Documentary on Israeli-Palestinian dialogue — ‘Pomegranates’ — leaves the viewer even more despairing

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A new documentary has come out about dialogue. In the Land of Pomegranates offers the hope that by sharing their stories of victimization, Israelis and Palestinians will be able to transcend those myths and learn to get along. The film opened at the Lincoln Plaza in New York last week, and I made a point to see it, because it was long in the making and director Hava Kohav Beller has such a sure hand in telling human stories. But I left the film more despairing than ever.

The central action of the movie is a dialogue project called “Vacation from War” that takes 20-something Israelis and Palestinians to a German retreat to talk about their national stories, so that they might develop more sympathy for the other side. These scenes are riveting/wrenching, even though their emotional focus is on the Palestinians: can they get over their sense of themselves as victims? Alas, they are portrayed by the filmmaker as being indifferent to the Holocaust, even after going to an exhibition on it, and shown to cling to a ghastly foundational story of their own: that someone occupied their house and killed the father and raped the mother, etc., and kicked out the children; now the children have grown up and Israelis expect them to accept the Jewish ownership of the house? No! The refugee’s shoe has more right to that house than the Jews, says one of the young Palestinians.

One Israeli woman comforts another as they listen to Palestinians tell their stories, in dialogue session, in the documentary In the Land of Pomegranates.

The filmmaker plainly finds these attitudes to be intransigent and stuck in the past and only productive of more violence. Though the Palestinian anger does produce a breakthrough for one of the young Israelis: a thoughtful woman says that it is incumbent on Israelis to acknowledge the Palestinian story first before insisting that Palestinians must recognize the Jewish right to be there. Maybe she will grow from this understanding, and reach out to Palestinians and help resolve the two victim-mythologies: that is the point of view of this movie.

That view is conveyed by the very positive characters in the piece. Mohammed, the Palestinian organizer of “Vacation from War,” was arrested during the First Intifada and used to hate Jews; now he doesn’t, and he wants other Palestinians to hear the Jewish story, so they understand Jewish vulnerability. A Tel Aviv pediatric surgeon puts aside all political differences with Palestinians so as to treat children with congenital heart defects. A Gazan mother who brings her little boy to him to be healed doesn’t like Israel, but she also puts her feelings aside, and when her boy is saved, she tells the doctor, “God bless your hands.”

That moment is extremely moving; I trembled as she said it. Yet it has nothing to do with politics. The woman goes back to Gaza with her little boy, and Israel soon pounds the heck out of the tiny over-populated strip. Presumably the surgeon also saved the lives of a few Gazan children then too, shredded by the munitions he had paid for.

That onslaught of 2014, Operation Protective Edge, is presented by Hava Kohav Beller as an equal battle between two entrenched sides. Israel smashes an apartment building; Hamas lands a rocket in Haifa. This is a misrepresentation: the force on one side was overwhelming, and the casualty count reflected that, some 2300 Palestinian dead to 13. Among the Palestinians were whole families and 500 children.

The film excuses the imbalance of power between the sides by talking about Jewish suffering in the pogroms and the Holocaust, which is not a real answer. (Beller herself left Germany to move to Israel, then the U.S.) The politics of In the Land of Pomegranates are utterly dismissable.

Yet I found the film very powerful; and it left me despairing. Why? The filmmaker’s most intimate portraits are of Israelis in their homes speaking of terror attacks, notably a family in the Galilee that came apart after the Second Intifada. The husband suffered relatively minor injuries in a suicide attack on a bus. But he soon lost his mind from the trauma and had visions of the bus connected to the cattle cars going to Auschwitz; and spent six months in a mental institution. The family moved to the north to try and stay together; and then the Lebanon war of 2006 came and Hezbollah missiles hit Kiryat Shemona. After that the wife became traumatized, and the family split up.

It’s a scouring portrait of the inescapable violence of the conflict. Most of this violence is being inflicted on Palestinians, and the Palestinian youths on the German vacation are eloquent on this score. They describe routine attacks and killings of family members; and it is hardly surprising to see the militancy in their eyes. Or the obduracy in the Israeli eyes. These young people are so similar on the one hand– attractive, articulate, ambitious — and yet they do not see themselves as having anything in common.

I share the filmmaker’s view that these attitudes, these identities rooted in victimization, need to change if this situation is not to be a struggle to the death (and the Israelis’ attitudes are more irrational, imho). But what will change them? Only politics: a rearrangement of power at a structural level, brought about by international pressure. There too individual hearts and minds are important, but the film gives a complete pass to the ideology of Zionism, the belief that Jews are unsafe in the west and therefore need a nation. American Jews are deeply implicated in that ideology and have real power to change Jewish thinking. That’s the only dialogue that is worthwhile.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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19 Responses

  1. eljay
    January 18, 2018, 1:24 pm

    … The film excuses the imbalance of power between the sides by talking about Jewish suffering in the pogroms and the Holocaust …

    That’s one of the pillars of Zionism: Acts of injustice and immorality committed against Jews justify acts of injustice and immorality committed by Jews.

    It’s shameful how Zionists continue to whore out the Holocaust to justify the on-going (war) crimes of their colonialist and religion-supremacist “Jewish State” project.

  2. Eva Smagacz
    January 18, 2018, 2:37 pm

    Eljay,

    I will only add: The acts of injustice and immorality committed against Jews on another continent and in another century justify acts of injustice and immortality committed here and now by Zionist Jews.78/86

    • Marnie
      January 19, 2018, 12:17 am

      Absolutely Eva. What have palestinians ever had to do with the suffering of european jews? Nothing. And why should anyone demand that palestinians learn of the holocaust and feel the pain and suffering of a people from another continent, murdered by their fellow europeans in a war that palestine was never a part of. Israeli jews have co-opted the holocaust and its few survivors as nothing more than useful props for their continued extortion of the rest of the world to bend to the will of the zionist state. It don’t mean shit to them; it’s cynical and nothing more. Why does the state of israel have anything to do with germany if the atrocities of the last century are so sharply in focus? Why are the indigenous people of this land suffering for what was perpetrated at the hands of europeans? How can anyone in their right mind think a palestinian should give a damn about the holocaust? If anything, it will only serve to harden their hearts in this way – so a horrible event took place in europe, you use that to encourage jews all over the world to come to a place that has been inhabited for centuries by a people with no army, who appear to be easy enough to wipe out and now you can be the master of the land that isn’t yours and rule over a people you dehumanize at every opportunity. The zionists have no shame and no understanding of karma.

    • RoHa
      January 19, 2018, 9:56 am

      The young Israelis are whining about injustices that were committed against other people, and which stopped more than seventy years ago. The young Palestinians directly experience injustices being committed against themselves right now, and by the society to which the young Israelis belong.

      • eljay
        January 19, 2018, 10:37 am

        || RoHa: The young Israelis are whining about injustices that were committed against other people, and which stopped more than seventy years ago. The young Palestinians directly experience injustices being committed against themselves right now, and by the society to which the young Israelis belong. ||

        Right, but…ummm…you see, Arabs hate Jews more than they love their own children. And, anyway, next year in Jerusalem. Ancient homeland cherry tomatoes.

  3. Kathleen
    January 18, 2018, 4:46 pm

    Phil “Most of this violence is being inflicted on the Palestinians” And yet we continually hear false equivalency arguments spouted by so many. All I believe to shut down a factual debate that has been taking place but we need even more.

    Phil “But what will change them?” Certainly not a new wall being built underground between the Gaza and stolen Palestinian lands. Gaza an open air prison being separated by newly built underground apartheid walls.

  4. lonely rico
    January 18, 2018, 7:30 pm

    > PW

    Israel soon pounds the heck out of the tiny over-populated strip.

    Close, but no cigar –

    Israel pounds Gaza back into living hell,

    the only exit marked ‘starvation’, ‘madness’, ‘death’.

    ISRAEL MACHT FREI

  5. Elizabeth Block
    January 19, 2018, 8:44 am

    I went to hear a Zionist talk (I was there as a spy/dissenter). He talked about getting Jewish and Palestinian kids together, having them get to know each other and be friends.
    And then what? The Jews turn 18, join the army, and oppress, arrest, maim, kill their “friends.”

    • eljay
      January 19, 2018, 9:38 am

      || Elizabeth Block: I went to hear a Zionist talk (I was there as a spy/dissenter). He talked about getting Jewish and Palestinian kids together, having them get to know each other and be friends.
      And then what? The Jews turn 18, join the army, and oppress, arrest, maim, kill their “friends.” ||

      Yup:

      Let’s be friends but first you have to recognize and accept that:
      – you are not my equal;
      – this is my “ancient neighbourhood” and I’m in charge here;
      – many of your non-Jewish friends must leave to make room for however many of my Jewish friends wish to “return” to this neighbourhood; and
      – if my Jewish friends and I want something of yours, we have every right to take it.

      What? You don’t want to be my friend? What kind of a Jew-hating anti-Semite are you?!

      • LHunter
        January 19, 2018, 10:36 am

        Ejay- so perfectly worded – whenever I get asked by people that know little about the plight of the Palestinians I break it down, just as you have, to simple basic terms describing the forced dispossession of land, theft of culture, brutal violence, racist laws, etc.

        It is so effective – who can fault any one for being angry and fighting back when “… someone occupied their house and killed the father and raped the mother, etc., and kicked out the children…”

        The oppressed need their stories heard often and everywhere

      • ritzl
        January 19, 2018, 11:54 am

        LHunter, yup. And the “If only the Palestinians could be more reasonable…” argument is a clear sign that the person making that argument knows very little about the actual situation in Palestine.

        It suggests fertile ground for discussion and education… and changing of minds, imho.

        I had that very conversation with some “liberal” family members. I used eljay’s rape analogy to get their attention. Still not sure if it worked, but it did provide an opening to get in a few sentences on the actual situation. Effect yet TBD.

        The second sentence was, “95% of everything you’ve heard about this conflict is fiction.” Heck, if you’re re-educating someone, why not start from scratch.

    • Talkback
      January 19, 2018, 11:53 am

      Elisabeth Block: “And then what? The Jews turn 18, join the army, and oppress, arrest, maim, kill their “friends.””

      Not so fast! Before they join the army they are sent to visit Ausschwitz to learn that everybody is their enemy and to comfort themselves with the tought that nothing that they are going to do to their enemies will be as bad as what Nazis did to Jews .

      • Mooser
        January 19, 2018, 12:40 pm

        The don’t “join” the Army. They are conscripted, drafted into the IDF.

    • ritzl
      January 19, 2018, 12:01 pm

      And then what? The Jews turn 18, join the army, and oppress, arrest, maim, kill their “friends.”

      Yes. But somehow I get the feeling that these exhortations to “friendship” are only one way.

  6. Terry Weber
    January 19, 2018, 8:50 am

    From your account of the film it appears to promote “normalization” as in we can just get young Israeli and Palestinians to talk to each other…. I would argue that unless these Israelis recognize that not only is there an occupation but they are directly supporting it with their tax dollars there is no dialogue.

  7. genesto
    January 19, 2018, 12:32 pm

    Look, dialogue is important, not for what it can do to bring about an end to the Occupation, which is very, very little, but to building an understanding between both sides – an understanding that will be essential now that a single state solution is finally emerging as the ONLY option for the future. For Palestinians to enjoy a just and lasting peace, there will, ultimately, have to be a basic respect for each shown toward the other, starting with Israeli Jews who are in total control of the situation at present. Meanwhile, as this carrot is extended, there needs to be a heavy stick – such as BDS – to force the Israelis to change their ways and begin to look seriously at reconciling in some authentic way with the Palestinians.

    This isn’t naive dreaming. This is the only REALISTIC way to move forward.

  8. Ossinev
    January 19, 2018, 1:58 pm

    @Genesto
    “This isn’t naive dreaming. This is the only REALISTIC way to move forward”

    Totally agree.The Yahoo +cabal have been working to persuade the US and other Western states to face up to reality and to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Reality however is a non starter for the in country Zios and the foreign Ziominions when it comes to the corpse which is the 2SS.
    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2017/12/14/recognizing_jerusalem_as_israels_capital_is_recognizing_reality_135784.html
    Absolutely love ” the Jewish state is among the most impressive and admirable in human history”

    Nearly resorted to the sick bucket on that one but serious LOL instead.

    Tick tick

  9. yonah fredman
    February 3, 2018, 9:55 am

    Rimon in Ivrit means pomegranate and grenade. Saw the film. The anger of the young Palestinians was the lasting impression. My takeaway is also despair.
    The film’s selections of the surrounding materials was interesting. The surgery human interest story was the most extraneous. A few clips of Israel harel and “the temple mount is on our hands” was interesting in its selection.
    The woman and her kids next door to Gaza and the ptsd Galilee man were poignant.
    I like the way the Palestinian organizer says his aim is to affect 5out of 60 Palestinians. He was a revelation.
    The dialogue Phil Weiss proposes in the last paragraph in this post does not ring true. It’s the only important dialogue? And you’re a dialoguer?

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