September 26, 2005
Avenge But One of My Two Eyes, 2005
Films about the effects of Israeli occupation on the Palestianian population are always bound to be inflammatory and subject to often unfair, prejudicial criticism of justifying terrorism, and this ugliness unfortunately surfaced from a particularly hostile member of the audience at the Q&A with filmmaker Avi Mograbi for his penetrating documentary Avenge But One of My Two Eyes. At the heart of Mograbi's organic essay is the juxtaposition of two events. The first is the ancient history of the mass suicide of the zealots at Masada during the Jewish Revolt as a final act of defiance against an inevitable Roman capture. The second is the Biblical text of the emasculated, blinded, and captured Nazirite Samson standing between the main pillars of the temple who implored God to find the strength to "avenge but one of my two eyes" (a phrase that, coincidentally, is also used in a rallying song by the minority militant, right-wing settlers), collapsing the temple - which brought his own death - in such a way that he killed more Philistines with his final act of suicidal retribution than during his lifetime. While the film does not inherently correlate the defiant act of the Masada with the modern-day act of suicide bombing, it was the juxtaposition of these two ideas that clearly vexed a few people. However, rather than directly commenting on the suicide bombing as a consequence of the occupation, the film instead explores the psychology behind the egregious act, laying bare the underlying callous indifference, insensitivity, racism, and uncertainty that the occupation has caused in the conduct of everyday life for the Palestinians: an ambulance carrying a seriously ill woman is physically blockaded by two armor tanks and repeatedly ordered to go home, refusing any pleas from the anxious husband and her family with the terse response "I don’t care. Go home!" broadcasted through a megaphone; a group of farmers who must cross a checkpoint in order to harvest their olives are refused permission to enter because of military exercises and denied information for a set time that they can return in order to be admitted entry; a group of young schoolchildren returning from school are refused passage through the checkpoint gates under "military orders" that the soldiers refuse to present. Mograbi’s vérité-styled filmmaking effectively captures the turbulence, humiliation, and uncertainty of occupation, presenting a thoughtful and incisive call to action for the return of humanity in increasingly entrenched and inhuman times.