September 8, 2005
Spectator - The Great ‘Wall’ of Israel
Simone Bitton's new documentary, "Wall," opens with long, meandering shots of the Israeli security fence, the great concrete and barbed-wire structure that straddles more than 450 miles of land in Israel's disputed territories.
As the camera lingers on the wall, the disembodied voices of two Israeli children are heard talking to the filmmaker.
"We shoot the Arabs from there," one says of the wall.
"No," says the other. "The Arabs shoot at us."
"Who shoots at whom?" the filmmaker asks them, and they have no answer.
What Bitton tries to establish in this scene, and indeed throughout the rest of the film, is that notions of security are murky and propagandistic (despite the fact that since the construction began on the fence in 2003, the government says that terror attacks were reduced by 90 percent) while what she sees as the devastation of the wall is real. For Bitton and most of her subjects, the wall is something that concurrently, divides friends, separates farmers from their land, creates a prison (of Gaza), ruins the environment and prevents people from getting to work.
Though Bitton interviews both Israelis and Arabs, none of her subjects has been personally affected by the terror attacks that caused the wall to be built in the first place.
Bitton intersperses her interviews with both Israelis and Arabs with excruciating shots of the wall itself -- concrete sections being craned into place, giant bulldozers shoveling gravel, and buffering them all is the ambient soundtrack of machinery and helicopters humming loudly and obnoxiously.
Bitton, a French filmmaker who has made seven other documentaries about the histories and cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, considers herself an "Arab Jew." She said that she made the film because "The very idea of a wall erected between Israelis and Palestinians tore me apart.... I felt this wall would be insurmountable for all the good-willed people like myself, while creating hundreds of new suicide bombers."
Her film, she said, "is an act of resistance [against the wall]"
"I identify myself with [Israel], because I, too, am a Jew and an Arab at one and the same time," Bitton said. "Judaism is part of this country's history, but one day, Israelis must agree to become a little Arabic, too. That day, the walls will come tumbling down."
"Wall" opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 23 at the Laemmle Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 477-5581 or visit www.laemmle.com.