My husband and I have been watching documentary films from DOCAVIV (via streaming) these past few days. The festival is a wonderful Israeli film event that usually takes place in the springtime at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, but this year, due to the pandemic, it is currently streaming till Sept. 13th. In addition to some great international docs, we watched the premiere of the first two episodes of a five-part Israeli TV series called Lebanon: Borders of Blood, directed by the prolific Israeli documentary filmmaker, Duki Dror, and we also “participated” in a discussion with the filmmakers.
This fascinating and extremely well-documented and well-researched TV series includes an historical chapter, and then delves into the complicated issues of modern Lebanon. According to Duki Dror, Israelis are used to thinking about Lebanon purely as an issue of defending ourselves against terrorist attacks in the north, but through a TV series such as this one, we are able to see that it is much more complicated than that! In a DOCAVIV interview after the screening, the filmmaker stated that the working assumption of those who conceived, produced and directed this film is that if we can understand Lebanon in all of its strange diverse components, then we can understand the Middle East, and perhaps even ourselves.
Episode 1, entitled the Lebanon Kaleidascope, offers an historical overview, beginning with the artificial creation of the country in the 1920s. The country was made up of opposites and developed into a Western paradise quite quickly, offering extraordinary culture and exciting nightlife. But things rapidly deteriorated in Lebanon after King Hussein drove the PLO leadership from Jordan in 1970 during what became known as “Black September”. My husband and I were here in Israel as students that year, and we remember the news reports of this traumatic event.
The Lebanese were forced by the Arab world to provide a southern swath of territory to the armed PLO “freedom fighters”, which included Palestinian refugees who arrived after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and those who arrived following the outcome of the Six Day War. At this time, during the 1970s, the Christians living in Lebanon began to feel endangered, and this marked the beginning of the civil war. It also marked the beginning of terrible terror attacks by the PLO against Israel, when a school bus on the northern border was hit by an RPG. Prime Minister (at that time) Golda Meir demanded that Lebanon crack down on the terrorist groups, and thus things began to heat up within Lebanon. Palestinians massacred the Christians living in a village called Damour. The Christians retaliated and killed literally thousands of Palestinians at Tel El-Zatar. Then Syria entered the conflict by financing and arming the PLO. The violence continued to escalate, and the cycle of civil war and killing got worse and worse. Since the Christians felt that the entire Arab world was against them, they turned to the state of Israel for support and in 1976 then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to equip the Christian Phalangists, creating a new alliance, that eventually became stronger and stronger.
Episode 2 added much more to the viewer’s understanding of the complexity of Lebanon which at that time included Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, many different sects of Christians, with the Maronite Phalangists being the most well known, and then the PLO fighters and Palestinian refugees are thrown into the mix. Historically, the Maronite Christians ruled Lebanon and made up the elite with other Christian groups and Sunni Muslims. The Shi’ite Muslims lived in the south and were humiliated, discriminated against, and even persecuted. The Palestinian refugees who came to Lebanon from Israel are Sunnis and didn’t get along with the Shi’ites or the Christians in the south. It was an anarchic situation for a long time, with one persecuted group hating another persecuted group, engaging in violent reprisals against each other constantly. Today, the Hizbollah, who are Shi’ite, are supported by Iran and Syria. During the Civil War (which lasted 15 years approximately), Muslims killed Christians and Christians killed Muslims and Christians killed Christians. And, eventually, it brought Israel into the “Lebanese Mud.”
As the citizens of Israel suffered more and more terrorist attacks in the north of Israel, and the Phalangists, who became the Pro-Israel SLA (South Lebanon Army) tried to protect their Christian villages in South Lebanon and to stop the PLO fighters from infiltrating into Israel, the situation went from bad to worse. The constant escalation catalyzed then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin (who had just made peace with Egypt in 1979) to appoint a hawkish defense minister, Ariel Sharon, and, as they say, the rest is history!
The Israeli soldiers who were interviewed for this series who participated in the 1982 incursion into Lebanon admitted on camera that they had virtually no idea about the complex and diverse ethnic, political and religious divisions in Southern Lebanon. In an attempt to be even-handed and to show both sides of the narrative, this excellent documentary series reminds us that the young Israeli soldiers who were fighting, suffered from the cruel and violent images of repeated terrorist attacks by the PLO at that time. Similarly, the young Palestinian fighters were motivated by their perceptions of their people’s sufferings from 1948, 1967 and into the 1980s.
According to the filmmakers, there were more than 100 people interviewed for this series, including Israeli, PLO, Phalangist and American speakers, providing different points of view. Due to the fact that the TV series is an Israeli-German-American co-production, with international crews, they were able to locate and interview people who would not usually cooperate with Israeli filmmakers. This enabled the film to truly be a kaleidoscope of multiple contradictory points of view, helping the viewer to get a deeper understanding of the complexity of the situation in Lebanon that we still confront to this very day, as opposed to usual simplistic black and white, us vs. them view of this very messy situation on our northern border.
The TV series, Lebanon, Borders of Blood, is produced for broadcast on KAN, the Israeli public TV station, and we watched the Israeli version. A different version will be edited for viewing abroad.