Seen from the outside the situation in the Middle East conflict—the plight of Palestinians in the Territories, the sense of insecurity of Israelis, the second-rate status of Arab Israeli citizens–may seem both hopeless and distant. Hopeless it may be but distant it certainly is not for the millions who live it every day. The point is forcefully brought home by the excellent film “The Attack” by Lebanese-born director Ziad Doueiri, based on the novel of the same name by Yasmina Khadra (pen name of Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul.)
Doueiri, a former cameraman for Tarantino, is the director of “West Beirut” which garnered a number of awards and the public’s favor. He was in for a nasty surprise when his present film, also praised and almost up for an Academy Award, was banned by Lebanese authorities who will not allow it to be shown in Lebanon on the grounds that it was partially shot in Tel Aviv with a cast comprising Israeli actors. (Given that the film is about a bomb exploding in a Tel Aviv restaurant and that the main characters are Israeli, the logic behind the ban is hard to fathom but common enough in a part of the world where Israel simply does not exist.)
The story is that of Amine Ja’afari (Ali Suliman), a top Israeli surgeon belonging to the Arab minority. In the aftermath of the suicide bombing that kills 17, Ja’afari realizes to his horror that the terrorist was none other than his beloved wife Siham (Reymond Amsalem) with whom he had been happily married for 15 years. In denial at first and more or less accused of complicity by Shin Bet, the security police, he comes to realize through various clues that Siham had indeed been the suicide bomber. Putting two and two together, he goes off to Nazareth–a dilapidated town in the Palestinian territories– to find out what had led this modern, secular, Christian woman to be brainwashed by a violent Islamist sheikh and his followers into the heinous act.
“The Attack” takes no sides, it offers neither message, nor consolation, nor conclusion. Rather, it is a level-headed portrayal of populations caught in a vortex of ideologies, fears and violent events from which there is no escape and in which the only way to live is as normally as possible given the context. There is no side to take because all sides are right and wrong—Israelis, Palestinians in the occupied territories, even terrorists and their twisted logic. And there is no hope for positive changes of hearts or mindsets. When Ja’afari gives up trying to understand and decides not to share with the police the scraps of information he has gathered but put the sad episode behind him, his best friends suddenly see him not as an Israeli, an award-winning surgeon and a credit to the country, but one of “them,” an Arab, therefore a second-class Israeli citizen whose loyalties probably lie with Palestinians.
So, no hope? Indeed, there always is. Witness the coming together of a crew as talented, as diverse and as honest as that of “The Attack,” bringing us this unflinching testimony of a situation to which the world has unfortunately become inured but which will have to find a solution some day.
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