INSIDE THE ISRAELI SETTLEMENT MOVEMENT:
CAMPFIRE Premieres @ the CIFF
A group of Israelis visits the site of their new settlement
on a hill outside Ramallah in Joseph Cedar’s new film CAMPFIRE.
All photo credits for CAMPFIRE:
Yoni Hamenachem/Cinema Production (Tel Aviv).
Is there a more important question facing the worldwide Jewish community right now that the future of the settlements? As Leon Wieseltier, the Literary Editor of THE NEW REPUBLIC said in his recent editorial “Extirpation,” “the settlements are not the sole obstacle to peace; but… they are ‘our’ obstacle.”
While the rhetoric on all sides becomes increasingly inflamed, the lives of individuals are lost in the political football. Are the people who actually live in the settlements simply “extremists” intent on forcing the hand of Israel’s voting majority? Now Joseph Cedar’s new film
CAMPFIRE (MEDURAT HASHEVET) examines the human dimension at the heart of this bitter debate.
Cedar is one of Israel’s most respected young directors. His first film
TIME OF FAVOR (HA HESDER), released in 2000, was nominated for eleven awards by the Israeli Film Academy, and won five including Best Film.
CAMPFIRE (MEDURAT HASHEVET) which will premiere here in Chicago on October 13th as part of the Chicago International Film Festival, has been nominated for a total of thirteen IFA awards including all the major categories.
Cedar was born in New York in 1968, the oldest son in a religious, Zionist family. When he was six, the family moved to Jerusalem. “My teachers, my parents’ friends and my friends’ parents were mostly considered right wing politically, and they supported the Settlement Movement.” Although Cedar’s parents decided not to move to a settlement, many of their good friends did. This first hand knowledge gives him considerable insight into the personalities of the original settlers as well as their multiple rationales.
is set in 1981, immediately after the peace treaty with Egypt and Israel’s subsequent withdrawal from the Sinai desert, the events that provided much of the energy for the formation of the original settlements.
Rachel’s daughters, Esti & Tami,
played by two of Israel’s most popular
young actresses: Maya Maron from
BROKEN WINGS (left) & Hani Furstenberg
from YOSSI & JAGGER (right).
The lead character is Rachel Gerlick. Recently widowed, Rachel (Michaela Eshet) wants to move to a new West Bank settlement. She thinks this will give her life meaning, and also provide her teenage daughters, Esti and Tami (Maya Maron and Hani Furstenberg), with a stable communal life. Esti is adamantly opposed to the idea. Tami, though hesitant, is willing to go along if that will relieve her mother’s agitation.
But do the other settlers want the Gerlicks? Motke, the group’s organizer, is skeptical. He brings up pragmatic questions (Will Rachel be able to take her turn on guard duty?), but it’s obvious that his concerns are more basic; will three unattached women create discord in such a tightly interdependent community?
In Cedar’s first film, TIME OF FAVOR, Assi Dayan played Rabbi
Meltzer, the dogmatic leader of a fervently religious settlement. Rabbi Meltzer’s attempts to control his daughter
Michal, ignoring her feelings and offering her as a prize to his favorite student, lead to tragedy.
Actor Assi Dayan has had staring roles
in both of Joseph Cedar’s two films.
Dayan plays Motke, a man who is equally threatened by female sexuality. It’s easy to see why Cedar casts him; Dayan is a big forceful man whose stern face radiates disapproval.
However in CAMPFIRE, he’s up against a woman more his equal. Rachel chaffs at his manipulative intent to marry her off. Then she openly rebels when he tries to manage a situation with Tami, even though she knows that she cannot remain in the settlement if she refuses to bow to Motke’s will.
How do such men acquire so much power over the lives of ordinary, good-hearted people? This is clearly one of the questions Cedar wants to explore. Dayan does nothing violent or extreme in either film. He appears dedicated to God and sincere in his religious convictions. There’s nothing fanatical in his public persona, and yet in private conversations, it’s clear that he would willingly sacrifice everyone around him in service to his cause.
Rachel (Michaela Eshet) shares a quiet
moment with Yossi (Moshe Ivgy)
which cements their relationship.
Rachel’s ally in her struggle with Motke is Yossi (Moshe Ivgy), one of the suitors Motke has lined up for her. Yossi is an older and more reflective version of Menachem, the hero of
TIME OF FAVOR.
Like Menachem, Yossi is a deeply sympathetic character, a man who observes without openly criticizing, and who acts quietly but firmly. Both men are devout yet humanistic, open to women’s needs and accepting of their emotions.
Although neither Menachem nor Yossi is ever put to the test, their allegiance to their settlements would no doubt come second if the Israeli government ordered them to pull back. Motke, on the other hand, would protest extirpation with all his might. While Menachem and Yossi have invested themselves in the people around them, Motke, like Rabbi Meltzer, has invested himself in the Land as well as his dominion over his own small slice of it.
Unfortunately, both films are somewhat out-of-sync with their historical moments. This isn’t surprising given how quickly time moves in Israel, but it is disconcerting for the American audience.
TIME OF FAVOR was conceived in 1998, released in 2000, and shown in the United States in 2002. Cedar’s concern with right wing religious fervor seemed out-of-place when nightly newscasts here were showing the horrific consequences of Palestinian bombs, and we were all still dealing with the immediate after effects of 9/11.
Similarly CAMPFIRE, with its focus on the personal lives of a widow and her two daughters, seems too mild now, when the NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE is telling us that Sharon’s bodyguards are fending off daily death threats from the same Jewish extremists who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, and the United Nations is threatening to impose sanctions if Israel doesn’t stop building the barrier wall. Even though the film is set two decades ago, it’s still difficult to believe that when the settlers visit their new site (under construction outside Ramallah) there are no Palestinians to be seen anywhere in the frame. Surely we all gave up the “land without a people” language ages ago.
But these problems do not negate the intrinsic importance of Cedar’s message: “My feeling is, and this is the underlying theme of the two films I’ve made, that ideology is merely a mask covering basic human motivations.”
will premiere in Chicago on Wednesday October 13th at 8:30 PM and will also play at 4:30 on 10/14 and at 6:30 on 10/15. All three screenings will be at the AMC River East 21 theater in downtown Chicago.
Additional Israeli films showing @ this year’s
This article is a slightly expanded version
of the review originally published
in the October 2004 edition of the WORLD JEWISH DIGEST (Volume 2 Number 1)
& is posted here with their permission.
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