"World Cinema: Israel"

My book, "World Cinema: Israel" (originally published in 1996) is available from Amazon on "Kindle", with an in-depth chapter comparing and analyzing internationally acclaimed Israeli films up to 2010.

Want to see some of the best films of recent years? Just scroll down to "best films" to find listings of my recommendations.


Friday, August 15, 2008

"Cobwebs" by Zvia Keren

I recently came across a compelling, well-documented and extremely hard-hitting film about the human side of the 2nd Lebanon War. This is a film that asks a lot of tough questions. It's not about our troops who didn't get food or water, not about the cabinet decision-making, and not about the massive destruction in southern Lebanon. Rather, this film is a look at how people in the northern Galilee were coping, what issues they were discussing, and how did all this link to previous terrorist attacks in the area.

During August 2006, while the war was raging in the north, documentary filmmaker Zvia Keren journeyed from place to place, interviewing and filming. While missiles were falling, fires blazing, and frightened people were running to shelters, she and her crew continued on their way. The film is narrated in the first person by Keren herself, who was born and raised on a moshav on the Lebanese border.

Using archival footage, she tells the story of the Ma'alot massacre in 1974 -- 22 school children were murdered by a group of terrorists who infiltrated from Lebanon. How could it be that in those days no one fled Ma'alot "under fire", and today, everyone is fleeing the Galilee? Has something happened to the Israeli psyche? What would happen if bombs fell in Tel Aviv, would we keep running, leaving the entire country behind?

The human suffering during the 2nd Lebanon War and the suffering of the Ma'alot attack are deftly mixed together with another story – the story of a 1979 terrorist attack in the northern Galilee. This is where the film becomes personal and particularly compelling. A PLO terrorist band landed in Israel by boat, broke into a home in Nahariyah and abducted Zvia Keren's brother-in-law, Danny Haran (age 28) and his daughter Meital. Meanwhile, Danny's wife Smadar was hiding, holding her hand over her younger daughter Yael's mouth so that she wouldn't make a sound. Not able to breathe, little Yael died. The terrorists took Danny and Meital to the nearby beach and brutally killed them there. One terrorist, Samir Kuntar, was taken prisoner and later was tried in Israel for this shockingly brutal attack. In 2006, after the Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Nasrallah demanded an exchange for Samir Kuntar, who had been sitting in an Israeli prison ever since. But Israel wouldn't trade a terrorist with blood on his hands and wouldn't trade for soldiers who had been abducted. This would create a terrible precedent. And a war broke out.

Raising questions about the past
Keren wonders if we are too humane. Perhaps we should have shot Kuntar right there on the beach, that night back in 1979? She talks with Smadar Haran, the mother of Meital and Yael, both of whom died that night. Till this day, Smadar sleeps in her clothes at night for fear that terrorists will invade her home. She talks with Nina, Danny Haran's mother, and asks if we had traded Samir Kuntar, could we have prevented all this death and destruction? Did he deserve to be traded? In any event, could it have saved lives?

Just last month, on July 16, 2008, in a prisoner swap, Israel traded the terrorist, Samir Kuntar, alive and well, in exchange for the dead bodies of Ehud (Udi) Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Smadar Haran came to the funerals of Goldwasser and Regev and hugged Karnit Goldwasser, Udi's young widow. How do we justify that exchange after all the death and dying? How many mistakes in judgment have we made?

The title of the film refers to Nasrallah's declaration that Israel was weak as a cobweb. Zvia Keren has a different interpretation – she concludes that we are stuck in a web and the web has become so much more complex than it ever was before.
Cobwebs, directed by Micha Livne, produced and narrated by Zvia Keren (63 min., 2007) is available for rental and purchase from Ruth Diskin at http://www.ruthfilms.com/

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