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  • landofthesettlers4home.jpg

    Directed by: Chaim Yavin Rating: TV-PG
    Release Date: 2005 Running Time: 55 mins.
    Language: Hebrew (English subtitles) Genre: Documentary
    More Info: Wikipedia Entry; Filmmaker's Editorial in The Boston Globe Category: Israel

    In the realms of politics and war, chess is a popular game, a practice ground for the delicate strategizing and maneuvering for which statesmen are known. But in part four of his series The Land of the Settlers, prominent Israeli newsman Chaim Yavin talks to people whose daily lives mirror the tenuous existence of so many pawns on a chessboard. In the face of Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and with the date of withdrawal drawing ever closer, Yavin journeys to Jewish settlements plagued with a prevailing sense of uncertainty.

    When asked if the Sharon government’s disengagement plan might be the right move, settler Nissim Avinoam is dubious. “Maybe, anything is possible,” he says. “Are we playing a game of ‘maybe’ or ‘it could be?’ We’re not playing a game of cards or checkers. We’re playing with people’s lives.”

    These are people who stand to lose everything to the decisions of politicians and the actions of the Israel Defense Forces. They number only a few thousand, living on armed Jewish islands amidst a sea of more than a million Palestinians. Here, feeling certain about anything is a luxury. Travel to and from the settlement of Netzarim is done in army trucks, which pass through desolate roadside outlands that have been stripped of their greenhouses and orchards so that terrorists won’t be able to use them for cover. Once inside the settlement, Yavin notes how its beauty reminds him of an affluent Tel Aviv suburb. But that idyllic perception is dampened by the sight of looming guard towers along raised walls, and the daily experience of kassam rocket attacks from beyond them.

    A turning point in Yavin’s award-winning series, this fourth chapter sees Yavin truly sympathize with the plight of the settlers, as he comes to realize just how much the tragedy that has befallen them is not of their own making. The withdrawal from Gaza, perhaps necessary for peace, he realizes, is just the latest in a string of historical events in which the settlers were subjected to the whim of governments and politicians just as they hoped to continue their lives undisturbed.

    With both numbers and political momentum working against them, the settlers Yavin films continue, defiantly, to build homes and synagogues. They also accept new arrivals to support an expected confrontation with the IDF soldiers who are set to remove them. This expulsion from the settlements by an Israeli government that just decades before had sponsored the very creation of the settlements in the first place is seen as a betrayal by many settlers and leads to violent protests. They also maintain a widespread defiance to the idea of sharing land and legal rights with the majority Arab population. One settler, Aryeh Yitzhaki, offers that “whoever wants to live here as a foreign resident with minimal rights is welcome.”

    Yavin has a reputation for evenhandedness when exploring Jewish-Arab conflicts. In The Land of the Settlers he demonstrates a Palestinian perspective on disengagement by liberally employing the voice of Razi Abu-Jiab, a former Popular Front member. It’s a view that resents those who treat Palestinians as political “outsiders.” In 1994, Yavin filmed an angry Abu-Jiab near the Kfar Darom settlement. Now, the filmmaker returns to the settlement with Shela Shorshan, another previous subject. Shorshan once lived in Kfar Dorom, where a nearby terrorist attack killed her husband, and where her daughter died of illness soon after. Yavin captures Shorshan’s fear at the prospect of removing her daughter’s body to a safer location when the settlement is abandoned.

    As with previous chapters in this series, Yavin uses the power of proximity to great effect. He sticks his camera right in the faces of his subjects and captures their emotional responses to his often-challenging questions. When he ventures out on foot into the streets around Kfar Darom, his vanguard of Palestinian security officers urge him not to speak Hebrew, for fear of being recognized as a Jew. Yet, when the locals figure out who he is and swarm about, Yavin confidently engages the pressing faces. When one man angrily questions why Jewish settlers are afraid of Palestinians, the filmmaker quickly counters, “Because you’re firing kassams!”

    “If he kills my son, what should I do? Tell me,” comes the man’s reply. “If he doesn’t kill my son, we’ll live together. If he shoots my son, I have to do the same to him.”

    And so it goes – a deadly game of political brinkmanship between Jews and Jews, and Jews and Palestinians, all playing out before Yavin’s camera lens. He does not hide his disdain for such mutual stubbornness, and somberly remarks that “politics become unimportant when facing personal tragedy.”

    landofsettlers4feature.jpg





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