Viewing Booth magazine – seeing is believing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict | Documentary films
EEven if he tries to keep an air of cool and scientific, Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz finally lets out a twinge of despair at the end of this interesting geopolitical test by Rorschach. Alexandrowicz sits studiously behind a monitor as he invites a succession of volunteers to enter an adjacent booth. There they have a choice of 40 clips to watch, snippets of life in Israel, as he asks them to share their thoughts on what they see. Half of the clips are from right-wing Israeli sources; the other half is from B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that aims to document abuses of power in the Palestinian territories.
Alexandrowicz quickly focuses on the thoughtful Maia, an American Jew who supports Israel, but brings an insistent skepticism to everything she watches. He is the director of pro-Palestine documentaries such as The Inner Tour (2001) and The Law in These Parts (2011) – and sees her as his ideal audience: a possible convert.
From the sympathy she displays in watching blatant abuse such as a soldier kicking a street child, it seems like a realistic hope. But it is quickly obvious that Maia filters everything through confirmation. When a child seems to have trouble remembering her own name in a B’Tselem video of a house search by Israeli soldiers, she wonders if it was staged.
At the same time as she questions the filmmakers’ agenda, Maia is also aware of her own possible distortions, which stem from a desire to believe that Israeli actions are justified. Beyond the Middle Eastern context, this is the kind of due diligence – a state of constant vigilance over the filmmaker and the viewer, their intentions and their baggage – that our information-saturated age demands of all of us.
Alexandrowicz is bringing Maia back, with a sleek new haircut, for a second session, to review the pictures and her own initial reactions. But she redoubles her efforts, saying, “Sometimes when you question your beliefs and find better answers, they strengthen your beliefs even more.” The director, on the back foot, clings more or less to his composure.
It’s not just a valuable crash course in digital hermeneutics, it’s a challenge to filmmakers who believe in old-fashioned truth.