Today we split up a bit because I wanted to spend time with my grandma but all she wants to do is see films so Murli, Divy, and Sanabel went to the beach while my grandma and I went to see the movie “Munich.”
I didn’t know what to expect from Spielberg given his Zionist bent in films such as “Schindler’s List.” My grandma had promised that some Israelis and Jews have been up in arms about it so I was definitely curios about what the film might be saying. In total the film certainly raises questions about the morality of Israel’s practices by showing how the Israeli assassins question their actions of hunting down Palestinians related to the 1972 Black September events beginning with the Olympic killing of Israeli athletes. But while the film shows Israelis questioning their behavior, Spielberg continues with the tired and deeply offensive stereotypes of portraying all Palestinians as terrorists and shows the audience that the only good Palestinian is a dead one.
I was struck by the beginning moments of the film when Golda Meir appears. We see her in her home with a painting of Al Quds (Jerusalem) from the perspective of the Mount of Olives (meaning East Jerusalem, Palestinian territory) and that painting shows the Old City and Al Aqsa mosque, but the hills are completely barren: no homes, no people, not even any olive trees (from the Mount of Olives!!). Her character speaks as if Israel has been behaving morally and civilized until now, but things must change after Jews die publicly in Germany of all places. No mention of 1967 or all of the casualties and suffering at the hands of Israelis. No context of Meir’s history of making explicit statements about her desire to ethnically cleanse Palestinians. The film uses songs like Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” to stir up emotions of the audience.
It is interesting, and important, I think to have some of the Israeli assassin-terrorists question their actions in terms of what it means to be Jewish, Israeli law, and international law. But the most important questioning comes not when they kill a Palestinian, but after they murder a European woman in Amsterdam. It is only then that a character says “I don’t know if we ever were decent.” There are other characters who are perfectly fine saying openly that the only blood that they care about is Jewish blood. There are these moments where the film tries to show that Israelis are somehow trying to act humanely in the course of their terrorist streak across Europe (by showing, for instance, an attempt to make sure a family is not in a building when one man is bombed in his home), but I think the style of killing used in the scene in Beirut is much more telling: indiscriminately murdering an entire building full of people. But there, of course, there are Arab people so care and caution are not used. This type of killing may be rationalized by some Palestinian characters who say things about making the world unsafe for Jews who exploit the Jewish holocaust for their own ends. The protagonist, Avner, asks him “do you really miss your olive trees?” in a naïve way. This is curious because the Israeli character is portrayed as “homeless,” and yet he is told by this Palestinian man, “you don’t know what it is not to have a home.” Indeed. Avner’s eventual exile is nothing like the forced evacuation, massacre, and slaughter of Palestinians on their own exodus out of their land. This character’s own story about what it means to be a Palestinian refugee (right down to the key he wears around his neck, an obvious allusion to al awda). Murdering him in the next scene and seeing his dead body lying in the street is like a double murder: killing his dream of al awda while also killing this man.
The film ends with the main Israeli assassin-terrorist character, Avner, walking along the East River in Brooklyn with the UN directly behind him as he speaks with his boss in Mossad trying to get him to return from “exile” to Israel. The film’s final shot is of the World Trade Center buildings further down Manhattan. An interesting juxtaposition, but one that leaves me still wondering what exactly Spielberg intended to convey about the connections between the UN and the WTC. While this last dialogue is certainly about international law and morality it certainly doesn’t come down in any explicit way by explaining how and why it is immoral and illegal for Israel to behave this way, the same way that the U.S. behaves.
Because the film is a Spielberg film I’m worried about what types of messages people will take away from it. Certainly it is possible to see this film and to glean that Israel is engaged in a soul-killing occupation that will create a society full of Avners, exiled, disconnected from the place and its ideology. But I would credit Tony Kushner with this theme knowing his own anti-Zionist work, which runs contrary to everything Spielberg has done in his career up until this point.