All in the Family: An Israeli-Palestinian Tragedy
“If you by chance woke up this morning and thought maybe this whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict by chance, wasn’t actually tragic, then this film reminds you just how wrong you were,” my friend Miriam pronounces as we walk out of a new Israeli documentary called “Blood Relation.”
The film, which just picked up a second place award at DocAviv, the annual Tel Aviv documentary film festival, tells the story of a Jewish Israeli filmmaker named Noa Ben-Hagai who discovers her family has been hiding a secret: Over sixty years ago, just as Israel became a state, her great aunt married a Palestinian man and spent most of her life living in a refugee camp in the West Bank.
Ben-Hagai sets out to reconnect the two branches of the family, but following the hugs, tears, and comparing of genealogical notes over faded black and white family photographs, comes the frustration. They are two families trying to find a way to become one again in the midst of the reality of the conflict that has a nasty way of rearing its head into their would-be merry reunionizing.
Her uncle Shmuelik, a former colonel in the Israeli army (who was once in charge of all intelligence gathering activities in the West Bank) at first forms what appears to be a strong bond with his re-discovered first cousin, a woman named Selma.
But their relationship is anything but equal. He’s the one in the position of power as an Israeli with the connections and money to help bail out her son and husband when they are caught illegally in Tel Aviv without work permits and thrown into jail. She’s the one from a refugee family that has trouble making ends meet and cannot legally enter Israel although her mother was a Jew. And as requests for help from the Palestinian relatives on the other side of the political divide continue, Uncle Shmuelik grows bitter and distraught. He accuses his niece, the filmmaker, of opening a “Pandora’s box that holds a festering wound.”
Hearts broken, wounds fresh again, I look at these cousins moving across the screen in obvious anguish and wonder how if relatives of one family cannot find reconciliation what is the hope for the two peoples they represent?
Heck, they can’t even share a road.
Meanwhile, a type of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were launched this week. They have a fancy new name now, “Proximity Talks”. But no one is holding their breath for their success.
Long-time Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher writes:
“The Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks beginning now will almost certainly end in failure. There is little room for optimism regarding these talks or any other form of peace process that brings together the political camps of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas. The gap between the core beliefs of Netanyahu and Abbas is simply too wide.”
And a report from Time Magazine offers this:
Unfortunately, that shared goal is not to reach a final agreement on a two-state solution to their conflict … Instead, the mutual goal in the latest round of talks is to avoid being blamed for their failure.
One wonders when the leadership on both sides will remember to try to really start making peace.
As Uncle Shmuelik says after making the first phone call to the relatives in the refugee camp after 40 years of silence , “The thing is, perhaps we remembered too late”.
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