What would one say about a film portraying a concentration camp during the holocaust where the key questions are those posed to the inmates; how are they going to resist, will they collaborate, and so on. What if the SS guard in the watchtower during the day is portrayed as "human", and playing around with his mates after work? And a film where no hard questions are put to the _oppressor_. Well, Costanzo's film is just that in the Palestinian context. It is film that delves primarily on trite clichés, sentimental mush about the victims, and also about portraying the soldiers as "human" and also victims.
The film was shot in Italy with a cast of Palestinian and Israeli actors. All the Israelis are active members of the Israeli armed forces, and the lead Israeli character is a member of the infamous Golani brigade -- known for its violent actions in the occupied territories. During the initial stages of the filming, a competition arose between the Palestinians and Israelis to outbid one another in portraying their "humanity". Of course, following this formula it is not possible to depict the Palestinian condition, and the portrayal of Israeli actions is inherently biased -- the soldiers are on their best behavior, and don't show the brutal face seen by most Palestinians.
The film finds the silliest means imaginable to show the Israeli "human face". The teenage daughter seeks to steal a weapon and possibly use it against the soldiers, but is thwarted at the last moment by an intervention of another soldier. She manages to hide in a closet and gets a glimpse of her tormentors. After this close brush, she repeatedly hides in the closet to get further insights into the soldiers' lives, and determines that there is a "human side" to them -- humanity viewed through a peephole. From this insight, she also changes her attitude towards the occupier and adopts her father's steadfast resistance. Costanzo uses the glimpses of "humanity" seen covertly through the closet's doors to demonstrate that the Israeli soldiers are "human". This framework is patently absurd because the issue is not the warm relationship among the soldiers or the fact that they get excited about football; the issue is their behavior towards the Palestinians and here there isn't much "humane" behavior in evidence. Similarly, the many actual cases of dispossession are not marked by "humane" behavior; in reality, brutality is the norm. The transformation of the daughter's assessment of the soldiers doesn't come about because of a change in their behavior towards the family, but only because she finds that between each other the soldiers are actually quite ordinary! Nothing in the reaction of the Israeli soldiers could explain the change of the two teenage children from willingness to countenance violence to one where they decide to pursue a non-violent steadfast resistance.
One must also wonder why the director seeks to "humanize" the oppressor. It would be difficult to imagine the need to "humanize", say, the armed settlers who make Palestinian lives miserable. Those perpetrating brutal and sordid acts don't deserve to be "humanized" -- what is important is to highlight the oppression, not the nature of the oppressors.
Neither does the father have much to show for his steadfastness. His small acts of resistance bear no fruit, nor do they change the Israeli behavior. On the contrary, for the flimsiest of reasons the Israeli commander threatens to execute him in front of his family -- oh yes, one of the soldiers briefly raises an objection that is quickly dismissed by the officer. There is no reason in this film to think that the Israelis have changed their attitude, let alone decide to exit the house and observe common decency.
Some days after the threatened execution, Bakri and the officer sit at the kitchen table, and maybe this was meant to show a glimpse of mutual appreciation. The officer asks Bakri why he stays in his house -- which yields the profound reply "because this is my house"! The fact that the Israeli soldier asks the question at all is already problematic because in reality it is a common question asked by soldiers of those whom they seek to dispossess. The dialogue with this soldier isn't one where the oppressor tries to understand the oppressed. Bakri's means of resistance hasn't penetrated through to the human core of his tormentors.
The portrayal of the steadfast resistance, or sumud, is also flawed. In one scene, the youngest daughter desperately seeks to go to the bathroom and acceding to her plight would mean her father banging on the door, demanding that the soldiers allow his daughter to go to the bathroom. Instead of banging on the door and eliciting a likely confrontation, Bakri urges his daughter to resist her need to go! NB: steadfast non-violent resistance doesn't mean that one should improve one's bladder control. Non-violent resistance is more than just clinging on to a patch of land; in Gandhi's approach, it entails confronting the oppressor. In this film, non-violent resistance is represented as clinging on to the house, and the father seeks to keep confrontations with the soldiers to a minimum. Again, this is absurd.
*Missing the key point*
The film dwells on the intra-family tensions in dealing with the occupation of their house and focuses on the friction arising from the characters' differing views on how to confront the soldiers. The film's focus is how to resist, with a strong suggestion that the resistance should be non-violent. However, the director fails to ask the key question and never really explains _why_ the soldiers invaded this house or why there are any tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. The means whereby Palestinians resist is an issue that has to be debated in their society and by the people affected by the occupation and dispossession. Whatever the outcome of that debate, i.e., a non-violent or violent way to resist, should not affect an outsider's solidarity with a people who have been subjected to mass injustice. Now, if one were to query why this dreadful situation persists, then this would raise questions for the oppressor and those outside the region concerned with the injustices being perpetrated. Unfortunately, the film stresses the issues centering on the Palestinian society, and not those that impinge on Israelis or outsiders. In essence, the film fails on many levels.
Many soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories are making the life of the Palestinians miserable, and the questions that come to mind are those one would want to pose to the soldiers -- the oppressors. How do they justify the manifest barbarity against the Palestinians? When they invade houses, why do they opt for this drawn out torture and misery? Why do they feel that they are justified in stealing Palestinian homes? And why does the Israeli government connive with the settlers? These are the key questions. Ultimately, these questions need to be addressed by anyone concerned with confronting injustice.
It would have been rather tactless for anyone to have asked the Palestinian family portrayed in the film how they planned to resist the soldiers' attempt to steal their home. If they chose to resist by violent means this would have given the Israelis the ultimate pretext to dispossess and banish the family. If they chose steadfast resistance, they would have to endure the brutality, humiliation and intimidation. It is facile for liberals to pontificate about non-violent resistance, but ultimately any option has stark consequences. It is also a sign of illegitimate solidarity for one to put the onus on the Palestinians and the way they confront the armed settlers or the soldiers. The key moral questions need to be posed to the oppressors, not the oppressed. Alas, this film deals exclusively with questions posed to the oppressed, and this comes after decades of oppression and dispossession.