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June 23, 2005 - Image 51

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-06-23

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Border Wars

Unsettling Israeli documentary show conflicts
at Palestinian checkpoints.


Special to the Jewish News


he latest in an unending flow of documentaries
about the malignant state of affairs between
Israel and the Palestinians, Checkpoint succeeds
unusually and disturbingly well in pushing the viewer
into the middle of the action.
A cinema verite film that records events as they
unfold, without narration or commentary, Checkpoint
visits the sites of the most frequent and freighted inter-
actions between Israelis and Palestinians — roadblocks
and crossing points in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli border police, even the most humane,
come off as arbitrary, brusque and ill equipped.
Consequently, one gets the gnawing sense as the film
unfolds that the primary aim of the checkpoints is
not to protect Israel from malevolent infiltrators but
to control a population.
Checkpoint, which was produced for Israeli televi-
sion and receives its U.S. TV premiere June 27 on
the Sundance Channel, represents another black
mark on Israel's image in the international communi-
ty. But the Tel Aviv filmmaker has bigger fish to fry
than his country's PR problems.
His probing camera, in close proximity to the par-
ticipants (who are always aware of its presence), acts
as a kind of a witness to the work of the border
police. The unsettling effect is to implicate the viewer
in the humiliating acts being recorded.
Consider, for example, the border policeman who
confides to filmmaker Yoav Shamir's camera with
conspiratorial candor. Cocky and handsome, he is
blissfully unaware of how he comes across.
"We handle people who make trouble for the
country," he explains. "Whoever comes close, wants
to make trouble, we break them. What do I mean by
`break them'? We let them suffer in the sun, in the
rain. So they'll learn not to mess with the border
Later in the film and at a different checkpoint, sol-
diers indeed leave Palestinians shivering in the winter
rain for no reason, rather than letting them return to
their homes. It's a cruel, capricious act that can only
feed the Palestinians' resentment.
"Trouble," of course, is in the eye of the beholder.
It's clear why border policemen yell at a man get-
ring out of a car to pull up his shirt before approach-
ing, to verify that he isn't wearing an explosives belt
The soldiers who empty and search a school bus
and an ambulance are cautious in their duty, but
they're also sensitive to the needs of the people they
are stopping.
But is it necessary to question a shy 4-year-old in
the middle of a dirt road to confirm that he's really
sick, as his parents assert?
Or for a young border policeman — they're all

young — to go out of his
way to harass a young
Arab woman he finds
Interactions like these are made more confusing and
irritating by the language barrier. Although many
Palestinians apparently speak Hebrew, comparatively
few Israeli soldiers know more than a few words of
Arabic. Broken English is often employed, with pre-
dictably mixed results.
Although the Palestinians are the ones enduring the
delays, inconveniences and degradation, Checkpoint
suggests that the Israelis manning the checkpoints are
also victims of the policies of indifferent higher-ups.

While some soldiers do their jobs with enthusiasm
and without second thoughts — those are the ones
who make pronouncements such as "We're humans;
they're animals" — others are clearly uncomfortable
and ambivalent.
The latter response will be shared by many viewers. 0

Checkpoint airs 10 p.m. Monday, June 27, and 2
p.m. Tuesday, June 28, on the Sundance Channel.


Jewish Arabplay opens eyes, hearts on both sides.


Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Tel Aviv


how me your identification," the soldier, wear-
ing a helmet and camouflage flak jacket, barks at
unsuspecting theatergoers trying to reach their

Faces go pale. But nervous laughter follows once it
becomes clear that the soldier is not really a soldier at
all, just an actor in the play they are about to see — a
production about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict called
Planter, a Hebrew slang word for a mess.
The idea of a checkpoint in the middle of a dark-
ened theater may be absurd, but the absurdity of the
conflict is what Planter is all about. The play, which
debuted at the respected Cameri Theatre earlier this

"Plonter": In this scene, a Palestinian family negotiates
with an Israeli soldier posted in their living room after the
Israeli security wall is built through the middle of their
West Bank house.

month, is the creation of its cast, a mix of Israeli Arab
and Jewish actors who drew on real life scenes from the
conflict, including some from their personal experi-
During the series of scenes and vignettes that make
up the production, the nine actors switch back and
forth between portraying Israeli and Palestinian charac-
ters, speaking in both Hebrew and Arabic.
The interlinking story lines are parr of the play's
message that all the players in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict are human beings; the tears of a Palestinian
mother who lost her son from a soldier's bullet, or a
Jewish settler who lost her baby to a terrorist's bullet,
convey similar feelings of grief and loss.
"The settler is really the opposite of who I am," said
Mira Awad, who plays the role of a Jewish settler in
several scenes but who herself is Arab.
She had trouble at first preparing for the part, she
said, but then saw the humanity in her character.
'A mother losing a child is universal, it's the same
disaster wherever you go," she said.
The cast spent seven months researching, writing
and haggling over the script. They traveled to check-
points, to Arab -villages and throughout Israel, passing
out questionnaires to citizens on their views of the con-
At writing sessions and in rehearsals, there were argu-
ments and tension, but in the end, they came together
around the idea of depicting life on both sides of the
conflict — the pain, the absurdity, even the humor.
Director Yael Ronen said one goal of the production
was to get the actors and the audience to see the con-
flict through the other side's eyes.
"We are not as blind as we were in the beginning of
the process," she said. 0





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