Sheldon Kirshner

Bethlehem — A Suspenseful Israeli Thriller

Yuval Adler’s suspenseful Middle Eastern thriller, Bethlehem, is a microcosm of Israel’s bitter and protracted conflict with the Palestinians. Now available for viewing on the ChaiFlicks streaming platform, Adler’s debut feature film unfolds menacingly in the West Bank Palestinian town of Bethlehem and in nearby Jerusalem during the second Palestinian uprising, which raged from 2000 to 2005.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service, has learned that a suicide bomber is at large in Jerusalem. It has received this vital information from one of its Palestinian informants/collaborators. Before the terrorist can be apprehended, he blows himself up, killing nine people and wounding many more.

Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), a young Palestinian collaborator, is brought in for questioning by his Shin Bet handler, Razi (Tsahi Halevi), who suspects that his older brother, Ibrahim al-Masri, is behind the bombing. Masri, the leader of the local branch of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Palestinian terrorist group, is wanted by Israel and has gone into hiding. The Shin Bet believes that Masri is collaborating with Hamas, which is based in the Gaza Strip.

Sanfur, an ardent Palestinian nationalist, has been secretly working for the Shin Bet since he was about 15 years old. He agreed to be an informer in exchange for the release of his father from prison.

Razi trusts Sanfur, a sullen and reckless youth, and relates to him like his own son. Razi’s colleagues thinks he should distance himself emotionally from Sanfur, but Razi thinks he’s a valuable asset and has the potential to become a leader in the Palestinian resistance movement.

Proceeding from that assumption, Razi sends Sanfur out of harm’s way to Hebron, where his aunt lives. Razi knows that the Shin Bet, in league with the Israeli army, is about to launch a raid to capture Masri.

In a vivid, blood-soaked scene, the Israelis locate Masri in a residential building in Bethlehem and kill him. Badawi (Hitham Omari), Masri’s dour deputy, is enraged by his death and threatens to turn Tel Aviv into a graveyard. Hamas promises to wreak vengeance as well.

Badawi and Hamas share identical goals, but they’re at odds ideologically. Tension ensues as Badawi and a Hamas operative try to claim Masri’s corpse.

Sanfur is heart-broken by his brother’s passing, but Razi tries to convince him that he’s not responsible for his demise, and that their relationship remains intact. Calling Razi a liar, Sanfur rejects his rationalization, and offers to work for Badawi.

The Palestinian Authority, which governs Bethlehem but which cooperates with Israel in suppressing terrorism, is portrayed as an opportunistic, corrupt and racist organization. One of its leaders cynically accepts a cash donation from a foreign country, knowing the funds will be pocketed by the leadership, and belittles Badawi as a Bedouin.

Sanfur’s cover as an Israeli mole is eventually blown, possibly exposing him to shame, humiliation and death. Badawi offers him a way out of his predicament if he is willing to cooperate.

Bethlehem, ably directed by Adler, is a top-notch movie with fine performances from its cast. Halevi and Mar’i are particularly convincing in their demanding roles.

The film adeptly illustrates the point that Israel’s struggle with the Palestinians is deep-seated, open-ended and disastrous for both sides.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,
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