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Israeli Cinema: Editors' Introduction
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Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 24.1 (2005) 1-3

Editors' Introduction

This Shofar issue, dedicated to Israeli cinema, appears at the historical moment of a divided house, when the Israeli nation faces its most radical inner crisis ever. A deep rift has evolved between, on the one hand, a minority group of settlers that dissents from the laws of the country to the point of an assault on democracy, and on the other hand the majority of Israelis, who resist this assault. While from its inception in the 1920s Israeli cinema has openly participated in the drama of nation building, it is the in-depth reading of past films that can disclose the forebodings of the current events. It is no wonder that the cinema, a central contributor to the national narrative that has often dealt with crises such as wars and traumas, has proliferated significantly in the last two decades. With so much at stake in the social and political arena, when the body politic and the human collective are in pain, films are the incisive voice of the social unrest. These essays trace the flourishing of Israeli cinema, both documentary and fiction, in recent years.

The essays in this issue offer a reading of the Israeli cinema in its relationship with Israeli history. They fall into three categories. The first includes discussions of films that deal with guilt.

Gal Raz, following the arguments of Hannah Arendt, analyzes the way Eyal Sivan used various stylistic devices in The Specialist in order to expose the way Eichmann's trial was used by the Zionist movement and to challenge its role in Zionist collective memory. Raz reads the film as deconstructing the accused/accuser dichotomy and suggests that the accusers and their contemporary heirs might themselves be guilty of some of the charges made against Eichmann.

Judd Ne'eman's essay deals again with this dichotomy and the way in which Israeli cinema deconstructs it. The article argues that the trauma of two wars (1967, 1973) with its unequivocal connection to the Holocaust, stirred guilt feelings based on the fact that the liquidation of the Diaspora sought by Zionism through immigration was in reality achieved by the Nazis through extermination. Films that deal with this guilt fall into the genre called Shadow Cinema by Ne'eman.

Anat Zanger's article examines yet another angle in the dialectic between accused and accuser, that of the checkpoints. Focusing on four contemporary roadblocks movies, the paper traces the role of the camera as a third agent for public visibility. Framing checkpoints and roadblocks as heterogeneous meeting points between Israeli authorities and the Palestinian transients, these films re-inscribe the relations between "I" and "Thou" (M. Buber) in the indeterminate space of surveillance, prejudices, and fears.

In the second section of the issue the essays focus on the dialectics between the manifest and the suppressed, and the process of the re-emergence in the last years of what was silenced in the past.

Raz Yosef argues that masochistic enjoyment, a substantial component in the construction of the male body as a perfect war machine, was absent in war films of the 50s. There the soldier's body was portrayed as a transcendental entity, part of the wholesome and unified Zionist ideology. The more recent film Kippur strips the male body of its metaphoric national meaning and instead exposes the real flesh, blood, and bone, the violence and suffering, that are denied by Israel's culture of war but which are required for the very construction of nationalism.

Nurith Gertz discusses the early heroic cinema, in which voices critical of the Zionist ideology are camouflaged. In these repressed narratives, immigration to Palestine/Israel constitutes neither a redemption nor a refuge from remembrance of the Holocaust, and this remembrance reappears in the films as a disruptive element to the Zionist narrative of redemption.

While Yosef and Gertz deal with the current trend of "the return of the repressed," Michal Friedman describes the new compassion for the rejected "shameful" past events in recent documentary films. These works provide a space of transference between survivor and interviewer and imply a quality of empathy. Such is Tsipi...



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