Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Israel is no stranger to self-examination."

A religious Israeli Jew now, apparently, Zionist apostate says the obvious and liberal American Jews listen.
Was it any less obvious last year or the year before? 10 years ago? 40?

Yael Bartana
What amazed me was the lack of any Arabs on screen. Every piece documents and it's a compliment of sorts to say that each manifests the presence in Israeli society of unseen others, but those others remain ghosts. Summer Camp pairs footage from a Zionist propaganda film of the 1930's, Eisensteinian montage of home-building as communal effort, by and for the new Jews of Palestine, with contemporary footage of Israelis rebuilding an Arab home recently bulldozed by the state. The family who owned the home don't appear on screen, but they're thanked in the credits. And what we see in video and color are images of sweating, miserable guilt-ridden Jews of all ages, collectively slaving away in the desert in 2006, opposing images in silvery black and white of happy sweating Zionists 70 years earlier.

Wild Seeds is shot among groups of teenage children in the settlements and it conveys a sense of violence just below the surface of otherwise benign interaction. But again we see only Jews. And unlike most of us the Israelis in Summer Camp have met Israel's ghosts and even shaken hands with them or shared a meal. So maybe the misery and guilt is not theirs but Bartana's. Maybe there are sharper lines we can draw between settlers' children, spoiled teenagers tearing up and down sand dunes in Jeeps and 4x4's, in Kings of the Hill, and Gush Shalom. Bartana doesn't ask the most important questions, but without intending to she makes it clear they need to be asked. Her works in the end are the memoirs of an unhappy narcissist, talking to us about herself. Whether in Israel, or elsewhere (very recently Germany and The Reader) it's hard for an outsider to care, because it's easy for an outsider to see the things the artist misses, and in a way that makes the work not more complex but less.

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