College Students Review Holy Land

February 17, 2016 college students, Reviews 0 Comments

One of the first college faculty members to contact me about the film was Louis Blair, of the Virginia Military Institute, director of VMI’s National Security Program.   Prof.  Blair showed the film to a class of junior and senior class cadets.   I was happy that they enjoyed the film and was moved by their kind words.   It’s particularly meaningful because these students are preparing for a military career, and it is so essential that they go into the next phase of their lives with a good understanding of the Middle East.   Here are their reviews:

I thought that this film gave great insight into the issue that is the Israeli-Palestinian divide. It provided ample information from real people in the region which gave us a clear unfettered view of what precisely goes on over there on a daily basis. The unequivocally most effective facet of the film was its unbiased depiction of both sides of the story. It showed real world examples of both the Palestinian and Israeli sides to the debate, and both sides presented convincing arguments as to who has the legitimate claim to this highly disputed patch of real-estate. One could side with either party and have ample support to either claim. The crux of the issue comes down to a fundamental (albeit possibly religious) belief for who you personally believe has the legitimate claim to the West Bank. That argument is yet to be determined and possibly never will be fully resolved. The film didn’t try to swing you one way or the other either, all it did was showcase both sides of the arguments (positives and negatives) and allow you to come to your own conclusions.
I did find it interesting though how both sides (in a couple of the cases) went to great lengths to utterly demonize the other. I will say that I believe that this is quite detrimental to the overall climate of the region, because these sentiments are what fuels the proverbial fire between the two sides. It creates such a deep-seeded hatred between both sides that reconciliation, even compromise for that matter becomes almost impossible.
I also found it interesting that both sides use some similar rhetoric to that of our own nation’s founders. So in this sense it is hard for the US to argue with the Palestinians, because we as a nation were built on the same sort of self-determination. In the same breath though, we could argue that Israel has that same right to self-determination. This goes back to the fundamental belief of who the land actually belongs to.
One side thought I had regarding the film was how admirable Nasri (the Arab mayor) was. I thought he displayed a very eloquent and effective style of leadership throughout the film, and it was clear that his people loved and admired him for it.
The main issue that I kept battling with in my mind was how do you balance a people’s desire for an independent state, when it clearly conflicts with an allies interests. Then conversely, how do you support an ally whose people disregard the laws that are in place to quell the potential disputes (the settlers going to lands that are private). Also, how do you support an ally who clearly perpetuates the conflict with continued violent/oppressive acts that only further fuel the fire of the Palestinians. These are probably many of the same questions our government and many other Americans ask as well, but they were just a couple of the main ones that ran through my head throughout the film, because I feel a moral obligation to honor the long-standing alliance we have with Israel, and to defend them against their surrounding enemies that might want them destroyed, but at the same time we can’t continue to be dragged into conflicts which they seem to provoke.
— Cadet Christian Burton

Holy Land offered a detailed look at life in the West Bank that I had never seen before.  While most Americans, myself included, have heard the blurbs on the news and seen some photographs of the fighting in contested areas, I never saw a close-up of life in the region.  Specifically, I never had a good idea what was meant by “settlements.”  To see one up close and hear the residents talk about their lives gave me a new perspective from which to view the conflict.
I also enjoyed seeing the Rabbi at the beginning of the documentary who was promoting peaceful coexistence between Jews and Muslims.  It isn’t everyday on the news that they show a rabbi saying “God is great” in Arabic.  With both sides having such long-standing claims to the land, it is hard to see compromise or a resolution in the near future.  With such opposing goals of peace, many of those interviewed also made it seem unlikely.  However, several of the Arabs and Israelis interviewed seemed hopeful.
I had never clearly known what the Israeli military presence or “occupation” of the West Bank and the settlements looked like.  It was very interesting to see the guard towers standing over the hills and the checkpoints that separate the settlers from the Arabs.  Even so, the settlers did guard duty daily and a few were shown with personal weapons inside their homes.  Overall, I felt that the documentary provided a look into life in the West Bank that is not seen in American news media or journalism.
— Cadet Tyler Hacker

Before watching this video, I held no conceptualization over how much conflict was involved over settlements within the West Bank. I did understand that Israelis were emplacing settlements, however I was unaware that the settlements were illegal, built in defiance of international law and the Israeli courts. I knew that there was tension between the West Bank and Israel, but not of the level of conflict present among the different factions that are a part of the situation. This was an enlightening program centering over an issue which much of the world may not know about.
I gained insight as to what it means to be an Israeli living within the West Bank. The land is seen as virgin, but when Israelies build outposts illegally there are often moments where outsiders claim the land is actually theirs and private. The motivation for men like Aaron and their families to build these outposts is based in the religious belief that the West Bank and all of Israel belong to the Israelites. It is written in scripture that there will be a time where all Jewish persons will return to this holy land and establish their community. These first individuals see themselves as the pioneers allowing this to happen.
They are not without their enemies. Anti-settlement advocate groups like Peace Now are fighting to remind the settlers why their outposts are illegal and that it creates harm for the West Bank in general. Some Palestinians claim only to hate the settlements, not the Israelites, but there are those that set fire to their fields, possibly desecrate mosques while blaming it on Israelites, and the soldiers that treat the Israelites harshly, arresting even sixty-five year old men for throwing stones when they were not or not having an ID ready.
Some of the settlers claim the government actually wants the settlements around in order to build cities around them. As such, a lot of the settlers in trailer homes continue to build their new residences.  The Jewish people want to return to Jerusalem even though the UN and EU consider most of the settlements illegal, and while they are under constant threat by their opposition. A lot of the international support for the region ended as well, in particular financial and political support after Hamas was voted in, making the situation more difficult.
Although the settlements are expanding, the Israelites have no intention of angering the Palestinians. Still, lots of conflicts and protests erupt frequently, even to the point where some are sprayed with fire department water hoses. The constant oppression has fomented a strong desire for all of the people to revolt, especially with occupation forces attacking the villages.
Many outposts are evacuated frequently as questionable individuals from a third party claim the land is theirs, and he settlers can only hope this does not happen to their settlement as time goes on. The best they can do is avoid cutting down the trees or performing any action that isnot directed to “Virgin Land.” This all occurs while Israelities are blamed for attacking Palestinians, but when most of the conflicts occur on their settled grounds the claims simply do not make sense, and when soldiers see Palestinians attacking the settlers they perform no action because doing so might be “politically incorrect.”
I understand where both parties’ rationale lies. This land is extremely beautiful and as a result of the conflict, many people are lost as well as their homes or freedoms. This is because the Palestinians do not want to lose their land, and neither do the Israelis who religiously believe it is theirs. Both side view the other as intrusive and despise the actions of their opponent, yet the Palestinians are at a clear advantage in the conflict given the area is formally theirs in a dejure and defacto sense. While I know the tension between the two groups is deep, there were many different aspects of this situation I was not aware of. Before this unbiased film, the most I understood about the West Bank was that there was conflict between it and Israel. I never saw the human account of what this conflict really meant, and what the Israelites hoped to accomplish by settling this land. As a result I was able to see the violent, the political, and the soft power activites of both groups fighting in the crisis and understand very personal accounts of the situation. From this video I hold much more in depth view of what is occurring within the West Bank, what the conflict is entirely comprised of, and the faces that cause and bear the brunt of this ongoing tension. Will the two ever reconcile who is allowed to remain settled in the West Bank? Will they ever coexist? By the conclusions of the film it is unlikely, but only time can provide the answer.
— Cadet Rob Franzino


“The Holy Land” documentary made me look at the issue between Israel and Palestine in a whole new light. In the past I had seen the issue from a completely ignorant and one-sided point of view. I always thought the Israeli forces were simply protecting their own people and that the Palestinian conflict was mainly a group of Arab people being prejudiced against a Jewish population. I remember this past summer when Israel began once again to perform military operations against Palestine that they were completely justified because of the rockets that were being fired into Israeli cities. I saw it as the Israeli state defending itself from unwarranted attack.
After viewing this documentary I find that I have been severely misinformed about the situation. At the same time understanding the political motivations behind such a documentary as it did seem to be one sided and avoided showing any sort of life threatening violence on the Palestinian side while depicted Israeli forces as brutes and occupiers. The one individual that seemed like a harmless family man and farmer simply fighting to raise a family in peace and grow a farm turned out to be a radicalized individual running a paramilitary camp for boys using harsh and violent rhetoric.
In the end, it seemed to me mainly a human issue. I always think about these large scale problems in political terms and rhetoric, but now I see the area as a group of very real people that have hopes and desires. Both sides were not so different on the human level. They wanted to live in peace, raise a family and work the land. It seems like there really should not be such conflict in an area with sensible people on both sides, but they just never seem to come together and make it work. I still do not know how the issue could be solved but it seems to me a step in the right direction would be a sense of humility on both sides, and a lesson can be learned from the unconventional Rabbi that sought to bring peace above all else. The unification of people through shared values in protecting and cultivating the land may also be a start, it is just an issue that is permeated with political overtones that are seemingly insurmountable.
— Cadet Maxxamillion A. Hamm