“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.