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December 4, 2005

Ten Days in Gaza

Energized by the Work in Progress panel, I stuck around for the US premiere of Ten Days in Gaza, a documentary produced by Israel's Channel 2 news about Israel's recent disengagement from the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. The event is clearly a watershed moment in the history of Israel, and the documentary culls together about an hour of live footage from Channel 2's live broadcasts of the evacuations. The result is a powerful film not only about the trauma faced by Israeli soldiers and civilians alike but also about the role of the news cameras in producing these events. The film was introduced by an Israeli journalist, Aharon Barnea, who discussed the coverage of these events and the ongoing peace process.

Even though I believe that the relocation of the settlers is a positive step in the peace process, it's impossible to watch this film and not acknowledge the powerful emotions felt by soldiers and settlers alike, and several scenes feature soldiers, many of whom were no more than 18-20 years old, crying and hugging the people they were evicting. In other scenes, we see settlers (and people sympathetic with the settlers) engaging in various forms of protest, ranging from scrawled messages on the walls of the homes they were leaving to more violent and manipulative behaviors, including one father who dangles his son out of a window, implying that the Israeli government is responsible for placing his family in peril. The intensity of this compilation of live footage adds to the emotional intensity of many of these scenes.

Gradually, it becomes clear that the documentary is engaging in a form of self-critique. The anchors and reporters who narrate what is happeneing are often guilty of emphasizing conflict, whether due to political beliefs or a desire to sustain a captiavted audience. It also becomes clear that the settlers are engaging in their own staged performances, often inciting their children to complain to the soldiers in order to produce a more powerful emotional effect on the audience. Because the documentary consists entirely of Channel 2 news footage, it's impossible, of course, to see what happened off-camera, but it's clear that the settlers are often consciously stage-managing their own evacuation, at least to some degree.

The discussion afterwards served to highlight the degree to which these events are still highly contested, especially with upcoming elections both in Israel and among the Palestinians. Aharon Barnea explained afterwards, for example, that the leaders in the settlements had failed to adequately prepare the settlers for the fact that they would be evacuated and noted that many of the settlers have not come to term with their relocation. He also argued that the fact that the military finished the evacuations in only ten days showed that the majority of citizens supported it. But more than anything Barnea urged determination and sensitivity as guiding forces in moving towards peace and pointed with some optimism towards the upcoming elections, noting that "once you start talking, you can reach understandings."

In a sense, Ten Days in Gaza felt a little rushed, and for viewers without a sense of the history of Israel, the film might have been somewhat confusing and disorienting, but the film itself is utterly compelling viewing, both in terms of portraying the experiences of the settlers and in terms of illustrating the degree to which the media participated in sensationalizing these events.

Posted by chuck at December 4, 2005 8:03 PM

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