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Professionally made documentary, though hardly worth the worldwide attention it has received
At the 60th Edinburgh International Film Festival, which hosts premieres with a multitude of stars, the worldwide spotlight flares on one small documentary, or rather the controversy surrounding it. Depicting the five days of the evacuation of eight thousand Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip (an area with 1.5 million non-Jews) from 14th-18th August 2005, the launch of 5 Days marks the end of a week of tense international relations over the Israeli bombardment across southern Lebanon. Without having seen the movie, objections were raised because the Festival declined Israeli funding for the Director's visit, separate objectors threatened a picket if the film was shown at all, and the news stories were picked up from Washington to the Gulf.
Objectors had not seen the film, and the Festival had been at pains to point out not only its clear independent artistic policy on funding but that the filmmaker, as it happened, was highly critical of his own government's policy.
The film, it turns out, is largely non-political. It chronicles the disengagement in a constructive and fairly objective manner, only book-ending with the director's bias towards non-violence based on game-theory.
In game theory, as Shamir explains in a text at the start of the film, the 'Prisoner's Dilemma' states that the only concern of each individual player (or 'prisoner') is to try to maximize his own advantage, without any concern for the well-being of the other players. Both players will be tempted to harm the other player even though they would both ultimately benefit more by cooperation.
We then watch the Israeli forces forcibly evacuate the unwilling settlers. They are determined, very strong and experienced, but also determined that 'forceful' doesn't have to mean 'using force'. The commander goes to great lengths to adapt tactics and meet with the settlers, giving them, wherever possible, the opportunity to preserve their dignity and religious devotions. We also see it from the side of a family where the man is very radical and doesn't want the commander in his house, but whose wife welcomes him in to talk, eat, pray, and listen to their music (an invitation he graciously accepts). Of course, it doesn't all go smoothly. The Israeli forces have to eventually break into a synagogue to eject the ideological extremists. But both sides have won sufficient respect to minimize violence, they both make genuine and sincere efforts to listen and understand each other's views, and there are no serious casualties.
Troops suffered their fair share of abuse. The harangues given them by the settlers included the standard religious condemnation and harangues, as well as repeatedly calling them Nazis. They were articulate, educated, inspired, emotional. The scene of the tearful wife as she is forced to leave, repeating Psalms to herself, I found quite moving. But it is nothing new to find great sincerity in people of religious zeal and faith, whether their beliefs accord with social harmony, democracy and so on or the opposite. The rhetoric was also remarkable in its similarity to that used against Palestinians and others that are seen as enemies of Israel.
At one point the commander appears to be playing John Lennon's song 'Imagine' as he drives along (the song which, according to one biopic, also inspired the murder of that singer). Does the fact that the film is non-political, endorses scientific methods of peaceful resolution and, if anything, is by implication critical of the government, mean that it could not offend Palestinians? Probably not. The Palestinians, like the Israelis, will frequently seize on any opportunity to boycott or condemn anything that bears the insignia of the other side (falling into the trap of the Prisoner's Dilemma); but also it cannot be denied that the film provides worldwide publicity for the peaceful capability of the Israeli army, which the Lebanese who had 1000 civilians killed in the period leading up to its release could see as very negative and unfair bias. But the film stands on its own merits as a professionally made documentary and should be accepted as such on its own merits, the same as films made in and about Palestine, irrespective of prevailing politics.
The movie ends with the director interviewing the commander and admiring that a highly charged and acrimonious battle had been won (or resolved) without any loss of life. He asks if such tactics could perhaps be used to resolve other Middle East conflicts. There is an answer, but no-one is willing to put it on record . . .
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