Tom Hayes’s brilliant new documentary Two Blue Lines explores the passionate dispute among Israeli citizens about their government’s Occupation of Palestine. The film deftly splices together dueling creeds and the result is electrifying, because it’s a split so rarely displayed on U.S. screens. Zionist “settlers” claim all of historic Palestine, asserting, variously: “This is our territory returned by God”; “The Arabs are trespassers in the land of Israel: it’s not their country”; “This [land] is ours in every sense of the word”; It’s a “Jewish and democratic state.”
Human rights’ advocates counter such maxims, deploring the contradiction between a “Jewish state”–with “Apartheid” privileges for Jews in an “ethnocracy”–and a democracy with equality for all.
Tellingly, many Israelis speak with American accents, for “the Jewish state” welcomes anyone Jewish from around the world with citizenship, a right denied the stateless, indigenous people of Occupied Palestine. The movie debates competing views of Judaism: a religious entitlement to land versus a spiritual commitment to freeing the oppressed, asking whether Jews are safer segregated or connected to other humanity. As several people of conscience remind us, seeking a purely physical security exposes a people to the more dangerous moral hazard of “re-enacting what happened to us”–of even becoming “animals.”
Hayes grounds this drama in history, with clips from archival newsreels describing Israel’s founding. The film reveals that in 1948 Israel expelled 718,000 of 850,000 Palestinians, destroying two-thirds of their villages. It cites International Law: UN Resolution 194 establishes the Palestinians’ Right of Return to their homes and the Fourth Geneva Convention outlaws “collective punishment,” including Israel’s house demolitions, theft of water and other resources, torture, humiliation, and murder. It compares the numbers of children killed from 2000-2014: “82 Israeli kids, 1861 Palestinian kids.”
The artistic originality of the film’s story-telling goes beyond even its striking sounds of words, music, silence, buzzers, explosions. Hayes’s pictures, from his own living archive of 32 years’ footage, offer entrancing time travel. We magically see “the first Jewish American …conscientious objector” turned World Religion scholar transform from youth to middle age and back, as he and others analyze the 1967 Occupation, 1989 Intifada, 1993 Oslo accords, 2000-2004 second Intifada, the attacks on Gaza, as well as the ever-disputed theology. The movie compares the Israel military insistence that it shoots “non-lethal” bullets to x-rays of human skulls with bullets lodged deep inside. It contrasts massive Israeli-government airstrikes with a Palestinian suicide bombing. It juxtaposes fundamentalists’ vaunted attachment to the land with their desecration of ancient landscapes–especially the construction of the monstrous Wall and rows of identical stone houses in Palestinian territory, turning paradise, not merely to parking lots, but to hill-top fortresses.
It exposes the separate, unequal treatment of Jews and Palestinians, in which “two people…living side by side…governed by two legal systems, where one is the legal system of a liberal democracy… and the other…a military occupation.” It uncovers the everyday “hell” of parallel lines that never meet: segregated roads, checkpoints, water systems, and economies, with freedom and bounty for Jews, captivity and paucity for Palestinians.
Those sights throughout Two Blue Lines, as well as the recurring graphics and the Israeli flag, ask viewers to wonder what the title means. Spoiler alert: keep watching past the gripping end, through the credits, to the wrenching closing song by George Snow. C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe depicts dictatorship as “Always winter and never Christmas.” Tom Hayes’s film portrays tyranny as straight lines–always parallel and never equal signs. Hayes, though, has faith in the inevitable power of Equality in those equal lines.
Hayes tells me that he set out to document Palestinian people’s lives under Occupation but, in the face of frequent Israeli interference– from “Closed Military Area” orders, to curfews declared wherever he worked, to threats of physical harm–his crew would “go up the hills to the settlements or back across ‘The Green Line’ into Israel, looking for interesting Israelis to film.” Hayes notes that several of his Palestinian crew and interviewees were shot during production, and more than a dozen were incarcerated without charges or trial.
Two Blue Lines confronts U.S. viewers with an Israeli schism over their state’s oppression of Palestine, as well as our own government’s responsibility: over $100 billion and the majority of our Security Council vetoes have supported Israel’s wars. This disturbing film can revolutionize discussion here, opening the conversation to Palestinian wisdom, as when Shireen asks near the film’s end, “Can you imagine” how “I feel when I am being bombed?” That question suggests the call to empathy, justice, and peace Americans will hear.
Two Blue Lines premieres Tuesday, January 27, 7 PM, at the Wexner Center for the ArtsThe Ohio State University
1871 North High Street
Columbus, OH 43210
Tom Hayes will introduce the film and discuss it afterward. Hayes is Assistant Professor in the Film Division at Ohio University, where he teaches post production and documentary development. Two Blue Lines is Hayes’s third film about Palestine. His other films were Native Sons: Palestinians In Exile, narrated by Martin Sheen, and People and The Land. Native Sons is available as a free download.
Two Blue Lines can also be seen at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Membership Meeting in Baltimore, March 13-15, 2015.
A version of this review was published by The Columbus Free Press and print edition p. 22. I’d like to add that I’ve known Tom Hayes for years as an inspirational spirit at talks and walks about freeing Palestine. Tom defends the vulnerable wherever he is, for he honors the humanity of others with kindly integrity. Tom’s stalwart benevolence here in Ohio helps me imagine his decades of bravery among the valiant people of Occupied Palestine and deepens my awe of his beautiful film about terrible crimes.