i find it rather shocking that palestinian and pro-palestinian bloggers are salivating over this new short animated video by yoni goodman who was the director of animation for the academy-award nominated film waltz with bashir. it is produced by some new project called the closed zone, which is affiliated with gisha, an israeli organization working on freedom of movement issues. i wasn’t going to post it, but given that i haven’t seen any critiques of it i feel that i should:
in theory the concept is good and the animation is interesting. simple, but interesting. but here is my problem: notice that when this boy tries to cross the border into rafah you see the the hands stopping him have shirts cuffs and those cuffs are primarily with the colors of egypt and one with israeli terrorist colors on the cuff. but every other time the boy tries to cross into 1948 palestine or into the mediterranean sea, there are naked hands with no cuffs. so as to remove blame from the fact that it is israeli terrorists who keep palestinians imprisoned in gaza.
i haven’t seen waltz with bashir, nor do i want to. but i trust the reading of as’ad abukhalil on this:
The film strives, as always happens in the liberal Zionist media, to introduce, up close, every soldier who appears in the film. You see the soldier as a child, helping his mother in the kitchen, you see him with his sweetheart, you see him sea-sick and vomiting, and there is nothing but for the viewer to lament and sympathize with the suffering Israeli murderer. There is a particular school in the Zionist Left that expresses its displeasure—nay, more—that some of the practices of Israeli wars and various aspects of the occupation are detrimental to “the Israeli spirit” or “the psychology of soldier.” In other words, for some of these people—like the thousands who demonstrated after the massacres of Sabra & Shatila—opposition to the slaughter came not out of sympathy with the victims or consciousness of the disaster that befell them, but out of support for the national (and, for some, even religious) fighting élan of the colonialist army. The humanization of the murderer and sympathy for him are both the flip side of the dehumanization of the Palestinian Other, for he is not a complete person in their view. Read Zionist literature from the beginning to find in their representation—if they were there at all—backward peasants or lowly bedouins or nondescript refugees without citizenship, later transformed into “saboteurs” (and this is the same name that the Phalangist “Voice of Lebanon” radio used in the course of the war) in the 1960s, until Zionist propaganda finally settled upon the description “terrorist”. The film doesn’t deviate from the formula, even with regard to that splendid boy when he fires an RPG launcher in the face of the occupier.
But, the (im)moral standard of the film is evident from the beginning when the narrator suffers from nightmares because he killed some dogs in South Lebanon. And in another scene, an Israeli soldier bemoans the plight of the horses in Beirut’s hippodrome, for the animals are more valuable than the Arab according to a racial hierarchy that doesn’t differ in its essentials from Nazi hierarchy. There is a liberal American organization—which has been utterly indifferent to the lives of the people of Palestine—that ran a campaign to care for the animals in Gaza. The Arab and the Muslim in the liberal standard of the white man is of a lower rank than the animal. The Western viewer will sympathize with the Israeli soldier because he seemed the most affected by the killing of animals at the hands of the Arabs in the devastation of 1982.
And then there is the most important thing. Why the Zionist focus on the massacre of Sabra & Shatila and not all the other massacres the Israeli aggressor committed in 1982, when it killed close to 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, most of whom were civilians? The reason is clear, and it has no connection to the atrocities the Lebanese forces committed among the massacres that fill any history of the Lebanese civil war. Israel wants, in its propaganda focus on Sabra & Shatila to the exclusion of others, to evade—not to assume—responsibility. And this is what Folman means in the propaganda hype for the film when he says, “Israeli soldiers had nothing to do with that massacre,” so Israel chose a massacre that was committed at the hands of its allies to remain at a distance from responsibility. Israel (and the film) wants to say that it did not carry out these heinous acts, even though Israel in the 1982 invasion killed many times the number of victims of that despicable massacre. The facile clichés of racial hatred are parroted over and over: that the Arabs kill in defense of “honor” and as a “show of force”, as if vengeance were not a quality of Zionism. Bashir Gemayel and his wife who fixed Lebanese meals for Ariel Sharon did not understand that, despite their claim to be “Phoenician”, Zionists look at them as Arabs, willy-nilly, no matter how much they pretended and no matter how much Amine Gemayel tried to appear sophisticated. The film passes over the breadth of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, intentionally omitting a number of stubborn facts. The film doesn’t want to mention, for instance, that Israel did not dare invade Beirut until after the elite fighters of the powerful Palestinian resistance were evacuated, and after the enemy [Israel] put thousands of women and children in concentration camps. But the film revealed what was hidden: that the soldiers of occupation were afraid of us. The boys in the camp of Ein el-Hilweh in Rashidiyah scared them. It can be said that we fell for the propaganda trick of 1948 to 2006. No one denies (except Wahhabi or Zionist propaganda—and they are allies these days) that the 2006 war put an end for eternity to the largest strategic component in the arsenal of the enemy: the power to intimidate and to sow the illusion of fearlessness on their own side. And if this component wasn’t eliminated, then why did the aggression on Gaza develop along the course they did, without a settlement in the enemy’s advantage? As the ideological defender of the Israeli soldier says: service in the army became a function of making a living. And for us, the opposite happened: the fighting is no longer done by people who practice it professionally to earn money, but rather by courageous volunteers and adherents to conviction (which appears as religious doctrine these days).
And when you see the film, you should remember that painful time. Watch it in fury. I found myself scrutinizing the drawings of the enemy soldiers’ faces and asking myself: did I see one of these when I took refuge in the town of el-Qalila near Tyre in summer 1982? Did one of them stop me at their checkpoint? Did one of these participate in our morning assembly in the plaza of el-Qalila in order to isolate the “terrorists” among us, based on the suggestions of masked informants? And I found myself following the film in anger and rage as it attempted to re-write that era. Why didn’t the national movement deal early on with the emergence of the Phalange, which flourished since the 1950s (according to Hebrew sources) under the protection of the state of Israel? Why didn’t the Palestinian left and the non-Arafat wing of the Fatah movement deal with Yasser Arafat who did the impossible, to thwart the possibilities for the Lebanese and Palestinian revolution? It was possible to establish an effective resistance in South Lebanon in 1978 after the first invasion. At the time, the Iraqi [Marxist] Hashim Mohsin Ali set out to launch (and name) the Popular Resistance Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from the Occupation and Fascism, and he got in touch with Mohsin Ibrahim and George Hawi, but Arafat (who sponsored both) refused. He preferred to use Lebanon to negotiate the formation of the resistance factions. Thus, Arafat’s military appointments, such as Haj Ismail and Abu Zaim, were not without design. He planted corrupt people to thwart the resistance.
It is painful to watch the film for those who can distinguish landmarks and streets and gardens. What are they doing on our land? The film wants you to sympathize with soldiers of the occupation and to forget that the occupiers of Palestine walk and wander in panicked fear on the occupied land of others. It is the occupation repeated and doubled. The film wants us to accept their occupation and feel only the pain of the witness to the murder of Palestinians at the hands of gangs from the Lebanese forces who arose and flourished and grew by a decision from Israel. But this Israeli insistence on separating the army of occupation from the forces of one Israeli man in Lebanon represents an evasion of direct responsibility for the invasion. Watch the film and remember that era and let the politicians of Lebanon run before your eyes. Remember those who collaborated with the occupation in those days. Bashir Gemayal was being threatened by Israeli forces but he was not destined to harvest the fruits of the hostility he fostered. And Samir Ja`ja` (Ga`ga` in Egyptian accent), leader of these gangs who slaughtered in Sabra & Shatila, is today looked to in the subject of Lebanon’s defense strategy. As for Solange [Gemayel], who told Sharon and his wife that she wanted them to be her first guest in the presidential palace in Baabda, she brought a hateful quartet alliance to the Lebanese parliament. And one of the leaders of the gangs in the Sabra & Shatila massacres (who, like Ja`ja`, received training and guidance from Israel), Elie Hobeika, transformed by Rafik Hariri and the Syrian regime and their allies into national leaders. And then there is Johnny Abdo, close companion since the early years of Rafiq Hariri, as recounted by Heikal and Abdullah AbuHabib. The smiling Johnny Abdo, who hosted Ariel Sharon in his home, when he was asked if army intelligence was during his time sending car bombs to West Beirut, replied that he would neither confirm nor deny. Hariri wanted to appoint him President, but before he ended up President, he was receiving (as Hassan Sabra recently reported) monthly payments of $350,000 (the builder of the modern state began construction by bribing the President of the Republic of Lebanon). The period of the Israeli invasion didn’t erase the memory of anyone who lived through it. Remember its details and preludes. How Lebanon’s little Hitler, Bashir Gemayel, made use of Israel to threaten his enemies among the Lebanese. When Bashir Gemayel learned of the order for Israel’s aggression—before anyone heard of “Shlomo Argov”—he summoned the [Lebanese state TV] anchor Arafat Hejazi to speak about the threat of “the decision”. After the end of filming, Gemayel persisted in loading Hejazi—as he told me later—with vulgar, obscene insults for [Prime Minister] Safik Wazzan, although he was an obedient tool in the hands of Elias Sarkis and Amin Gemayel after him. It is true that a number of militias committed the massacre, but the crimes of the Lebanese Forces were larger than the others 1) because they started the ethnic and sectarian cleansing, 2) they started the practice of killing based on [sectarian] identity, 3) they maintained relations with Israel since the 1950s, 4) they prepared for war and set it ablaze and insisted on its continuation and 5) they attempted to import the model of fascism—a Nazi regime in the land of cedar and oak. But all the ambitious projects were shattered on the rocks of their own factionalism. And the arms of the boys in the Ein el-Hilweh camp started a journey that has not ended. They allowed the extinction of the model of reckless military corruption that Arafat oversaw, and initiated actions of resistance against Israel since its formation.
The film doesn’t want to speak of history. It doesn’t want to speak of suffering. Even when Zionist liberals touch upon suffering, they mean the suffering of the murderers. The nightmares of occupation soldiers are more important than the suffering of the victims of Sabra & Shatila. The soldiers speak of only their suffering, and don’t allow Arab victims to speak about their own suffering. The nightmares of occupation soldiers were more horrible than the killing of children in brutal Israeli bombardment before and after Sabra & Shatila.
one of the main issues people who have seen the film is absence: absence of the palestinians in it. but also absence of the israeli terrorists who are responsible for the massacre of palestinians in shatila refugee camp and the surrounding neighborhood of sabra. this seems to be a theme in the feature-length film as well as in the above animation short where israelis are absent in their complicity of their massacring and murdering of palestinians in gaza. here is some of naira antoun’s analysis of the film in her review for electronic intifada:
To say that Palestinians are absent in Waltz with Bashir, to say that it is a film that deals not with Palestinians but with Israelis who served in Lebanon, only barely begins to describe the violence that this film commits against Palestinians. There is nothing interesting or new in the depiction of Palestinians — they have no names, they don’t speak, they are anonymous. But they are not simply faceless victims. Instead, the victims in the story that Waltz with Bashir tells are Israeli soldiers. Their anguish, their questioning, their confusion, their pain — it is this that is intended to pull us. The rotoscope animation is beautifully done, the facial expressions so engaging, subtle and torn, we find ourselves grimacing and gasping at the trials and tribulations of the young Israeli soldiers and their older agonizing selves. We don’t see Palestinian facial expressions; only a lingering on dead, anonymous faces. So while Palestinians are never fully human, Israelis are, and indeed are humanized through the course of the film.
We most often see Palestinians — when we do see them — being blown to pieces or lying dead, but there is one scene where mourning Palestinian women occupy a street. They don’t speak; they cry and shout. We don’t see the hard lines of their grief, we don’t see their tears. Rather, the focus zooms into the face of the younger Folman watching them as his breathing becomes more shallow, functioning as the emotional anchor of the scene. This is very typical of the film in that the suffering and experiences of Palestinians are significant principally for the effects that they have on the Israeli soldiers, and never in their own right.
Several critics have noted the real — and horrifying — footage from Sabra and Shatila at the end of the film. Indeed the only people portrayed in the film who are not animated are Palestinians in this footage. There is a woman screaming and crying. She shouts “my son, my son” in Arabic. She repeats again and again in Arabic “take photos, take photos,” “where are the Arabs, where are the Arabs.” But her words are not subtitled; she is just a screaming woman and her words are irrelevant and incomprehensible. So even in the same gesture whereby we are reminded that the massacre was no animation and it was a real event, the victims of that massacre are presented to us in a way that is deeply dehumanizing and “othering.” The coping of the wailing Palestinian mother cannot compete with the quiet reflection and mild manners of the Israeli veteran. Folman does not talk to any Palestinians and the only Palestinians we see are in flashbacks and this footage at the end of the film. Not only are Palestinians essentially absent then, they are also of one time — Sabra and Shatila. Palestinians are not part of time’s passage; they are frozen in an incomprehensible, and in effect inaudible, wail.
It is not that the absence of Palestinians is necessarily a problem per se. There are indeed films where what is absent is key, and therefore has a presence that is all the more significant. In Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Rebecca, for example, the haunting absence of the true central character, the traces of her, the allusions to her, make Rebecca all the more present. Not so with the Palestinians in Waltz with Bashir. They are peripheral to the story of the emotional life of Israeli veterans, a story of Israeli self-discovery and redemption. Indeed, it transpires that the filmmaker does not need to find out about Sabra and Shatila for a full understanding of his own role there, of what happened, of his responsibility, of truth. Rather, Sabra and Shatila are a portal to “other camps.” The psychologist-friend cum philosopher-priest-moral-compass tells Folman that this is in fact all about “another massacre,” “those other camps.” At this point it transpires that Folman’s parents were camp survivors. “You were engaged with the massacre a long time before it happened,” the psychologist says, “through your parents’ Auschwitz memory.” The solution that he suggests is for Folman to go to Sabra and Shatila to find out what happened. Everything falls into place. This is the meaning of Sabra and Shatila — a means, a mechanism, a chapter in Israeli self-discovery and coming to peace. The Palestinians are doubly absent.
Folman’s psychologist friend, like many psychologists one presumes, often talks in therapist mode, in addition to his priest-philosopher mode. He puts forward the idea that Folman suppressed the memories because his 19-year-old self — with the Palestinian camps as simulacrum for those “other camps” — unwittingly associated himself with the Nazis. But, he reminds Folman now, at Sabra and Shatila Folman did not kill, he “only lit flares.” So while Folman has been teetering on the edge of an overwhelming guilt, his psychologist friend drags him from the precipice. Folman and his contemporaries need not carry the guilt of being perpetrators — they were accomplices. They lit flares so that Israel’s ally in Lebanon, the Phalange militia butchering Palestinians could see what they were doing.
The question of who was doing whose dirty work is not so easily answered however Israel was nobody’s sidekick when it invaded Lebanon. The film does not show us the Israeli shelling of Beirut that led to 18,000 deaths and 30,000 wounded, the violations committed against civilians, the destruction of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance. And what about the fact that the Palestine Liberation Organization and armed resistors had been evacuated more than two weeks before the massacres, and that it was the day after multinational forces left Beirut that Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon made it known that 2,000 “terrorists” remained in the camps? The focus of Folman’s quest for responsibility in Waltz with Bashir hones in on lighting the flares as the Phalangists “mopped up” the camps. That two months before the massacres Sharon had announced his objective to send Phalangist forces into the camps, that the Israeli army surrounded and sealed the camps, that they shelled the camps, that snipers shot at camp dwellers in the days before the massacres, and then having given the green light to the Phalangists to enter Sabra and Shatila, the Israeli army prevented people from fleeing the camps — all of this is absent in Waltz with Bashir.
In the film, it is on the shoulders of the Lebanese Phalangists that responsibility for the massacres is unequivocally placed. The Israeli soldiers have qualms and do not act on them, the Israeli leadership are told and do nothing, while it is the Phalangists who are depicted as brutal and gratuitously violent. But just as this is not a film about Palestinians, nor is it a film about the Lebanese Phalangists — it is a film about Israelis. The point seems to be to set up the young Israeli soldiers as morally superior to these blood-thirsty beasts, not only in that it was not they but the Phalangists who actually massacred and executed, but also in their very way of being in the world, they are superior.
In a moment of what is presumably supposed to pass as brutal honesty, one of Folman’s friends remarks sadly of how he realized that he “wasn’t the hero who saves everyone’s life.” Essentially this is the limit of the notion of responsibility in this film: the Israeli veteran’s guilt at not having been a hero. The pain of having done nothing at the time, although there were stirrings in their consciences, even then — which the film contrasts with the Israeli leadership, and most starkly with the Phalangists.
The immediate aftermath of Sabra and Shatila witnessed a rare, if limited, moment of Israeli self-reflection. It seems odd that an Israeli film grappling with responsibility for the massacres completely elides this moment in Israeli history and collective memory. After demonstrations of more than 300,000 persons, the Kahan Commission was set up by the Israeli government to undertake an inquiry into what happened at Sabra and Shatila. The inquiry had several limitations, and one of its conclusions was that Defense Minister Ariel Sharon was indirectly, but personally, responsible for the massacres, and his ministerial portfolio was taken away. Of course the same Ariel Sharon was later elected and re-elected prime minister of Israel.
As Folman and those he speaks with recount what happened when they were in Lebanon, there is a lot of “while they’re shooting at us from all directions,” “we are attacked, we retaliate.” There is no sense that Israel invaded Lebanon — the word “invasion” is barely used in the whole film. The soldiers are young men going off to war in fighting spirit, fantasizing about women, wondering at how to prove their masculinity, licking the wounds of being dumped by girlfriends. They are singing songs with upbeat tunes and lyrics such as “Good morning Lebanon … you bleed to death in my arms,” “I bombed Sidon,” “I bombed Beirut, I bombed Beirut every day.” These lyrics are supposed to grate, but one nevertheless gets a sense of naive hapless kids who have no sense of the trauma that they are unwittingly walking into. One imagines that Folman would respond to the criticism that Israel’s role is not made clear in the film, that these hapless kids are also members of an invading army committing acts of aggression, by saying that this would be going into the realm of politics, and rather this is intended to be a human film. One of the more disquieting views coming from admiring quarters is that the film is great for a general audience because one doesn’t need to know any background information to appreciate the film. That Israel launched a brutal offensive that led to the deaths of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians is apparently not relevant. With “politics” and the “background” rendered off-limits, we are left with something that is misleading and inane. Its principal message becomes “war sucks.” And why does war suck? Because it is traumatizing — principally for the soldiers. When Waltz with Bashir won the Golden Globe for best foreign film in January, while the force of the Israeli military machine was being unleashed against Gaza, while war crimes and atrocities were being committed by Israeli soldiers, Folman could only muster, “My film is anti-war, and therefore would, sadly, always be relevant.” Given the evasion of responsibility and decontextualization that lie at the core of this film, this was hardly surprising.
In the final analysis, this is what Waltz with Bashir is about: the evasion of responsibility. It is not that the self-reflection offered by the film is only partial, and that we would simply be nay-sayers to be dissatisfied with it. Because there is no sense of what the Israeli role in Lebanon was, because it is about ethically and morally redeeming the filmmaker and his contemporaries — and by extension the Israeli self, military and nation, the Israeli collective in other words — because of all this, the film is an act not of limited self-reflection but self-justification. It is a striving towards working through qualms to restabilize the self as it is currently constituted; it does not ask challenging questions that would destabilize that self. And we are reminded of the psychologist’s comment near the start of the film: “We don’t go to places we don’t want to. Memory takes us where we want to go.” Perhaps this explains how at the same time that Gaza was being decimated, Israel heaped acclaim and awards on Waltz with Bashir; in addition to numerous international awards, the film scooped up six awards at the Israeli Film Academy. Indeed, the same Israelis who flocked to see the film gave their enthusiastic approval to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. According to a poll released on 14 January by Tel Aviv University, a staggering 94 percent of Israeli Jews supported or strongly supported the operation.
What is alarming is not the approbation that the film is enjoying. That is to be expected. What is so disturbing about the reception of Waltz with Bashir are those liberal Arabs, Palestinian and others, who have been gushing. There is no reason to be so easily satisfied, to ask for so little from Israelis. If Palestinians do not continue to call Israel to account, then who will?
In his anti-colonial classic, The Wretched of the Earth, psychiatrist and revolutionary Franz Fanon includes at the end a series of case studies of his patients. There are torture victims. But there are also torturers who are unsettled, who are suffering, who are having nightmares. Fanon brings out the absurdity — and inhumanity — of the notion that they want therapy to be at peace with what they do, and clearly have every intention of continuing to do. Waltz with Bashir answers the collective Israeli call for precisely this kind of therapy.