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In Hebron, This Land Is … Whose Land?

New film chronicles the settler-bullies of the West Bank city

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It’s one thing to see children too young to know better acting in casually cruel ways. It’s entirely another to watch adults—particularly adults who have adopted the cloak of moral superiority—acting like the very worst sort of playground bullies. But that, sadly, is what takes up the bulk of This Is My Land… Hebron, a documentary that is having its North American premiere this week at the Human Rights Watch film festival at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

There are plenty of shots of Jewish kids and teenagers acting like brats—throwing stones to bait Palestinian schoolchildren their own age, talking back to elderly missionaries trying to intervene. But what really shocks are sequences like the one about ten minutes in, where a Jewish woman living in a settlement bloc guarded by IDF troops walks up to the chicken-wire fence surrounding her Palestinian neighbors’ house, puts her face right up to the barrier, and begins hissing, “Sharmouta”—Arabic for “whore.” The presence of the camera only seems to goad her on; she drops her voice to a sibilant whisper, repeating her curse over and over again. It’s difficult to watch. In the context of the film, it doesn’t really matter what set the woman off, or how just her irritation may have been. What matters is that she chose not to turn to the soldiers very expensively stationed along the road for help, but rather to be petty and mean: To engage in taunts for the sake of demonstrating her power—as bullies do.

To an American ear, it is particularly galling to hear the many Brooklyn and New Jersey accents, in English and in halting Hebrew, from people who insist repeatedly that God, the Torah, and the long, sad history of the Jewish people excuse their holding on to the land they so fervently believe is their birthright. “I’m not talkin’ to you!” one man shouts at a television journalist who interrupts him while he’s screaming at IDF soldiers that they, as fellow Jews, should be defending the holy, sacred children of the settlers rather than Arab residents of one neighborhood.

Those viewers who defend the settlers will find fault with the film, because it fails to take seriously the possibility that there are actual security threats to the city’s 600 or so Jews; because the unapologetically anti-settlement Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy is the movie’s voice of reason; because it gives equal time to settler leaders and to advocates from B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, two left-wing groups. But it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to seriously defend some of the slimier behavior discovered by the filmmakers, Giulia Amati and Stephen Natanson, from religious young Jewish men casually calling passersby Nazis and unleashing vile torrents of f-bombs and other multi-lingual verbal abuse, to parents employing their clearly terrified and screaming infants as pawns in front of the cameras. And it’s hard to avoid the tragedy at the heart of the film: That, more than 15 years after the American-born settler Baruch Goldstein committed his Purim massacre in a Hebron mosque, successive Israeli governments have failed to defuse a powder keg that could easily blow up even the most ironclad peace deal—when, or if, such a thing is ever reached.

The trailer below:

This Is My Land… Hebron [Film Linc]
Related: Among the Settlers [The New Yorker]

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Gene says:

I wonder what authors of this movie are trying to achieve: to create hate toward the “settlers” among the viewers? To show what kind of bullies are they themselves? Since it is all about power: they have power to make a movie about “settlers”, to show them in the negative light, and “settlers” have power to call Arabs “whores” and that is what each one of them is doing. I want to remind everybody that when Arabs had control of the Machpela Cave Jews were prohibited from entering it and that Jewish enclave in Hebron existed up until 1929 in the same place where Jews live now. In the minds of authors of the movie there are places on earth which should free from Jews (they think just like Nazis did) and that is what they are trying convince the audience. To anyone who actually visited Hebron this film represents nothing else but a Goebbels type propaganda. The tensions among Jews and Arabs in Hebron, are indeed high, but this type of behavior happens only seldom, only if someone really provokes either “settlers” or Arabs. A that is probably what those cameramen and journalists did in order to make this movie(for how they will make a propaganda movie if everything is quiet?) Provoking any part of population does not bring peace any closer nor makes relations between Jews and Arabs any better. Shame on the authors of this movie for inciting hatred and violence between two groups of people in Hebron.

I have visited Hebron and have seen this kind of ugliness with my own eyes. Ultra-rightist extremism is the order of the day among the Jewish residents, with all of the racism and hatred that engenders.

The idea that it is the filmmakers stoking hatred and violence, and not the minuscule, radical community that has taken up residence in the heart of the city, is a joke.

jerome says:

I personally think that the behavior of many of the Jewish settlers in Hebron is shameful. Baruch Goldstein was a terrorist who massacred Arabs who were praying in a mosque. To Goldstein who seemed to be re-enacting the Purim story the killing were justified because the worshippers were Amalekites. If there is was ever a Jew who Hamas could relate to, its Goldstein. Goldstein may be an extreme example of a Hebron settler, but if reports are correct, he still has plenty of admirers there.

I’m pretty hawkish on Israel, and think that Gideon Levy is disingenuous and profoundly wrong about his country, but having visited Hebron once, I am inclined to concur with Allison Hoffman and the filmmakers about the nature of the Hebron settlers.

I don’t discount Palestinian terrorism against the settlers or the right of Jews to have access to the holy sites in Hebron, but this community in particular is quite fanatic and hateful.

It’s good to see Tablet reporting on this film. And glad to hear most of the comments here acknowledge the reality of the self-righteousness of, at least part, of the settler movement. I spent time in Israel in the late 1970s researching Gush Emunim and remember thinking that the settler movement was half about real estate (Israel was clearly so small and the West Bank, more than religious/historical space, was simply looked at as beautiful rural land ripe for development) and the other half was about an ideology which was fierce, inflexible, and – even then – spooky. Among some – not all but definitely many – you got the sense that Arabs were lesser creatures, not as human as Jews. What’s really sad is how a mix of dynamics (confrontational neighbors, terrorism, and basic everyday inertia) has allowed a poisonous mix to develop in the last 40 years which has institutionally propelled the Jewish state basically giving legal justification for a steady displacement of the local population. I’m no Israel basher. I argue with leftists about Israel legitimacy frequently. And I wouldn’t wholesale blame “settlers” for the current situation. The same national inertia which legitimized the worst aspects of occupation previously created deep stigmas for so-called Eastern Jews, where for the first 30 years of existence, the state both through subtle and more direct discrimination, created a real underclass among Jews from Arab countries. There’s an awful lot of great things about the Israel, but it also seems to relish humiliating those it finds threatening. Again between terrorism and war, the Palestinians have steadily become the group deserving humiliation – whether openly among the most ugly of settlers or more subtly through infuriating bureaucratic policies which either turn a blind eye to the ugliness or actually legislate in its favor. That doesn’t mean Israel is all bad and Palestinians are all good. But it demands frankness to address injustice. Kudos for the film.

Even those who DON’T defend the settlers might find fault with the film based on the elements you dismiss in the last paragraph. They also might find fault with the fact that neither the trailer nor this post mention significant details like the 1929 Hebron massacre, which brought an abrupt end to a centuries-old Jewish community, or the fact that under Ottoman rule Jews were not allowed to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs, or advance beyond the seventh step into the building.

One can oppose the current state of affairs and criticize its settlers without ignoring or dismissing the very real Jewish connection to Hebron.

esthermiriam says:

No one argues Jews don’t have a connection to Hebron, the question is what sort of relationship that should be, and how the tomb of the father of the two peoples can be shared: that the past was problematic does not justify the current situation.

Anyone who is able to visit Hebron can see more than the awful behavior of individuals: the way the space is now divided, so that the majority Palestinean residents’ homes and businesses are made problatic or inaccessible, their right to drive their own streets forbidden, their chidlren sent through x-rays at checkpoints daily to get t school…
Since Israelis are not permitted to visit, they know less than they should about what is being done in their name — and too few, in general, also know about the Muslims who hid and protected neighbors at the time of the 1929 massacre.

Rachelle Pachtman says:

This movie is brilliant and accurate and sadly will not likely be seen by those in the greatest denial. Witnessing the behavior of these “pious” jews made me ashamed to be a human being. Nothing, absolutely nothing can justify their behavior. It exceeds anything one can imagine. That they use the Torah and G-d as a jusification for this behavior is a Chilul Hashem of great magnitude. Short of shoving these Palesinians in an oven as was done to Jews in Nazi Germany, in my opinion, these extremists have come as close as the Nazis in the horrific abuse and lack of human dignity to which they subject the Palestinians of Hebron. This is meanness and evil incarnate.

Rachelle Pachtman says:

This movie is brilliant and accurate and sadly will not likely be seen by those in the greatest denial. Witnessing the behavior of these “pious” Jews made me ashamed to be a human being. Nothing, absolutely nothing can justify their behavior. It exceeds anything one can imagine. That they use the Torah and G-d as a justification for this behavior is a Chilul Hashem of great magnitude. Short of shoving these Palesinians in an oven as was done to Jews in Nazi Germany, in my opinion, these extremists have come as close as the Nazis in the degree of horrific abuse and lack of human dignity to which they subject the Palestinians of Hebron. This is meanness and evil incarnate. Still skeptical? Take a tour of this part of Hebron with Breaking the Silence and then decide for yourself.

I do not condone the behavior of the settlers depicted in the movie, but it must be recognized that perspective, be it from a photo or movie or single voice is necessary when purporting to discuss.

This was not a review of a movie. It was more of a PR message of one side of what is a sad state of affairs in a sacred place which has seen massacres committed by both parties.

I have been in Hebron, both before and after the Goldstein affair and each time I have been saddened to see three and four year olds throwing rocks at the soldiers jeeps. This behavior was taught and leads to teenagers throwing rocks at people and missels lobbed at scool buses, not to mention slitting the throats of infants.

The movies is propaganda. The situation has no innocents.

Men of lofty genius when they are doing the least work are most active.

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In Hebron, This Land Is … Whose Land?

New film chronicles the settler-bullies of the West Bank city

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