Key Questions

Two-state solution

The idea of a two-state solution dates back to the founding of Israel, when the original UN resolution establishing the state of Israel in 1947 called for a partition of British-mandate Palestine into Israel and a Palestinian state. Following the war that ensued, Jordan gained control of the West Bank, and then lost control during the Six Day War of 1967.

The issue of a Palestinian state was sidelined in the major peace agreeement between Israel and Egypt in 1979. Substantive negotiations focusing on creating a Palestinian State in the West Bank (and Gaza) did not emerge until the early 1990s, culminating with the Oslo Accords of 1993, and a subsequent agreement of 1995, which established the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. These agreements created a framework in which further negotiations would continue, working toward a two-state solution.

The official US government position has remained consistently in favor of two states, and it has also been the preferred solution of the UN and the EU. Right-leaning Israeli governments have resisted the two-state concept. Palestinian terrorism during the first and second intifadas, the rise of Hamas in Gaza, and the subsequent conflicts with Gaza have provided a persuasive rationale for Israel’s resistance to a two-state agreement. Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank has continued, reaching the point where the Israeli population in the West Bank, and the pattern of settlement, complicates arriving at a two-state solution.

Most of the main subjects of Holy Land support two-states. The film’s main Palestinian subjects, both affiliated with Fatah party, advocate an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and full Palestinian statehood. This site also offers several interviews with members of Hamas in the West Bank, who also profess a belief in the two-state solution. Their comments should be considered in the context of their ties with Hamas and their stronger views about the fundamental illegitimacy of Israel and the concept of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Israeli main subject Aron Katsof, a settler, sees much of the West Bank as Jewish land and argues that Palestinians would be likely to violate any agreements guaranteeing Israeli security. The other primary Israelis subjects support the two-state solution, although their perspectives on the issue are sharply different — one is the outlook of a leftist settlement opponent, the other the viewpoint of an unconventional rabbi and founder of the settlement movement.

There is growing support for a one-state solution, particularly as two-state negotiations fail. There is support for one-state from both Israelis and Palestinians, and both on the right and on the left. I recommended the site for its excellent summary of arguments on both sides of the one-state and two-state solutions.

Key Question: Is it too late for a two-state solution? Given the demographics realities in today’s West Bank, and the continuing failure of Palestinain-Israeli peace negotations, is it time to pursue the paradigm of one state consiting of both Israeli and Palestinain populations?


Boycott, Divestiture, Sanctions (BDS)

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement is working to apply political, economic and social pressure on Israel until it “complies with international law and Palestinian rights.” The effort was initiated by Palestinian activist groups in 2005, and in recent years BDS has found traction and generated controversy in many US organizations, particularly on campuses. BDS campaigners model their actions on the international movement to end apartheid in South Africa.

BDS has scored some major victories recently, including divestment by Danish financial institutions and a divestment announced by the Gates Foundation. Another notable development was the vote of the American Studies Association in 2012 to join in the boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.

BDS doesn’t figure directly into Holy Land. However, the film and the web material will allow students to weigh the notion of BDS in the context of the people and situations shown in the film. For example, the film illustrates the large military and civilian infrastructure that exists in the West Bank: modern highways, utility grids, military vehicles, surveillance systems, anti-riot gear, weaponry. How much of this material is produced by non-Israeli companies or funded by support from the US government? How would further international pressure have an impact on the settlers shown in Holy Land? How would BDS further empower the Palestinian resistance efforts?

Some left-leaning groups against the occupation advocate a version of BDS lite — a boycott directed specifically at products produced on settlements, rather than a boycott of all-things Israeli. The Palestinian Authority has so far limited its support of a boycott strictly to a boycott of settlement-related products. Peace Now has advocated for a policy of “buy Israel, boycott settlements.” J-Street, the influential US political organization closely associated with the Obama admnistration, has opposed both BDS and a boycott of settlement products. In a slyly worded statement, the group does not explicitly condemn the idea of a settlement boycott, but states that it “will not participate in targeted boycott or divestment initiatives.”

The opponents of BDS argue that the campaign is hypocritical and anti-semitic. A report on BDS from the Simon Wiesenthal Center concludes:

“The BDS Movement has already fulfilled part of its potential—as a stalking horse for those seeking to destroy Israel by other means. It is a key component of the global asymmetrical war on the Jewish State. It’s committed not to peace but to a piecemeal elimination of Israel—not to non-violence but to blackmail. It doesn’t believe in its own distinctions between “targeted” and “total” boycotts. Nor is it really interested in the economic welfare of Palestinians.

Above all, it lacks the one virtue that Hamas possesses: credible honesty about its intention to replace by any and all means Jewish Israel with (Islamist) Palestine.

Those truly committed to a “Two State Solution” will never serve the cause of peace by embracing the anti-Semitic BDS. Honest people have a choice between two options only: a return to currently unfashionable, always difficult, peacemaking to forge two viable, peaceful states or the grim alternative, stripped bare of pretenses, of a deadly specter astride a Pale Horse.”

Key Question: Does the current situation in the West Bank justify a boycott of Israeli goods, divestment of holdings in Israeli companies or companies engaged in business with Israel, and a sanctioning of Israel by international organizations? Would a boycott targeted directly at settlement products and companies be more justifiable?


Objectivity in film

One of our key goals was to create a film and related media that are non-didactic and non-partisan. In the heated arena of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there was clearly a shortage of perspective that offers both sides of the issue, and it seemed that we could make the biggest contribution by creating a work that could serve as a common reference point, offering characters and stories reflecting the competing narratives at play in the West Bank.

It’s a truism to declare that objectivity is impossible, and we don’t disagree. Our assertion of non-partisanship, however, is solidly based in fact. The film was produced and financed with complete independence, owing no debt to any organization with a partisan-affiliation.

Nevertheless, it would be dishonest to assert that the film has no point of view. As we edited for almost two years, a viewpoint took shape. People who saw early versions of the film asked us what our point is, and told us that they felt unsatisfied watching a film that ultimately made no commitment to point of view. So there was a moment of truth, a point where we had to commit to something.

In the moments of truth in the last months of editing, the film titled a bit away from no advocacy toward an advocacy of the most predictable, middle of the road path: a two-state solution. The penultimate scene shows the evacuation of the outpost of Migron, a victory for anti-settlement activist Hagit Ofran and a defeat for the settlers, particularly those 50 families who were evicted from their homes. At the end of the evacuation, we hear from Hagit, who speaks of the tragedy of having to destroy those things which were built with such struggle, and of the pending moment of truth, when the opportunity for a two-state solution will disappear.
It wasn’t entirely accidental that we gave her a sort of final word — although in terms of narrative structure, a final word from a victorious protagonist is squarely in line with convention.

Even though we have this tilt, Holy Land is far less partisan and biased than most films about the West Bank. Most well known recent films have explicitly advocated for the Palestinian cause, or at least explicitly offered deep criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The protagonists tend to be Palestinians fighting against the occupation. Israelis appear either as sympathetic peace advocates, brutal soldiers or violent settlers living lives of privilege on stolen land. In contrast, Holy Land respectfully and compassionately explores the settler’s viewpoint, and doesn’t avoid showing the many sympathetic aspects of the settlement enterprise.

There are a few reasons most documentaries squarely take the Palestinian side. One could argue that they take the Palestinian side because justice lies with the Palestinains.
Certainly the dominant point of view, as expressed by the UN, the EU and most international organizations, is to condemn the settlements and the occupation. In a way, a documentary filmmaker has to reject that consensus in order to show the Israeli side of the story, a choice that could be deemed, in and of itself, a biased gesture of sympathy toward the Israeli side.

Another reason that most documentaries condemn the occupation has to do with who it is that makes films. Most documentary filmmakers are leftists. Many are activists, who see filmmaking as an extension of their activism. And much of the film world, the industry of funders, festivals and distributors that are the cogs of the film machinery, are left leaning and tend to support left leaning filmmaker and films.

So Holy Land comes as a bit of a documentary outlier. We are not members of Likud secretly trying to promote Israel. We are just slightly apart from the pack, ever hesitant to find easy answers, or to preach.

We suggest that the idea of objectivity in film, and in art, is still an interesting question for further discussion. Holy Land offers a possibly interesting case study.

Key Question: Does Holy Land succeed in telling both sides of the story of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? How could it have done a better job? How does Holy Land’s point of view compare to that of other films on the conflict? Is it morally defensible for a filmmaker to seek to tell both sides of the story?