Seeing “Waltz with Bashir” as Israel invades Gaza by ground

“This is not good” is the content of a text I received just before stepping into Waltz with Bashir, as the IDF sent ground troops into Gaza. Waltz is the award-winning and Israel’s Oscar foreign film entry Oscar-nominated animated documentary about the filmmaker’s search for his wartime memories of the Saaba and Shatila massacres of the 1982 Lebanon invasion, and the implications were heavy on my mind as I stepped inside.

When I emerged I felt precisely that…implicated. Implicated for Israel’s invasion this weekend.

More than war or trauma, the film is about memory. We fabricate memories we don’t otherwise remember and we chose not to remember what we find traumatic. Searching for his own trauma-blocked memories of the Sabra and Shatila camp massacres, filmmaker Ari Folman interviews war buddies about where he was in all the fighting. “Was I there too?” he asks his former commander after a particularly bloody anecdote. The former commander takes a cigarette drag, “Of course. You were always with me.”

Snippets of visions and dreams by Folman’s war buddies compliment his own as real memories blend together — aided by the masterful animation by David Polonsky (see stills here). The visages are haunting and yet patient, never over the top or dramatic. Sometimes the depictions of war are even funny, resembling video games or a black humor’s happenstance. At the end of the film, real TV footage of the morning after in Shatila is all that reminds us that this film isn’t just a vision.

As Israel rolls into Gaza, what are the Jewish and Israeli communities remembering about the IDF’s previous ill-fated incursions to “uproot” and “destroy the terrorist infrastructure” while “minimizing civilian casualties”? Very little apparently.

We forget that in Lebanon in 1982, in Lebanon in 2006, and every past Gaza incursion, nothing halted the rockets except a ceasefire. We forget that “legitimizing” terrorists through negotiations is the only way Israel has safeguarded it’s civilians. We forget that never once have terrorists been successfully tossed from power by their own people after Israeli-caused death tolls. We forget that Israel always loses the PR war, simply by the vast disparities in Palestinian vs. Israeli civilian deaths, now at 90+ and 7, respectively.


We forget that just a few years ago, as MJ Rosenberg points out, Israel’s status on the world stage was entirely different: Yitzak Rabin recognized the PLO and the self-determination rights of the West Bank and Gaza, suddenly Israel was granted diplomatic relations with “nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 Sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the emirates began quiet dealings with Israel. The Arab boycott ended. Foreign investment soared. Israel’s isolation appeared to be over.”

We have forgotten what works. (Though some of us have not.)

There is an amnesia at war inside — and we’re suffering like Ari Folman as he stumbles between half-hallucinatory recollections of the 1982 seige of Beirut. But whereas Folman has blocked out the bloody parts, Israel can remember only those bloody episodes. There is no memory of the euphoria of the Oslo process.

Israelis are searching for a solution to Gaza — yet the solution sits in front of their face, the two ceasefires offered by France and Russia which they have been turning down. Like Folman, all they have to do is ask their allies what they recall about the past.

Our memory interprets our recollections in light of what we’d like to find true. But isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing again and again expecting different results? This incursion will turn out like all the others — terrorism will continue and we’ll be farther from a conclusion than at the start.

In the coming months, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and Makom are rolling out a viewing guide for Waltz with Bashir for guided discussion around North America. We’ll post the PDF here when it’s completed this week and as the film opens in two dozen more cities by the end of January.

Further reviews of Waltz with Bashir at Rolling Stone, BoingBoing, and LA Times. Release dates below. (My apologies, the release dates are not public yet.)

21 Responses to “Seeing “Waltz with Bashir” as Israel invades Gaza by ground”

  1. Oscar nominations haven’t come out this year yet… do you know something the rest of us don’t?

    dlevy · January 5th, 2009 at 12:39 am
  2. dlevy, KFJ might be referring to Israel’s pick for their foreign film contender for the Oscars. See this as example.

    feygele · January 5th, 2009 at 12:44 am
  3. I stand corrected, although the buzz says the nomination is damn near in the bag. Funny that I can figure out the Knesset’s inanity but the Academy’s selection process are lost on me.

    Kung Fu Jew · January 5th, 2009 at 1:03 am
  4. The big question will be if it gets nominated (only) in the Foreign Film category or if it also makes it into the best Animated Film category as well.

    dlevy · January 5th, 2009 at 1:51 am
  5. Where did you find the Chicago date? I’d like to organize something but can’t find any sometimes.

    Benjamin · January 5th, 2009 at 2:53 am
  6. The film looks fascinating, but it misses the main problem in the conflict. There is an element in the Middle East, a large element, who will not stop until there is no Israel. Actually some of them may stop at that point, but many of them will not stop until all Jews are dead and Sharia rules the world. When Israel went dovish, many others went dovish, but too many saw weakness, so the conflict not only continued, it got worse.

    Jon · January 5th, 2009 at 4:22 am
  7. I’m DYING to see this film, it looks simply brilliant. Though many people I know (including most of my family) will probably get offended due to their right-wing nationalistic views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    amexicangirl · January 5th, 2009 at 5:24 am
  8. Jon, how can you say the conflict got worse? Despite the 500+ deaths this weekend and even 2006′s summer war, there are less and less deaths as time goes on. The region is in gradual improvement, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

    Kung Fu Jew · January 5th, 2009 at 1:22 pm
  9. “When Israel went dovish, many others went dovish, but too many saw weakness”

    Did they? Has anyone asked the Palestinians how they perceived the Oslo years? I don’t think they saw weakness. Actually, what they saw was a combination of ever tightening closures and expanding settlements.

    Now some may argue that perception is wrong, but that’s not my point. My point is that Palestinian actions are determined by their perception.

    Annonymous · January 5th, 2009 at 3:33 pm
  10. There is something to be said for asking for a cease-fire negotiation when you’re the one who is winning, and I hardly think that could ever be interpreted as “weakness”. The right-wing has too often called any political action that doesnt involve someone’s head exploding “weakness”. Let’s flip it around then. When Hamas launches a rocket into Sderot, do we percieve that as a sign of strength? Or is THAT weakness? I believe you know the answer.

    Diplomacy isn’t about being liked, it’s about gaining respect. American kahanists can rant and rave all they like, but they are soft and weak compared to some of the battlehardened peaceniks i’ve met from Israel.

    Zionism is dead, and the state of Israel should no longer be bound by its outmoded narratives (in any form). It is time to lay aside the thereotical and the messianic and deal with the political realities of being a culturally, ethnically, and politically unique country surrounded by suspicious and hostile neighbors.

    shmuel · January 5th, 2009 at 4:10 pm
  11. shmuel – there’s more to gain than just another empty ceasefire. it’s about lasting safety, not allowing hamas to rearm again for 6 months – with longer range rockets, at that. also, at the very basic level – everyone seems to have forgotten about gilad schalit. yes, diplomacy is about gaining respect – please show me who respects israel now after the diplomacy of the past 16 years? if anything, the most respect israel has gained in the region is from syria and egypt – after victories in ’67 and ’73.

    lastly, zionism is dead? well, i’m glad you have something to believe in, but i’m glad you don’t determine the life and death of movements, especially ones you don’t understand. conflating messianism with zionism is such a common, but very big mistake.

    LB · January 5th, 2009 at 4:30 pm
  12. This film belongs in the main Best Picture category, not the animated film ghetto. The writing, art, vocal performances, sound, direction and editing are all far beyond what you expect from any film, not just an animated one.

    sarah · January 5th, 2009 at 9:11 pm
  13. LB, you call the results of ’67 and ’73 “respect”? That’s called abject hatred in the eyes of the Arab world, dude. Respect is what Americans gave Israel, entrenched rejection is what Israel got out of it. Not until Shamir and Rabin’s peace treaties did the Arab world give Israel respect. That’s what you get when you’re a reasonable negotiator, not an military Goliath.

    Kung Fu Jew · January 6th, 2009 at 1:07 am
  14. Kung Fu Jew is one wise martial artist.

    Only when the rightwing fanatics and the ‘might makes right’ types are sidelined will there be the possibility for real, lasting peace.

    Seek justice with wisdom.

    Slave Revolt · January 7th, 2009 at 12:18 am
  15. What? The conflict is better now since Oslo and Camp David? It’s a total mess. ’67 earned a lot of peace with Egypt and Jordan. It takes ass kicking and seriously vicious behavior to get anywhere in war. Anything less just continues the conflict. How did the Romans stop Jewish revolts? The Diaspora.

    The anti-war types are living in a fantasy. In an existential conflict of ideology, peace only arrives after one side crushes the other. Lasting peace comes when the other is completely destroyed or, after the crushing, the other side is rebuilt from nothing. Japan and Germany are the best examples.

    Jon · January 7th, 2009 at 4:57 am
  16. I agree. Let’s nuke the Holy Land — Israelis and Palestinians alike — and let the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas restart from the ground up. Sounds like a brilliant idea.

    Kung Fu Jew · January 7th, 2009 at 2:12 pm
  17. I think that’s Iran’s plan, actually.

    Jon · January 7th, 2009 at 11:34 pm
  18. [...] Gaza mission’s stated objectives have failed. From the very, very beginning I said it, we said it and publically: The military option never worked in Gaza, even when soldiers were [...]

    This just in: “Gaza mission a failure” and “I told you so” | Jewschool · January 14th, 2009 at 3:12 pm
  19. Gaza war failed as any other massacre Israel could do, after killing 400 child, nothing changed,
    but the things got even worst, cuz israel created another generation will keep fighting for another 50 year
    this generation saw their parents and bro/sis, burning infront of them.
    Israel must understand, the power won’t solve the problem

    khaled · January 20th, 2009 at 11:32 am
  20. As of today, your can remove the strike-out. Congrats to Waltz with Bashir on its nomination for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.

    dlevy · January 22nd, 2009 at 4:00 pm
  21. Woo hoo! But it got shut out of the other categories. WALL-E was a great movie, but is Kung Fu Panda (which I admittedly haven’t seen) really more worthy of Best Animated Film?

    I think a lot of the comments here are missing the point of the movie. It’s less about advocating for a particular foreign policy, or about whether Israel was right or wrong, and more about the effects that war has on the individuals who participate in it. Entirely separate from the effects on Palestinians, Israelis of all political leanings should be concerned about the long-term trauma that the conflict inflicts on the Israeli soldiers on the front lines (regardless of whether the war they were carrying out was justified) and the effects of this widespread trauma on Israeli society.

    BZ · January 22nd, 2009 at 10:18 pm

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