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Before the Revolution Explores the Sheltered Fantasy Lives Led by Israelis in Iran

Dan Shadur talks about his new documentary about life under the Shah, and his parents’ golden years in Tehran

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Still from Before the Revolution: Israeli women in Isfahan, 1970s. (Jeoshua Binstok)
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However, if these aspects of the Israeli-Iranian relationship are left out, it is because Shadur does not aim at comprehensiveness. Before the Revolution uses a particular history to explore the Israeli character: that mix of naiveté, hubris, good intentions, and isolationism exemplified by the decades-long support for the shah’s repressive regime and the refusal to accept the regime’s impending fall. “I did think about putting Iranians in the film,” Shadur recalled. “In the end, I felt that I shouldn’t. The film is about Israelis, their state of mind, their psychologies, and their fears.”

One scene, among others, illustrates Shadur’s point. On Sept. 8, 1978, months into the protests that eventually toppled the regime, the Iranian army opened fire on a peaceful demonstration. Yossi and Sara Shtainman, friends of Shadur’s parents, recall that their maid was convinced by rumors circulating at the time that Israeli soldiers, not Iranian troops, had perpetrated the massacre. “I said to her, ‘Zohara, look at us, we are Israelis,’ ” Sara Shtainman remembers telling the maid. “ ‘You know us. You know how we behave. Do you think we could do something like that?’ ”

“For me this is a beautiful moment because it contains so much,” Shadur said. “It shows you the anti-Israeli propaganda: Israel does a lot of stuff, but they didn’t send helicopters to shoot people. It also shows you the naiveté. You did sell weapons, you did train SAVAK. When you do this you have to think of the consequences; don’t be so surprised that people hate you and that you’re isolated.”

For Shadur, the attitude characterized in this scene is also representative of Israelis’ perception of the world today. “Everything around us is still burning; it doesn’t matter that we’re not in Tehran anymore. If you go 10 kilometers from here,” he said, referring to the West Bank and Gaza, “there’s crazy stuff going on. We still live in this bubble.”

Before the Revolution has a critical agenda, but Shadur’s touch is light, never directly challenging interviewees’ statements, leaving room for a degree of confusion between the filmmaker’s perspective and that of its protagonists. Sheila Moussaey, who immigrated to Israel from Tehran in 1994 and now teaches at Haifa University and Ben Gurion University in Beersheva, was incensed that interviewees depict Iranian society as divided between rich and poor and leave out the country’s substantial middle class, as well as their failure to mention Iran’s native Jewish community. As Moussaey said, this centuries-old Jewish community, which supported the shah and was close to the royal court, “helped the Israelis to be awarded projects. They don’t talk about how the Jewish community served as a bridge that helped them make connections and corrected their errors in behavior, manners, and dress.” When told that Shadur himself saw the film as critical of this Israeli perspective, Moussaey responded: “That is what he thinks; I don’t see any criticism at all.”

However, for Haggai Ram, author of Iranophobia and professor at Ben Gurion University, its subtlety is the film’s great achievement. As he saw it, Shadur’s directorial discretion allows a subtext of regret to come through in many of the interviews. Though at the time interviewees believed that they were working for Iranians’ benefit, Ram said, “now in retrospect they get the idea that perhaps there was something terribly wrong in Israel’s decades of working with the shah.”

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Sassan says:

Once Iran is liberated, Israel and Iran will once again be natural friends that we have been going back 2500-years to the time of Cyrus the Great and before the devolution of 1979′.

Poupic says:

I remember the era well. Israel had great relations with Persia then. Oil was delivered in Eilat from Gash Saran and Aghajari, Persia. Israel sold to Persia anything and everything. This was the Turkey of the Islamic world allied to Israel at the time. Iran today sees no Israeli tourists or commerce just as Turkey doesn’t today. There is nothing nefarious in Israel attempting or maintaining relations with an Islamic state. Islamic states turning into rabid Islamic states is the problem like Turkey following in the footsteps of Persia now called Iran.

gameplan says:

I believe 25,000 Jews still reside in Iran, mainly in Tehran. I’m told they live in Iran because they want to, not because they cannot leave. I wonder if the film mentioned this group of diaspora?

Some say that it’s better to live as a Jew in Iran than an Arab in Israel. Ironic if true!!

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Before the Revolution Explores the Sheltered Fantasy Lives Led by Israelis in Iran

Dan Shadur talks about his new documentary about life under the Shah, and his parents’ golden years in Tehran

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