‘Colliding Dreams’ delves into occupational hazards

The documentary film “Colliding Dreams” sets for itself two seemingly impossible goals.
March 4, 2016

The documentary film “Colliding Dreams” sets for itself two seemingly impossible goals.

One is to cram the history of modern Zionism — from the First Aliyah in 1882 representing the first organized wave of Diaspora Jews returning to the ancestral land, to the still-conflicted present — into less than three hours.

The second is to lay out the opposing Jewish and Palestinian narratives over the past century in a nuanced, even-handed way, assigning blame for failed peace efforts to both sides.

Originally titled “The Zionist Idea,” the film refers not only to different aspirations by Jews and Arabs, but also to the divergence between the more moderate and more militant interpretations of Zionist ideology.

American filmmakers Joseph Dorman (“Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness”) and Oren Rudavsky (“The Treatment” and “A Life Apart: Hasidism in America”) succeed admiringly in the first objective.

It seems they interviewed every possible expert and left no photo archive unexplored in fashioning a highly visual portrait of the Jewish and Arab leaders and movements that dominated the headlines, from initial mutual acceptance to hostility, terrorism and war.

The second aim, to present the cases of both the Palestinian and Jewish sides in a fair, balanced way, proves more difficult — and is, perhaps, a nearly impossible task.

Apparently, almost every step taken by either side in the past 125 years has only inflamed the passions and deepened the misunderstandings. The power plays of outside nations, first the Ottoman Empire and, after World War I, Great Britain, made matters worse.

For starters, Jews and Arabs both believed that, at the end of World War I, Palestine would be theirs. Jews cited the Balfour Declaration and Arabs the promises made by Britain on the condition they would fight alongside the Allies against the Turks.

According to the film, the complexities of the situation were recognized early on by Chaim Weizmann, who would become the first president of the State of Israel, saying, “To be a Zionist, one needn’t be mad, but it helps,' to the Arab line, “Palestine is like a beautiful girl, but she is already engaged.”

A more recent bon mot comes from Israeli peace activist Orly Noy, who noted, “I heard once somebody describing Zionism as a person escaping a burning building, jumping out of the window and falling on somebody else’s head.”

Splits within the Zionist movement have added to the babel of conflicting voices. By the mid-1920s, David Ben-Gurion, speaking for the left of the political spectrum, counseled against clashes with the Arabs and against demands for a Jewish state — at least for the time being. He was backed by the even more leftist Hashomer Hatzair, a party that called for “a just state, for both people.”

On the opposite side, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, founder of the Revisionist movement, demanded all of the land now, on both sides of the Jordan River, and by force, if necessary.

The history of the country and its people post-1948 is generally better known, but the film sets 1967 and the victory in the Six-Day War as the dividing line in the attitude and lifestyle of the Yishuv, Israel’s Jewish community.

Before 1967, according to the film’s narrative, building Israel was “a sober, shared effort,” but after the miraculous 1967 victory, “a messianic spirit arose,” fueled by the impassioned, young religious settlers, who saw themselves as the only remaining true Zionists, with all others having lost their fervor.

A number of critics, and at times hostile theater audiences, have attacked the film’s viewpoint as bending toward the side of the Palestinians, who, they claim, are portrayed mainly as victims — while omitting their riots and intifadas from the 1920s on.

In a phone interview, Rudavsky, the film’s co-producer and director, denied that “Colliding Dreams” presents a view tilted toward the Palestinian side, although he pointed out, “We don’t embrace [either the Zionist or Palestinian narrative] uncritically.”

He added, “I believe in Israel as a vibrant, beautiful state with a successful society.” On the other hand, “We need a corrective to what is preached in our synagogues … that the Zionists never did anything wrong … and that only Palestinian hostility forced us to become occupiers.”

The film was made on a budget of about $1 million, with $700,000 provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. “Colliding Dreams” opens March 4.

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