The Living Body and the Corpse—: Israeli Documentary Cinema and the Intifadah
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The Living Body and the Corpse—
Israeli Documentary Cinema and the Intifadah

Introduction: Bodies That Do Not Matter

A consideration of Israeli narrative, fictional films produced since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa, or second, Intifadah (2000–2004)1 reveals a perplexing phenomenon. Although the majority of Israeli filmmakers identify with the Left, which generally supports the Palestinians and opposes the injustice of the occupation, fictional films never deal with the reality of the occupation. It is denied. Further to this trend, despite the record number of terrorist attacks that took place during those years, most of these films repress the trauma of these attacks.2 There is nothing judgmental in this last observation. On the contrary, according to trauma discourse, repression, or inherent latency, as Caruth calls it (17), is an inevitable, necessary stage in the reaction to trauma.

In Israeli narrative cinema, the trauma of the terror attack appears at most in only a few films and then as a sort of distant background to the drama.3 In the only two films produced during these years that portray families in mourning—Nir Bergman's Broken Wings (2002) and Sabi Gabizon's Nina's Tragedies (2003), both of which met with considerable commercial success—the reason for the mourning, namely, the death of a father or of a husband, involves displacement. In the case of Broken Wings, the death of the father is not an outcome of the occupation or a terror attack, but a result of a bee sting. In the case of Nina's Tragedies, why the husband died is of marginal importance; instead, romantic serendipity is central (a young man randomly joins the casualties department of the Israel Defense Forces and, as part of a detail entrusted with informing a widow of her fresh loss, falls in love with her). In these two cases, the arbitrariness of the circumstances (the appearance of the bee, the appearance of the young man) "replaces" the tragic arbitrariness that typifies a terror attack. In all the cases, the Israeli fictional cinematic space remains shielded against any recognition of the trauma of the terror attack and hence against its visibility. According to the mimetic paradigm approach within trauma studies, the trauma is still at the repression stage and has not reached that of post-trauma, which involves recognition that trauma has occurred.4

In contrast to fictional narrative cinema, Israeli documentary cinema deals with the Intifadah (both the occupation and the terror attacks) in an almost obsessive fashion.5 Dozens of documentary films have been screened, particularly on the local Discovery channel, in cinematheques, and in Israeli film festivals over the past four years, and more and more such films are still being made. Dozens of the movies describe Palestinian life under the shadow of the Intifadah from a standpoint sympathetic to Palestinian suffering and sharply critical of the occupation (for example, Yoav Shamir's Checkpoint [2003] shows the routine [End Page 3] played over several seasons at an army checkpoint near an Arab village in the occupied territories). Some fifteen films deal directly with terror attacks. These films describe Israeli life under the shadow of the attacks from a perspective sympathetic to the suffering of civilian victims of suicide bombings (for example, Orna Ben-Dor Niv's One Widow, Twice Bereavement [2005], which describes a group of women who have lost two close relatives—a husband and a child—in the same attack).6 To put it another way, the two main stories told by documentary cinema, the story of Palestinian suffering and the story of Israeli suffering, are presented as detached from one another. Very few of the dozens of documentary films provide any hint from within the drama of the connection between the two faces of the Intifadah, the occupation and the terror, and even those few do so in only a very limited fashion (for example, Anat Halachmi's film Channels of Rage [2003] portrays how two Israeli rappers working in a local nightclub, one Jewish and one Arab, become ideologically distanced). In the vast majority of cases, the drama fails to strike a balance between these two objects of empathy that are...