In a Land of Extremes, a Tel Aviv of the Mind

August 22, 2011 blog 0 Comments

During our three days in Tel Aviv, my son Ben and I spent a good deal of time walking up and down Rothschild Blvd. checking out the tent protests. Almost all the conversation and signs were in Hebrew, so I really can’t claim to know for sure what was going on. But I think I got a pretty good idea. And I have to say, this movement is the most hopeful thing I saw during our week of scouting in Israel.

What encourages me, and impresses me deeply, is the level of discourse going on around the tents. Protesters gathered in circles, sometimes in very large groups, were having civilized, complex, respectful discussions about the pressing issues facing Israeli society. Hecklers and crazies lurked, but somehow the groups managed to ease them away so that intelligent dialogue could continue.

Our time in Tel Aviv was prelude to three intense days in the West Bank, both in the settlements and in Palestinian villages. Even in this part of the world that is so fraught with divisiveness and violence, we found dialogue and restraint.

But the West Bank is not Tel Aviv. There’s no apparent feel good civilized dialogue going on between the hostile parties, and the underlying problem does not lend itself to a politically correct happy ending. For the settlers, land will either be held, or surrendered. For the Palestinians, a state will either be achieved, or compromised. There is profound feeling on both sides, religious connections to the land, torturous memories of friends blown up, a history that provides fodder for endless debate and argument.

I remain committed to complete non partisanship. Still, I’m human, and as we met first with settlers, then Palestinians, and then again settlers, I felt myself being swayed back and forth. I’m not apologizing for this — I connected with people, something I need to do as a film maker. I need to love and believe in my subjects — even subjects who may not like each other. The commitment to non partisanship returned when we passed through the last check point. I find it’s much easier to think objectively when I’m lying on a bed in a nice hotel room, dreaming about the prospect of love and rationality sweeping over the disputed lands.

But there will be no tent protest movement that sweeps across the West Bank to unite Palestinians and settlers in civilized dialogue. Hebron will not turn into Tel Aviv. My small contribution, I hope, will be to maintain this project’s Tel Aviv spirit, even as we travel from one side to another in search of common truths.