07 November 2007

To die in Jerusalem, to lie in Deheishe

I was given a chance, courtesy of Deep Focus, to view the Hilla Medalia HBO documentary To Die in Jerusalem. I don't even know whether our cable provider carries HBO (I am not much into TV lately) and the kind offer to send me the DVD was difficult to refuse, although the implied promise to produce a review is difficult to keep.

I didn't know much about the movie, although a case it relates to is familiar, of course. But it was no more familiar to me than many other suicide bombing incidents, of which we have had, unfortunately, too many. Keeping in mind my natural reluctance to play a critic, and seeing that the documentary has already produced some controversy and several highfalutin outbursts of indignation (more about it later), I have decided to watch the movie and to respond to it as a normal John Q. Public would, and not to go into oxygen-starved heights of politics, visual arts appreciation etc.

And I shall start from the end: I think that it is a real documentary and that it is very good. Unlike the fashionable staged mocumentaries, produced by fat men without moral scruple and with a penchant for self-aggrandizement, this one is a solid factual report, not trying* to recruit followers for any cause. The movie met my expectations, for a simple reason - I didn't have any, and save a few insignificant deviations from the expected, the story sounds true.

What does not sound true in the movie, and not through any fault of the director or the cameramen, is some of the people. To start with, the infamous "farewell" video clip of the martyr-to-be, one of the many circulated in Gaza and West Bank. Here is what the documentary site says:

Before her mission, Ayat made a video in which she lashed out at the regimes and militaries of Muslim nations everywhere: "I say to the Arab rulers...
If it weren't so tragic, it would have been laughable. I have run the segment a few times, and there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind: Ayat al-Akhras read out a text somebody else prepared for her and, most probably, it was the first time she was seeing it. She was wooden, expressionless and looked more like a zombie than like somebody "lashing out" at something.

This was the first warning that caused me to start looking for falsehoods - not in the movie and not in the movie-makers motives, but in the protagonists. And I believe I found the main source of falsehood. Above the familiar cult of death - the pictures of the suicide bomber with a gun in the school, a separate "Martyr's cemetery", the hysterics of the sister during the mourning ("I shall kill thirty people for you, Ayat" - guess who these people are?) - above all this I was dumbfounded by the "martyr's" mother.

I do not have any proof that may serve in a court of law, but I know it with total certainty - the mother is lying all the time, every moment she opens her mouth. It is her face or her posture or her speech - too pat and too rehearsed to come from the heart, but probably all of them together that tell me without a shadow of a doubt - liar!

Besides looking and sounding false, she contradicts herself a few times during the movie. Several times she swears: "If I had known, I would have stopped her". Several times she claims her total innocence to her daughter's murderous intent. And then, sometime else, as an aside: "She intended her action to be an example for other girls...". What is this if not a confession, I don't know...

Both the father and the mother of the bomber are way too "politically correct" and astute, judging by the way they recite, chapter and verse, all the necessary slogans about opression, occupation, the house in Jaffo, the right to pray at Al-Aqsa that was cruelly taken away. (It makes for a strong contrast with the tortured mother of the victim, who is not interested in politics and wants only to understand why - the question that will never be answered, and in any case not by the parents of the suicide bomber).

But while the father is unwisely going on about Islam being the religion of peace and whatnot, the mother does not stray away for a second from spouting her political views. The eloquence and the clarity of purpose the mother displays are amazing. That they are not leading to any possible rapprochement or, at least, a glimmer of understanding, is the more frustrating.

I don't know whether it was Ayat, the suicide bomber herself who approached her future handlers or was it the other way around, but it does not matter. I believe that I know who has done the most of the brainwashing and indoctrination for this girl. She didn't have to leave her home for that kind of material - all the necessary hate and brainwashing were right there. And the outburst of hate from her sister during the mourning just proves this point - both are reared on the same milk.

And so it goes, up to the ultimate act of betrayal a mother can perpetrate:
She was a mature eighteen years old, not some kid. Eighteen years old and she chose her way.
Indeed. What else do you need or want to know about Um Samir al-Akhras, the mother of Ayat al-Akhras, that beautiful suicide bomber?

And of course, the father, being much less of a weasel, put a resounding end to my doubts:
What is better than to be a martyr? You are going to die anyway - today, tomorrow or in a hundred years. To die in dignity and honor is better than anything.
Yes. They didn't know anything. They don't know anything. And when Avigail, the mother of the beautiful Rachel, the victim, cries out to them: ""Your daughter and my daughter got killed for nothing", their answer is "For you it was nothing, but for her people it was something"...

In short - go and see that documentary, it is worth your time and money.

A few words about some of the criticism leveled at the documentary. The worst I have seen is a knee-jerk reaction from Backspin - the Honest Reporting daily blog.
HBO is due to air a film drawing moral equivalence between a suicide bomber and victim.
There are a few similarly "enlightened" reviews on the other side, but really, this one is a bit too much... and that without even seeing the movie, I am sure.

(*) Well, aside of two moments that somewhat irked me: the first, when immediately after Avigail, Rachel's mother starts with the "After Rachel got killed, I wanted to know why...", the picture of IDF soldiers on patrol and then the separation barrier appear, as if to start answering the question... The second when the camera focuses for a long time on Arab boys playing with toy guns - come on, the boys do it all over the globe...

Another point: it is clear why the focus of the movie was on the two girls, but there was at least one other victim of the blast - the supermarket guard, barely mentioned. Pity.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com.