Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 27, 2005


Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 2:09 pm

Posted to www.marxmail.org on August 27, 2005

Now playing at the Quad Cinema in New York, Simone Bitton’s “Wall” is a riveting study of the impact of Israel’s “security fence” on the lives of Jew and Arab alike. Without any editorializing, it all the more effectively drives home the point that the walls, barbed wire fences, checkpoints, watchtowers, etc have turned the West Bank into a vast prison. As one left-leaning Kibbutznik tells Bitton, the Jews–who suffered through ghetto conditions for much of their history–have now imposed them on the Palestinians.

Bitton’s technique owes a lot to American documentary film-maker Frederick Wiseman, who has devoted himself to allowing inhumane institutions such as prisons, mental hospitals and high schools–and the people who experience them from the top and the bottom–to reveal their own inner contradictions. Like Wiseman, Bitton allows a camera in a fixed location to observe seemingly mundane details, such as workmen installing huge chunks of the wall, to speak for themselves. Unlike Wiseman, she also interviews the actors in this drama. With deceptively neutral questions, she allows an Israeli General in charge of installing the fences to hoist himself on his own petard. Palestinians pour out their souls to her, providing bitter testimony about destroyed livelihoods and a sense being captive.

With a film track that includes haunting performances by anti-Zionist Israeli jazz musician Gilad Atzmon and an austere cinematography that increases the sense of isolation, the film conveys a feeling that “the devil has taken over the Holy Land,” as the above-mentioned Kibbutznik put it.

Another West Bank Israeli expresses a sense of futility, feeling that the wall will only deepen Palestinian hostility and a new cycle of violence once ways around the wall are discovered. Indeed, the final scene of “Wall” shows Palestinians sneaking through the crevices of a security fence.

It is hard to imagine anybody with a glimmer of humanity viewing the wall as anything but a affront to civilized values. Singularly ugly and covered with graffiti, they break up the natural flow of town and city alike. When Bitton mentions to the Israeli General that they are considered hazardous to the environment, he shrugs his shoulders and basically blames any untoward consequences on the Palestinians. This is a system that has lost the capacity for self-criticism, much to the dismay of decent people like Simone Bitton.

Bitton makes no attempt to provide any sort of historical framework or offer a political solution to a seemingly intractable situation. As an artist, she has more than successfully carried out her responsibility, which is to look at injustice and render it in dramatic and visual terms. On the film’s website, which includes still photos of the wall, Bitton explains how she got the idea to make it:

On a summer evening in 2002, while watching the evening news on television, I saw the first images of the wall. The Israeli Defense Minister, who had just inaugurated its construction, said that this fence made of iron and concrete would be the ultimate solution for the country’s security problems. Both these words and these images were so weird and worrying to me, and I said to myself: “That’s it, they’ve gone crazy!”

That night I couldn’t sleep. The very idea of a wall erected between Israelis and Palestinians tore me apart. In the following weeks, I was really distressed. I had the feeling that I was being cut in half, that who I am was being denied: an Arab Jew whose entire being is the site of a permanent dialogue. I felt that this wall would be insurmountable for all the goodwilled people like myself, while creating hundreds of new suicide bombers.

Full: http://www.wallthemovie.com/

Bitton was born in Morocco in 1955 and speaks both Arabic and Hebrew. She now lives in Jerusalem. Her entire career has been involved with presenting a progressive alternative to Zionist aggression. In 2001, she made “Citizen Bishara,” a 52-minute portrait of Azmi Bishara, a Palestinian philosopher and member of the Israeli Knesset.

As powerful as this film is, one cannot but feel a sense that there still needs to be a documentary about the history and role of Zionism. With the vast propaganda machine at its disposal in the United States, there is a pressing need for a documentary that can tell the entire terrible story.

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