“Highly Recommended” *** 1/2 stars
Although other documentaries have analyzed this agonized situation…few have been as scrupulously nonpartisan in trying to present clashing viewpoints…this is highly recommended.
Steven J. Zipperstein, Professor in Jewish Culture and History, Stanford
A movingly empathetic glimpse at a terrain where empathy is in perilously short supply and, surprisingly, not despairing because of its capacity to probe delicately beneath the conflicting slogans and look squarely at a slice of people caught in the West Bank’s web.
Martin Shaw, University of Roehampton; IBEI (Barcelona)
A revealing picture of the lives, views and struggles of both Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank.
Shot on location in the West Bank and Israel, this well-balanced documentary explores both sides of the conflict, providing intimate views of the controversy through conversations with Israeli settlers and activists who oppose the settlements and Palestinians whose families have been living on the lands for centuries.
Video Librarian (full text)
Devoting equal time to Israelis and Palestinians across the cultural/political spectrum — from peace activists to hardliners — filmmaker Peter Cohn spends a year (winter 2011 to 2012) in the turbulent West Bank. Intransigent Hebrew settlers, including Los Angeles-born Aron KatSof, declare that their 120-odd homestead villages are there forever. Meanwhile an Israeli anti-Settler movement, Peace Now, seeks to obtain their eviction through the nation’s Supreme Court. A young Palestinian named Mohammad — taking his cues from the (semi-ill-fated) “Arab Spring” uprisings in Egypt and Syria — creates his own news agency and films the strong-arm tactics of Israeli soldiers against his family and people. Katsof blames those very same troops (the only key personnel here not conspicuously interviewed) for permitting Arab violence and lawlessness against Jews. A truly heroic figure is the much loved Rabbi Menachem Froman, who is still building bridges with the Islamic community despite his advanced colon cancer. Fromans 2013 funeral ends the real-life drama on a note of hopeful uncertainty (although we sadly know that nothing has much improved since). Although other documentaries have analyzed this agonized situation-including Tears of Gaza (VL-11/13), Death in Gaza (VL-5/06), and Gaza Strip (VL-/07)few have been as scrupulously nonpartisan in trying to present clashing viewpoints. Featuring both the full-length documentary and a 56-minute abridged edition, this is highly recommended. C. Casady
Objective empathy. If there’s a film that can reconcile those two seemingly contradictive terms, it’s Holy Land. Veteran New York documentarian Peter Cohn captures the lives and perspectives of six individuals on the two sides of the West Bank crisis. In the first 10 minutes Cohn takes us through his cast of characters as idyllic fields quickly become battlegrounds. Cohn is able to capture the tension of the West Bank, a place where the violence is a looming consequence of daily life. His subjects show a wide berth of opinions that add incredible depth and complexity to an already profound issue. To his credit, Cohn never settles on a position, but is constantly shifting his focus in order to empathize with the diverse sentiments of those most affected by Israeli’s settlement policy. It’s a film he says is meant “for the hopeless,” those who seem to think no peace can ever come to an area plagued by historical disagreement. Holy Land is a challenge worth taking. – Bernard Ellouk
On a national scale, reconciliation also seems impossible in the evenhanded Holy Land, filmed by Peter Cohn in the occupied West Bank during 2011–12. At the film’s start, there’s the fresh optimistic glow of the Arab Spring, as Palestinian villagers seek redress in Israeli courts against the illegal land-grabs of Israeli settlers. In Wisemanesque fashion, Cohn allows both sides to speak for themselves: the Arabs grouse about water and electricity shortages; the settlers exude a kind of Aquarian zealotry. Meanwhile a dogged Peace Now activist tries to usher both parties into judicial process; and we see how the inevitable stones-versus-tear gas protests can have fatal consequences. Then the positions harden into a frozen conflict that seems destined to outlast the Cold War. A smiling, hippie-dippy L.A. settler casually dismisses “some Arab mob” in racist shorthand; and a cheerful, tech-savvy young Palestinian blogger finally joins the enraged Islamist protesters at a cousin’s funeral. You’re left with the grim sense that integrating North and South Korea will be child’s play compared to this. – Brian Miller
This documentary follows three Israelis and three Palestinians in the West Bank as they grapple with the fate of an Israeli settlement there. Director Peter Cohn assembles an interesting cast of characters, including an ultra-Orthodox Jewish settler who is gravely ill, a dedicated Palestinian mayor who wants to do right by his people, an Israeli peace activist who campaigns to get the settlement dismantled, a Palestinian protester who aspires to be a journalist, and an Israeli settler who is building a family home. Cohn avoids making any judgments about any of these folks. Indeed, his film echoes what one of the characters says: Peace is work, not a result. – David Lewis
“A powerful journal of a year or so in this land some call ‘Holy.'”
…His approach is “non-didactic,” Cohn says, and it does keep going back and forth between the two sides, focusing on a few sympathetic people, hardworking and idealistic, mostly. What results is a powerful journal of a year or so in this land some call “Holy.” In a way the film is just eloquent notes… But everything adds to the tapestry, and Cohn’s film serves as an update. By way of conclusion it offers the observation, repeated by peace activist and Palestinian rights advocate Hagif Ofran, that with the Jewish settlements, a two-state solution is rapidly approaching impossibility….Watching this film during the sixth or seventh Israeli siege of Gaza in the past ten or eleven years, it may seem only a minor footnote: but it is important to see that people on both sides are trying to do things more quietly.
Booklist (full text)
Two cultures, each with purpose, moral conviction, and deep historical roots in the same land, find themselves living side by side. Orthodox Israelis in illegal settlements on “promised land” they do not own in defiance of the Israeli Supreme Court and international law come face-to-face with neighboring Palestinians in clashes over land occupied by Israel since 1967. Shot on location in the West Bank and Israel, this well-balanced documentary explores both sides of the conflict, providing intimate views of the controversy through conversations with Israeli settlers and activists who oppose the settlements and Palestinians whose families have been living on the lands for centuries. The camera captures the turbulence of a highly emotional situation in which neither side emerges victorious. Video clips show Palestinians protesting harsh and sometimes brutal injustices of military rule, Israelis forcibly evicted from illegal settlements, and others living their lives in the midst of conflicts. The DVD includes an 80-minuteand 56-minute version. The college and university price is $349. — Carol Holzberg
Educational Media Reviews Online
Excerpts from full review
…This documentary uses the gaze of various stakeholders in this dynamic: an ecumenically-minded rabbi and a populist Palestinian mayor exemplify the range of perspectives beyond what might be expected. However, there is also the expected sides to this argument. Viewed as a land grab by the Palestinians already living there, they now live under the specter of occupation by Israeli forces. Says a Palestinian journalist, “Occupation is inside of us now, like cigarettes, like heroin.” For their part, radical Jewish settlers stand on their ancient claims to the land, as expressed in the covenantal promises delivered to Abraham. Says one Orthodox settler from America, “This is our promised land; this is where we belong.” Over against both of these, there is a tired Jewish peace activist who works against on-going government settlement efforts with her group, Peace Now. For her part, the struggle is daunting at best: “We are fighting a fight that nobody believes can be won.”
What emerges from this film is an unrelenting picture of the dysfunctionality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, writ large here. Anger suffuses this film: local Palestinians for the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s strong-arm tactics, Jewish settlers against the Arabs, peace activists against radical elements on both sides, and near-hatred of the Israeli army by Palestinians as well as Jewish settlers who are forcibly removed from illegal settlements in Migron. In one scene, Israeli paramilitary training invokes the brutal imagery of lynching as well as Auschwitz to whip up ethnic fears in defense of the settlements.
…Extras include interviews with some of the key players, which were filmed in 2011. Since then, one has died and another was imprisoned so their cool-eyed gaze adds significant gravitas to the film. One need not have comprehensive knowledge of the political history of Israel to appreciate what is going on, but some information on the history and politics as well as the driving ideology behind Israeli settlement might help put this in context for audiences.
Library Journal (full text)
VERDICT Purchase for community interest and in relation to similar documentaries your library owns.
There is no shortage of powerful documentaries about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the West Bank: it is a subject rife with drama, emotion, history, violence, religious conviction, and persecution. Director Cohn is the latest to pick up a camera to capture what it is like to live in this unique place. He here attempts to give voice to both sides of the proverbial coin, as we are taken into the worlds of illegal Israeli settler outposts and the Palestinians who fight to stop the encroachment onto their land. This often leads to rock-throwing protesters, heavily armed soldiers firing tear gas into crowds, and Israeli citizens patrolling fortress settlements that edge Palestinian villages. Do not expect to find clarity on the complex issues on display in Holy Land, as both Palestinians and Israelis make passionate claims of being in the right. VERDICT Purchase for community interest and in relation to similar documentaries your library owns.—Joshua Peck, Palos Verdes Lib. Dist., Rolling Hills Estates, CA