I often view Mideast “dialogue” work with suspicion, because I expect such programs to be unfairly loaded against Israel and naively over-tolerant of Palestinian positions. But on April 27, Manhattan’s All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church hosted a heartwarming program on Israeli and Palestinian peace activists profiled in “Encounter Point,” a new documentary film that was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. It is co-directed by Julia Bracha, creator of the award-winning documentary, “The Control Room” on Al Jezeera. The production team includes Nahanni Rous, daughter of Emma and Walter Rous; all three participated in the Meretz USA Israel seminar program in 2003.
A trailer and excerpts of the film were screened that evening, and a panel of four people profiled in the film engaged with each other and the audience. Ali Abu Awwad and Robi Damelin of the Bereaved Families Forum, Sami Al Jundi of Seeds of Peace, and Shlomo Zagman, founder of the “Movement for Realistic Religious Zionism,” discussed their grassroots efforts for peace and reconciliation. They all came across as sincere and likable.
Since the clips and the personalities were so charming, I’m sorry to have missed the screenings of “Encounter Point” at the film festival. Not all critics liked it. With Steven Zeitchik writing in The Forward, you get a skeptical pro-Israel view; if you take Joshua David Stein at the Huffington Post, you get another, rather harshly anti-Israel view — both equally well-written.
For my money, Stein’s and other unforgiving looks at Israel forget that the genuine hell that Palestinians are experiencing is the result of their failed (but still ongoing) campaign of violence. And Zeitchik, although correct to a degree, forgets that the right-wing pro-settler movement has too often called the shots in Israeli policy, driving Palestinians to regard violence as their only logical recourse. We can at least cheer people from both sides trying to do something different and positive.
Another thing that cheered me that evening was that Bereaved Parents Circle activist Robi Damelin spoke out effectively for the two-state solution when questioned from the audience about whether “one democratic state” might not be better. Only in an ideal world, responded Damelin, a world in which Jews never have to flee persecution to a country of their own.
Yet much, perhaps most, of this “progressive” crowd still has a hard time understanding the historic and humanistic basis for Zionism. One questioner, visibly incredulous, asked Shlomo Zagman to explain the progressive nature of his Movement for Realistic Religious Zionism; he did, but I think his English was insufficient for him to realize that the questioner’s assumptions about Zionism were hostile.
Another asked about the “wall,” adding his assertion that it has “nothing” to do with security. Regretfully, I don’t recall the exact response, but the Israelis on this panel had unique credibility in puncturing such prejudices masquerading as politically correct observations.