By Elias Savada.
The nightmare that surrounds the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East has never been an easy one to suppress. It’s been one step forward, two steps back for too long. A peaceful solution seems distant to proponents of the competing ideologies. Or to just the plain bystander.
Colliding Dreams cuts to the heart of the controversy in encyclopedic fashion. Consider it the Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Zionism, But Were Afraid to Ask. It’s a definitive work that looks at the historical, religious, political, nationalist, and often deeply personal perspectives of the movement and the consequences, conflicts, and casualties the movement has wrought.
The film breaks its approach into four chapters, generally set in chronological order, and a coda. The second “One Land, Two Peoples,” looks at the problem experienced by the Jews who moved to and built Israel with the Arab inhabitants already in the area. Before the birth of Israel in 1948, and before the earliest Jewish settlers moved there in the 1880s and beyond to escape persecution in Europe, Palestine was a country of Arab communities. Its settlement does compare on certain levels to how the United States dealt with its own native Americans in its formative years.
The current Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank sports an interesting dilemma. Young Arab professionals in Ramallah sip premium coffee at an upscale coffee shop, surfing the web on Apple laptops. But, the travel restrictions to anywhere else in the Jewish state are oppressive to the extreme. How democratic is this?
As the film enters its fourth half-hour, the story turns to Kfar Etzion, where young Israelis set about in 1967 rebuilding a Jewish settlement located between Jerusalem and Hebron which had been destroyed in 1948. This was done without the government’s permission (or the understanding that such a settlement would be illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention). By the mid-1970s, Gush Emunim became the face of the new revisionist Zionist presence in Israel. This right-wing activist group, formed by Orthodox Jews with messianic beliefs, started building their settlements deep in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Tensions escalated.
Old archival footage, marvelous home movies provide a solid core material that visually overlays the dozens of talking heads – for all sides of the issue – on the farms, on the sidewalks, and in on-target interviews with members of the government, settlers, peace activists, historians, poets, playwrights, and academics, all connected together with narration delivered by American actor Alan Rosenberg. Lots of reminiscing about parents or grandparents who made Aliyah (literally translated as ascent, but it is the term used for anyone who moves to Israel from the diaspora, a basic tenet of Zionism) to this we-don’t-know-how-to-farm kibbutz or that dusty town decades earlier. The language of their forebears (for those from Eastern Europe, Yiddish) was soon replaced by Hebrew. Some even spoke Arabic as the Palestinians were integrated into the population as well. Most were quite hospitable a century ago, when Great Britain through Lord Balfour declared “sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations” and allowed that Palestine would serve as a national home for the Jewish people. The declaration did have a caveat that “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities” in the area. Only when the floodgates opened to larger numbers of Jewish settlers did the Arab leaders realize the sell out might cost them their homeland.
Producers-directors-writers Joseph Dorman (Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness) and Oren Rudavsky (A Life Apart: Hasidism in America, Hiding and Seeking) have teamed up after each had created a healthy resume filled with award-winning material. They and editors Aaron Kuhn and Nick August Perna had a large task to condense over a century of information, opinion, and conflict into a feature-length work. The complexity of the region’s history is examined to clinical detail. And that detail often involved struggle, if not bloodshed. Clare and Oliver Manchon’s melancholic score underscores the film’s subtle, pronounced urgency.
Colliding Dreams is a nice, orderly film with an expansive (135-minutes worth!) look at a morally ambiguous subject. In its insightful view of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, the conversations and discussions that relate the chronicle of events are quite direct and determined, without a bombastic tone in the bunch. If the leaders were as level-headed, the dream of peace would be a lovely postscript to this painfully expressive film.
Yes, we all wonder. Can Palestinian and Jewish nationalism ever find a peaceful solution in two state solution. It’s tried and came close, several times. Yet trust was fleeting as blood flowed in the streets. Each side’s extreme ideological, Bible-infused opinions brought more carnage as reconciliation went fleeting. Yes, we all shake our heads.
As one person says in the film, there is a dark side and a bright side. Depending on your political and cultural perspective, the Arab or Hebrew side is one, or the other. Colliding Dreams presents all the sides. It’s up to everyone else to find that middle line where not everyone might be happy, but there as a quiet contentedness for all.
Each day that brings more Jewish settlers to the West Bank suggests that the goals of Zionism have greatly changed since its 19th-century roots. There is an emotionally-tinged irrationality in the air over Israel. Until there is a common consensus, the smell of uncertainty precludes any hope of peace. Colliding Dreams brings the situation into focus with a heavy dose of objective rationality. Let’s hope the people who see it can find a way to come to their senses.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.