Facing a beautiful desert landscape while the sounds of birds and wavering grasses quietly give the viewer a feeling of peace, The Settlers opens with a placid lean man wearing a yarmulke dressed in white and blue, lovingly he croons ancient Hebrew into the air for Gods ears’. If only that peaceful refrain were the lullaby of a tenable and harmonious relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, alas it is not, since this film is about which people the land belongs to in the West Bank.
Shimon Dotan’s very excellent film about the Israeli fundamentalist obsession with all the land in the bible belonging to the Jews is a conundrum of biblical magnitude, thus it is a dilemma which stretches between righteous entitlement and selfish desire. Dotan’s point of view is clear, he is not in favor of either, otherwise he would not unwind this unfailingly political, cultural and religious twisted pretzel story so well. One thing is certain, secular heads would like to prevail, but the politics of all zealots is often without fairness, well at least in terms of the people who aren’t coming from their perspective.
There are four categories of mortal beings in this film and one immortal silent entity which ubiquitously pervades the sun, sandy hills and gullies of millions of years.
The inhabitants who tend the olive groves for the most recent several hundred years are Palestinians; the progressive and intellectually fair minded Israelis who feel that this is apartheid are lumped together with the religious fundamentalist Israelis who have support from fundamentalist Christians and join them in their efforts to make the land their own. Dotan’s point of view is very clear. He is not supportive of the settlers justification of it all.
This great doc filmmaker is able to instill a sense of trust in his subjects, thus some of the fundamentalist settlers proudly share their stories of instances where they have over-taken the Palestinians land by trickery and intimidation. During a particularly disturbing conversation with Sarah Nachshon, a settler who had her son circumcised in the Cave of the Patriarchs, (in spite of protests not to bring wine into the sanctuary) by the Palestinians, sarcastically laughs it off by saying “no one died”. Not intending to sound eerie, but how convenient that she doesn’t accommodate for the strange death six months later of the same child with the same confidence. Nevertheless, later she forces the government to accommodate her baby’s burial in a West Bank cemetery by walking across the boundary lines she so passionately wants to break; a declarative gesture to state Jewish claim to the land, which required Israeli military presence, but not without having to okay it with the prime minister who ultimately gives in begrudgingly. Between a rock and a hard place, Dotan makes it clear that there is little way around it politically.
Laden with all sorts of motives and causes for the mess of the Middle East, Dotan’s film outlines the convolution of history in terms of settlements; intimately engaging us enough to feel ill at times from being drawn into the tragedy of it all. The orthodox might claim themselves the original American Indians, but time and the evolution of history cannot replace the facts of the present, which make it particularly hard for the more fair minded and even keeled Israeli’s who desperately want peace and might have had a better chance of it having been achieved by now, in spite of Palestinian fundamentalists. In the end the sweetly crooning rabbi tenderly conveys to the audience...”I love this land.” When asked who it belongs to, he says “To no one. To God.”
PLAYING AT FILM FORUM FROM MAR 3rd