth.
‘The Invisible Men’ depicts the lives of three gay Palestinians who seek refuge in Israel because as homosexuals their lives, in Palestine, are in danger. Yet they cannot gain legal status in Israel because ‘Palestine’ is considered enemy territory. A below-the-radar Israeli organization assists them obtain asylum in a country in Europe. But this means leaving their language, their culture and all that is familiar behind. The mens’ anger at Israel for not granting them asylum is palpable. So while Israel is positively portrayed as a free and open society it is this message of being closed to Palestinians – “I was born here,” says Louis, one of the protagonists – that is all pervading. And so the viewer leaves the theatre with confirmation that his pre-conceived view of Israel as a racist, apartheid-type state is correct. How sad that in his many on-screen conversations and interviews with the three Palestinians, the director Yariv Mozer never saw fit to contextualise and explain the predicament faced by Israel, if only so as to ensure that the audience would understand it. But then, had the movie conveyed Israel’s standpoint, would it have proved as popular?
In her movie, ‘Within the Eye of the Storm’ director Shelley Hermon follows two fathers, both members of the peace organization ‘Combatants for Peace’, one an Israeli, and the other a Palestinian, who have each lost a daughter in the conflict.
The Israeli girl, Smadar Elhanan, was killed in a suicide bombing, while the Palestinian, Abir Aramin was shot by an IDF soldier outside her school, at a range of 40 metres, with no provocation whatsoever. Many Palestinian children have died as a result of the conflict, but so many more as a result of being human shields, or because they were in the line of fire during an attack, and yet Hermon saw fit to make a movie centred round the extremely rare occurrence of an IDF soldier purposefully shooting a ten year old. Did Hermon consider that this feeds into the very prevalent belief that IDF soldiers shoot children for target practice, or were such considerations irrelevant in the making of her movie? Interestingly, when questioned, Hermon had no idea how many Palestinian children have been killed in this manner, and yet she chose to make a movie with this as its central theme.
The movie is replete with images that feed into the preconceived belief that Israel is a racist apartheid state: the fence is depicted as concrete and only concrete; the slogans displayed by Israeli protesters eg, “Occupation is racist”; the attitudes of the Israelis interviewed are harsh and unbending, far-removed from wanting peace.
Sadly both ‘The Invisible Men’ and ‘Within the Eye of The Storm’ are traveling the world, and are screened for gullible, ignorant audiences who are only too happy to have their perceptions of Israel confirmed by ‘loyal’ Israeli film directors who profess deep love for their country. These movies are veritable fodder for the BDS and other such nefarious groups. The damage they cause is irreparable. At what point will film directors such as Mazor and Hermon realize that to present half-truths is to obfuscate the truth? It is as good as the untruth.