Confessions of a chaos junkie

September 14, 2011 blog 0 Comments

A few months ago I was sitting at my desk in New York feeling stuck and restless. Then I got a strange hunch. Make a film about the settlements in Israel.

I’m not sure where the hunch came from. I have a scan running, a background brain program, searching for the next project. And for some reason it pulled up the settlement idea.

Settlements got flagged, I thought, because they are among the biggest problems in the world. The Arab-Israeli conflict fuels Islamic anger toward the US, and as long as the conflict drags on, America faces the threat of terrorism, global instability and possible interruptions of our oil supply. And settlements, I kept reading, are what stand in the way of a peace agreement.

Of course Israeli settlements, and the continuing occupation of Israel, may just be an excuse used by anti-western Islamic elements. Get rid of the settlements, achieve peace, and perhaps jihad will continue. I don’t know, but it’s something I think about a lot.

But after preliminary research, I got drawn further in. And within a couple of weeks I decided to go on a trip to Israel to investigate. That trip has been reported in these blogs.

For a moment, I had some doubts. Why the settlements? They’ve been around since 1967. It’s an 80s story. I reread Tom Friedman’s from “Beirut to Jerusalem,” written in the late 80s, and it struck me that very little has changed since then, with the exception of the Oslo accords that establishing some measure of Palestinian autonomy in parts of the West Bank. What more is there to say? Settlements have been condemned by the entire world. They’re illegal. Dozens of films have been made advocating the Palestinian cause.

My strong point — and often my downfall — is contrarianism. I’m not a reflexive left winger, I have my own rather convoluted progressive, libertarian, humanistic ideology. So making a film that doesn’t walk the documentary community’s monolithic party line was a pull to yes. And then chaos started to take over, and things got really interesting.

We were driving in the West Bank in August when news came over the radio of the attack in Eilat. That feels like it was the start of the recent run of things getting sticky. The Eilat attack led to a deterioration of Israel-Egypt relations, culminating a couple of days ago with the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo. At the same time, Israeli relations with Turkey continued to erode, getting to the point where Turkey seems to be threatening a naval confrontation.

And in Israel itself, there’s the same trend of things getting rockier. The government demolition of three structures in the settlement of Migron stoked the pro-settler right wing elements. The subsequent price tag attacks, including several attacks on mosques, are exactly the sort of incident that could help spark a retaliatory wave of Palestinian violence.

On top of all that is the Palestinian statehood vote. The last minute games of diplomatic chicken, well covered in the press, only make the situation seem more unstable. It seems inconceivable at this point that the PA using the vote as a threat to wring some concessions out of Israel or the US. And the US desperate public maneuvering only makes us seem weaker. Better to let the vote proceed and then address the consequences.

In Israel, fears are spreading about the Palestinian follow up to the UN. I spoke to a new friend in a settlement in the Gush Etzion block, and he reported that the army units guarding the settlement are adding force and going on alert. This confirms the many press reports of army training of settlement security forces and the issuance of new “rules of engagement,” anticipating dark scenarios that include mass marches into the settlements.

The world changed very fast. And this production is now in full tilt.

I’m heading back to Israel on Saturday. A team is coming together. We’re closing in on a location for the film. And we’re going to start shooting.