September 25, 2018

Israeli Film ‘Foxtrot’ Examines a Dance with Fate

Actor Lior Ashkenazi as Michael Feldman (third from left) is stunned when he is informed that his soldier son Jonathan has been killed. Photos by Giora Bejach, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

The controversial film “Foxtrot” opens with two somber-faced soldiers arriving at the front door of a successful architect, Michael Feldman (played by Lior Ashkenazi), and his wife, Daphna (Sarah Adler). Daphna immediately guesses their mission and faints, while the emissaries regretfully inform Michael that the couple’s son, Jonathan, has fallen in the line of duty.

As family and friends gather for the funeral, a third military messenger arrives to announce that there has been an unfortunate mistake. Another soldier, also named Jonathan Feldman, has been killed, but Michael and Daphna’s son is alive and well.

The mood and locale of the film then change abruptly to a remote army checkpoint on Israel’s northern border, guarded by Jonathan and three fellow soldiers. They live in a large, converted container and operate a manual gate to allow an occasional camel to pass through. Even more rarely, a car with a Palestinian family stops for inspection.

During one such stop, the bored Israeli soldiers get their kicks by making the nervous driver and passengers, dressed up for a wedding, stand in the pouring rain during a lengthy car inspection. During another inspection, something goes horribly awry,
but the Israeli army brass quickly covers up the traces.

“Foxtrot” is a wrenching film about parental grief, the joys and stresses of marriage, the boredom of army life, and how Israel’s occupation policy humiliates the occupied and hardens the occupiers.

The drama won the Grand Jury Prize at the prestigious 2017 Venice International Film Festival and racked up 13 Ophirs (Israel’s version of the Academy Awards), including best film, which automatically makes it the country’s entry in the Oscar race for best foreign-language picture.

In a telephone interview from Tel Aviv, director Samuel (Shmulik) Maoz described “Foxtrot” as “the dance of a man with his fate.”

Despite its superb artistry and acting, the film has become somewhat of a political and ideological football in Israel. As in many other countries, the predominantly left-liberal filmmakers (in Tel Aviv) often have been at loggerheads with the right-conservative government (in Jerusalem). Another factor in the tense relationship is that the government-supported Israel Film Fund contributes to the budget of practically every film made by Israeli talent, including “Foxtrot.”

The movie has come under fire publicly from Miri Regev, minister of Culture and Sports in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet. “It is inconceivable that movies which shame the reputation of the Israel Defense Forces are those that are supported by the Israel Film Fund, which is supported by the state,” Regev declared in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2 TV station. “And those are selected to showcase Israeli cinema abroad.”

In the interview, Maoz pointed out that Regev had not actually seen the film, adding, “When my brothers are dying, I have the right to make such a movie.”

When “Foxtrot” screened in various European cities, Israeli diplomats frequently told Maoz that the film single-handedly had negated years of Israeli public relations efforts.

Actor Yehuda Almagor (seated) as Avigdor Feldman, tries to console his brother in “Foxtrot.”

Actress Sarah Adler portrays Daphna Feldman, mother of Israeli soldier Jonathan in “Foxtrot.”

The director believes that underlying many of Israel’s actions is the enduring trauma of the Holocaust. But he also maintains that Israelis who have seen action in the defense forces have been supportive of “Foxtrot.”

When he speaks of combat, Maoz, 55, is talking from personal experience. He was a gunner in a tank during the first Lebanon invasion in 1982, and his harrowing experiences are reflected in his first film, “Lebanon” (2009).

Maoz also knows firsthand the trauma of believing, mistakenly, that one has lost a child. It happened when his oldest daughter ran consistently late for school and always asked her father to call (and pay for) a taxi to get to her class in time.  After a while, Maoz concluded that the habit was not only expensive but also bad for the girl’s education, so one morning he told her to take a public bus — Line 5 — to school like all the other students.

About half an hour after she had left, her father heard on the radio that a No. 5 bus had been blown up by terrorists, with dozens of people killed. Desperately, he tried to get through to her on the phone, but all the lines were tied up. “The next hour was worse than all my time at war put together,” he said.

Later, his daughter returned home. She had just missed the bus that was blown up by terrorists.

“Foxtrot” will screen for one week at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles, starting Dec. 8 — its qualifying run to compete in the Academy Awards. The movie will be released in Los Angeles theaters on March 2.

Palestinian teen bystander killed by Israeli soldiers responding to rock-throwing attack

Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian teenager and wounded several others whom they wrongly thought were involved in a rock-throwing attack, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The military said it was investigating the incident, which happened early Tuesday morning outside Jerusalem.

Palestinian news agency Maan identified the killed teen as Mahmoud Badran, 15, from the nearby village of Beit Ur al-Tahta. Four others were injured, Maan reported.

The soldiers were responding to the rock-throwing attack. An Israeli man and two foreign tourists were injured when rocks hit their car traveling near Jerusalem on Route 443, one of the main arteries between the capital and Tel Aviv. Several cars were damaged in the attack.

The army initially said those shot by soldiers were involved in the attack, but later said none of them were.

The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry called the incident an “execution.”

At least eight Israeli soldiers wounded in West Bank car attacks

At least eight Israeli soldiers were wounded in two separate vehicular attacks in the West Bank.

The first of the attacks occurred Friday morning, when two soldiers were injured after a Palestinian man rammed them with his car outside the Maale Adumim settlement near Jerusalem. The assailant then reportedly exited the vehicle and, knife in hand, charged at the soldiers. He was shot and killed by a civilian, Ynet reported.

Later in the day, six soldiers were wounded when a car plowed into them near the Beit Ummar refugee camp in the southern West Bank. The attacker was shot at the scene.

Voices of Six-Day War haunt us decades later

The focus of the Israeli film “Censored Voices” is an aged, rapidly spinning, reel-to-reel tape recorder.

From the recorder emerge the voices of young Israelis just returned home to their kibbutzim after fighting and miraculously triumphing in the Six-Day War of 1967.

But their talk is not of battles won and heroic deeds by comrades, nor of a glorious homecoming, cheered by their fellow countrymen and by an admiring world after overwhelming the armed forces of five Arab countries.

The disembodied and often halting voices speak of watching Palestinians as their homes and farms are destroyed, of endless lines of wandering refugees, of humiliated Arab civilians stripped down to their underwear.

“We won,” declared one voice, “so the next war will be much crueler and deadlier.” Another voice expresses the fear that “a constant state of war can also destroy a nation.”

When the movie’s camera pans from the tape recorder and sweeps across the room, we see a group of elderly men listening intently, sometimes rubbing their eyes, other times staring as if to identify the voices emerging from the machine.

The voices the elderly men hear are their own, recorded nearly 50 years earlier, a few days to a couple of weeks after they returned from the Six-Day War.

With them is writer Amos Oz, who had originally convened the recording sessions, taking the tape recorder from kibbutz to kibbutz, whose young men traditionally served as the elite spearhead troops in Israel’s wars. Traveling with Oz was Avraham Shapira, who edited the tapes and excerpted them for a book.

During the days and weeks before June 5, when the war started, Israel was filled with a sense of foreboding and occasionally the sound of air raid sirens. Then came the call-up of reserves, under such code names as “Love of Zion” and “People of Labor,” and a grim feeling that “the country would be annihilated,” one soldier recalled.

With the destruction of the enemy’s air forces in the opening hours of the Six-Day War, followed by quick battle victories and entry into Jerusalem’s Old City, the country’s mood changed drastically.

The movie shows newsreels and archival footage of delirious dancing, songs praising the Lord of Israel, and less pious soldiers’ songs, such as “We’ll F— You Up.”

Both the initial fear of annihilation and the subsequent euphoria of victory evaporated for Israeli soldiers who actually experienced combat.

“My company lost 45 men; I kept hearing the cry of, ‘Medic, medic,’ over and over again. I was in despair,” recalled the voice of one veteran.

But, surprisingly, the worst memories of the Israeli soldiers were not of what the enemy was doing to them, but of what they themselves did to the enemy.

Different voices emerge from the tape recorder:

“We asked our commander for orders, and he said, ‘Kill as many as possible. Show no mercy.’ … I was outraged, but I didn’t protest.”

“We were shooting at some Egyptian soldiers. … They were not ducking, just falling down. … It was like some game at an amusement park or at a summer camp. … In war, we all became murderers.”

“The Egyptian prisoners of war came up with their water canteens filled with urine. We gave them some water and they kissed our feet.”

“When the enemy becomes your prisoner, you feel this power. You shove them roughly, all restraint disappears.”

“The Temple Mount is not holy, that’s not Judaism. It’s people that count. They blew the shofar at the Western Wall; it sounded like a pig’s squeal.”

When the tapes were initially transcribed and edited by Shapira into book form as “A Conversation With Soldiers” (in the English edition, “The Seventh Day”), Israeli authorities censored about 70 percent of the text.

That’s hardly surprising. What is amazing is that the book became an instant best-seller in Israel, and the nearly uncensored film version this year won the Israeli equivalent of the Oscar as the country’s best documentary.

The voice tapes themselves were locked away for decades, despite pleas by journalists and filmmakers, until a young Israeli film school graduate, Mor Loushy, persuaded Shapira to let her use them for a film.

It is difficult to conceive of another country, including the United States, that would give subsidies from government funds to make a film critical of its own soldiers in their most triumphant war, or whose film academy would award the film its top prize.

In a phone interview, however, director Loushy was not surprised her film had screened all across Israel without incident and little criticism.

The 33-year-old filmmaker is the mother of a 3-year-old boy and currently is almost eight months pregnant. Her forebears on her father’s side came from Persia to the Holy Land 10 generations ago; her mother was born in Poland.

She has faced no personal criticism in Israel. “After all,” she said, “it’s not my voice in the film but the voices of the soldiers who fought in the war.” She blames the current shootings and knife stabbings in Israel directly on the occupation after the 1967 war and sees little chance that Israelis and Palestinians will sit down for real peace negotiations.

Nevertheless, she refuses to give up, especially because of her children. “If I don’t have hope for the future, why stay here? I really have no choice,” she said.

Still, “Censored Voices” raises some critical questions. For one, how representative the soldiers heard in the film are of all the men who served in the Six-Day War, the Journal asked, to which Loushy gave no specific answer.

In another attempt to answer this question, this reporter’s wife has two relatives who served in the 1967 war, one on the left and one on the right, politically. Neither saw heavy combat, but both said they believed Israel’s survival was at stake and they had no regrets about serving in the war.

All that said, a legitimate concern has been raised by Yossi Klein Halevi, an American-born Israeli journalist and author, who has written extensively about the Six-Day War, and has worked for the reconciliation of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel.

“People abroad who don’t remember the way we do the circumstances of the Six-Day War will turn [this movie] into an indictment of Israel,” Halevi said. “If there were isolated acts of abuse by our soldiers, that should not become the narrative [of] what the Six-Day War was about. Many of us here [in Israel] are, frankly, sick and tired of the blame-Israel-first narrative.”

The Israel Film Festival will screen “Censored Voices” at 7:15 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Laemmle’s Town Center in Encino, and at 5 p.m. Nov. 15 at the NoHo 7 in North Hollywood. After that, the film will open Nov. 27 for one-week runs at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and at the Town Center in Encino.  

Palestinian throwing rocks at cars shot to death by Israeli soldiers

Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian who was among a group throwing rocks at cars in the West Bank.

In Monday’s incident near the Tapuach Junction, the soldiers called out to the group to cease the rock throwing, which was endangering civilians, then fired warning shots, the IDF spokesman’s office said. When the Palestinians refused to stop, the Israeli troops responded with direct fire.

A Palestinian injured by the fire was treated at the scene but died of his injuries, according to the IDF.

The IDF said its Military Police has launched an investigation into the incident, which took place 30 miles north of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Maan news agency identified the slain Palestinian as Imam Jamil Dweikat, a resident of Beita, located near Nablus. His age was unclear, according to the report, but Maan identified Dweikat as a “youth.”

A second Palestinian, 19, was injured, according to Maan.

 

Palestinian official dies following confrontation with Israeli soldiers

A senior Palestinian official died after a confrontation with Israeli soldiers during a protest in the West Bank.

Ziad Abu Ein, 55, a member of the Fatah party’s Revolutionary Council, died Wednesday in the village of Turmusiya, near Ramallah. Dozens of local residents and activists were protesting the Jewish settlement outpost Adei Ad by planting olive trees on land that they believe is in danger of being confiscated by Israel.

Israeli soldiers beat Abu Ein and he suffered severe tear gas inhalation, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

An Israeli photographer who was standing next to Abu Ein during the demonstration said in a tweet that he did not see the Palestinian official struck by soldiers.

Abu Ein lost consciousness and his heart stopped beating on his way to Ramallah Public Hospital, Maan reported. His family said he had diabetes and high blood pressure.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was reviewing the circumstances at the demonstration that led to Abu Ein’s death. An Israeli pathologist will join a delegation of pathologists from Jordan for a joint examination of the circumstances of Abu Ein’s death. Additionally, a proposal was made to the Palestinians to establish a joint investigation team to review the incident.

President Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a statement called the alleged attack on Abu Ein a “barbaric action that cannot be ignored or accepted.” He also said he would take “the proper actions after the investigation reveals how he was killed.”

Abu Ein previously served as undersecretary to the minister of prisoner affairs. He was head of the committee against Israel’s security fence and settlements.

He was extradited  to Israel from the United States in 1981 to face charges that he was involved in a 1979 bombing that killed two Israeli teens, the Times of Israel reported. After being sentenced in 1982 to life in prison, Abu Ein was released during a 1985 prisoner swap, according to the news website.

Four Israeli soldiers injured in explosion on Lebanese border

Four Israeli soldiers were injured by an explosive detonated as they patrolled the border with Lebanon.

The soldiers were taken to a hospital in northern Israel, where three underwent surgery and one was admitted to the intensive care unit.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was investigating the early Wednesday morning incident. The IDF said it would continue to secure the northern border.

Lebanese media said the explosion occurred inside the Lebanese border, with some reports putting it at approximately 500 feet inside Lebanon and others at 20 feet. Blood stains and a hole are visible at the site of the explosion, according to Lebanese reports.

“There’s something that unites the South and the North and all our other fronts – the IDF soldiers who defend us and our borders,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “That’s what happened last night. We’ll continue to act responsibly to protect Israel’s borders.”

Israeli boy, soldiers injured during Land Day protests

An Israeli boy and several Israeli soldiers were injured during Israeli-Arab and Palestinian protests marking Land Day.

The protests Saturday mark the deaths of six Galilee Arabs during 1976 riots over government land confiscations in northern Israel, dubbed Land Day.

Thousands gathered in the Israeli-Arab village of Sakhnin in northern Israel, where the deaths occurred 37 years ago, for the main Land Day demonstration. Protesters chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Two Israeli soldiers were injured from rocks thrown by Palestinians gathered near Kalkilya.

An Israeli boy, 4, was wounded by stones thrown at the car in which he was riding near Efrat. Four Israeli soldiers were injured when their jeep overturned while searching for the rock throwers.

Gaza Palestinians protesting near Rafah claimed that they were injured by tear gas and live gunfire by Israeli soldiers on their side of the border.

Palestinians, Israeli troops clash in Hebron after shooting death of youth

Palestinians and Israeli soldiers clashed in the city of Hebron a day after a Palestinian teen who threatened an Israeli Border Police officer was shot and killed.

At least five Palestinian rioters have been injured in Thursday's clashes, the Maan Palestinian news service reported. The Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at the Israeli troops, who dispersed the riots with tear gas.

The clashes began on Wednesday night. The Israel Defense Forces moved more troops into the area following the shooting in case of rioting in advance of the funeral, set for Thursday.

A Palestinian teen, 17, on Wednesday evening pulled what turned out to be a toy gun on an Israeli Border Police officer. The boy was shot in his chest and abdomen by a female officer who witnessed the threat.

The rioting comes a week after Israeli soldiers on patrol in Hebron were forced to retreat after being attacked by a Palestinian mob. The soldiers' actions are currently under investigation.  

Gunmen fire on Israeli troops at Gaza border

Palestinian gunmen fired on Israeli soldiers working on the border fence between Israel and Gaza.

The soldiers were conducting what the Israeli military called routine work on the fence near Kibbutz Zikim and northern Gaza on Thursday. An Israel Defense Forces vehicle was damaged in the attack, which included mortar shells.

Israeli troops returned fire in the direction of the attack, assisted by an air strike by the Israel Air Force. Palestinian hospital sources told Israeli media that two of the Palestinian attackers were killed in the reprisal attack.

Palestinian sources told Israeli media that the soldiers were shot upon after they illegally entered Gaza.

There have been no rockets shot at Israel from Gaza since Tuesday evening, after a barrage of more than 40 rockets struck Israeli over three days.

Swedish paper published modern-day blood libel

With the Palestinian family cited in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet now denying ever claiming that their son’s organs were “stolen” by the Israeli military, maybe the lurid and grotesque accusation published by the newspaper in mid-August will disappear.

Maybe the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy stretching from Israel to New Jersey harvesting the flesh of Palestinian innocents will be forgotten except as a 21st-century footnote to the odious blood libel tradition. It’s a tradition that dates back to Apion of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus who accused Jews of kidnapping non-Jewish captives to be fattened and eaten at the Sabbath feast.

But perhaps this screed is only a harbinger of a new epidemic of lies against Jews the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Hitler and Stalin.

During the Middle Ages, the libel of Jewish ritual murder was carved into the very stones of Frankfurt’s city wall. In 2009, it’s hard to see a difference between the virulent hostility toward the Jewish state by Sweden’s largest left-leaning paper and the newspaper of the country’s far right, the Svenska Motstandsrorelsen.

Sweden’s ambassador to Israel immediately denounced the obviously phony blood libel, but then had the ground cut out from under her by her own government’s assertion that it had to stand behind “constitutionally protected free speech.”

What a curious time to stand behind freedom of the press. During World War II, Stockholm took a different view when it censored newspapers to prevent publication of stories critical of “neutral” Sweden providing Nazi Germany with iron ore and ball bearings, as well as safe passage for German soldiers posing as Red Cross personnel.

Are the baseless charges splashed across a double spread in the style section of Aftonbladet anti-Semitic? Of course, but that’s not the worst of it.

Sweden’s government, through its defense of the indefensible, has sanctioned Aftonbladet’s trafficking in political anti-Semitism—a very different beast than the everyday kind of prejudice still experienced by Jews or African Americans and other minorities.

Historically, this virulent ideology not only has justified social and economic discrimination against Jews. In Europe, it also opened the door to ghettoization, pogroms, deportations, yellow stars and, ultimately, mass murder.

Make no mistake about it, there is an international conspiracy afoot in the 21st century, but it’s a not a secret Jewish plot out of the pages of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” It’s an open coalition of Palestinian extremists and their collaborators in Europe and North America who don’t even try to hide their coordinated efforts to make Israel into a pariah state—“the Jew among nations”—as a prelude to elimination.

For 20 years, Palestinian extremists and their Mideast allies, including Tehran’s mullah-cracy, have been accusing Israelis and Jews of murdering non-Jewish innocents to profit from their blood. A few years ago, the Iran government’s TV channel Sahara aired a weekly drama titled “Zahra’s Blue Eyes” that portrayed “Zionist” doctors kidnapping little Palestinian children to harvest their organs.

These fantasies, increasingly marketed as fact, are part of a broader Palestinian hate literature claiming that the AIDS virus is an Israeli ethnic bomb designed to selectively murder Africans and Arabs. There is even the new charge in Palestinian media outlets funded by the governments of Denmark and the Netherlands that the swine flu is an Israeli/Jewish conspiracy.

Worthy of winning our new Ignoble Prize for this year’s vilest anti-Jewish libel, Aftonbladet has managed to mainstream a favorite Palestine libel, as well as update it, by accusing New Jersey rabbis arrested for money laundering of involvement with Israeli soldiers in an international Jewish organ harvesting ring.

The revived libel has now made the leap from medieval times, resurfacing in postmodern Europe.

(Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Historian Harold Brackman is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.)

A Canine Commencement

A black Labrador retriever, proudly bearing Israeli and American flags, joined several dignitaries on stage this month to celebrate the first graduation exercise of Pups for Peace.

The ceremony marked the end of an intensive two-month training course for 20 dogs — Belgian and German shepherds and Labrador retrievers — who will soon see service in the Jewish State as explosive-sniffing canines to foil would-be terrorists.

Sharing the honors were the dogs’ human companions, 14 young Israeli soldiers and policemen, who also helped build the training site and kennels at a well-guarded Los Angeles location.

The project, initially conceived by Dr. Glenn Yago just six months ago, set a record for red-tape cutting and fundraising on both the American and Israeli sides.

Yago’s goal is to send 1,000 trained dogs a month to Israel, “enough to form a screen across the country,” said veteran trainer Mike Herstik, director of canine operations.

The cost for training one man-dog team is $10,000. Close to $1 million has been raised so far from 300 donors, foremost the Jews in Crisis Fund of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which presented a check for $675,000.

Consul General Yuval Rotem, expressing his thanks on behalf of Israel, said that, “By enhancing our security and saving lives, you are keeping our hopes alive.”

A tour of the kennels showed the dogs barking and leaping vigorously, a performance that gave Rabbi Dan Shevitz a good feeling. “The Talmud tells us that when dogs howl, the Angel of Death is coming,” he observed. “But when dogs frolic, they foreshadow the arrival of the Prophet Elijah and the promise of eternal life.”