They Waltz Like This with Bashir…

Link By sunbula

My friend from the Occupied Golan Heights just published his own review of Waltz with Bashir in al-Quds al-Arabi a few days ago. Here is my translation of it:

On the Israeli Film “Waltz with Bashir”: What Fault is it of these Poor Horses that are Dying?

Salim Abu Jabal

The only thing that can make an Israeli director search for his place as a soldier in the Sabra and Shatila massacre is to make a film in which he narrates his own personal story as a soldier. In the case of Ari Folman, he is aiming for more – to recover his memory by jogging it with pictures of killing! Waltz With Bashir is a documentary film made with animation techniques; it is also a personal film in which the director tries to recover his lost memory from the days of his participation in the war on Lebanon in 1982. For this sake, Folman speaks with his buddies one by one, bringing the viewer as close to them as possible, as they enter Lebanese territory on the first day on their tanks singing “Good Morning, Lebanon”.

The film begins with a nightmare dreamt by the soldier Boaz, in which he sees 26 dogs that he had killed in Lebanese villages. This prompts Folman to recall where he was when the Sabra and Shatila massacre happened, and for some reason, he is unable!

Who killed Bashir Gemayel?

Punishing Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps with the excuse of avenging the murder of Bashir Gemayel is certainly a criminal act, but the facts indicate that the perpetrator was not Palestinian. Habib al-Shartuni was apprehended just two days after carrying out the operation, and confessed that he had wanted to punish the Lebanese President – in Gemayel’s case, that meant a death sentence. Because Lebanon in that period was not in a state of centralized rule that would permit justice to take its course, and because Gemayel was so powerful that he could not be punished, Shartuni, a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, executed Gemayel by blowing up his office on the third floor of the Phalange Party headquarters that were in the same building. He supported his actions with Article 274 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which stipulates the death sentence for anyone who collaborates with a foreign power to disturb Lebanese internal security. Shartuni was apprehended in and remained in custody without trial in the Baabda Palace until the beginning of the nineties.

Those Responsible for the Massacre

In his film, Folman brings into question the role of the Israeli army in the massacre, making it seem a moral issue. But in truth, his questions lead to a single conclusion, namely, that the Christian militias, as he calls them, bear the primary responsibility, and that it was only possible for the army occupying Lebanese territory to stop the massacre after 36 hours.

The Israeli role in the massacre provoked debate for unclear reasons, as if its carrying out at the hands of the Lebanese Forces could even have occurred if not for the occupation of Lebanon and the protection and nurturing of the Israeli army. So who holds the higher number in the death toll? Let it be a fair competition and let the judges be neutral and we will not get upset if Israel wins fair and square!

Actually, the Lebanese and Palestinian civilian victims of the Israeli army far outnumber the victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The principal aim of the invasion of Lebanon was to expel the Palestinians, one that Israel and the Lebanese Forces shared. This explains the joint planning between the two sides, as confirmed by testimonies of Forces members in the film Massacre directed by the German Monika Bergman.

Massacre by Monika Bergman

In her film, Bergman interviewed a group of LF members who participated in carrying out the Sabra and Shatila massacre. The film presents an ugly picture of the slaughter, its perpetrators and their relationship to Israel. The testimonies make clear Israel’s involvement in the operation from the stage of planning to execution. One of them speaks about the training camps in Haifa and Eilat for an LF group years before the war: “We arrived in Haifa from the sea during the afternoon, we got off on land, group after group…we looked around, we couldn’t believe it! We were in Israel!”

In another testimony, the Israeli complicity in the slaughter seems evident, from his description of how it started: “We had arrived at 6pm, a little before sunset, while Elie Hobeika was meeting with some Israeli officers in a nearby building. We were certain that the Palestinians had killed Bashir Gemayel and we wanted to avenge his death…we wanted to wipe them off the face of the earth.” Another person says in his testimony: “We were seething…an Israeli called Shlomo – I can still recall him uptil now – came and asked us to accompany him to Sabra and Shatila.” Another LF Officer says: “On September 16 [1982], an order reached our base, weapons and ammunition were given to my men and Israeli cars were put under our bidding.”

After the murder of defenseless Palestinian refugees carried out in the refugee camps, the LF had to carry the corpses in trucks and dump them far away. Another group was dumping corpses in a large well, or putting them in bags and sprinkling chemicals on them and then burying them in the dirt. Bergman asks one of them: “Where did you get the bags from?” He answers: “The Jews brought them…they said we would need them. They prepared everything…they had thought of all the details.”

Folman in the Reserves

In this film, Israeli cinema once again repeats the discourse of the soldier as the victim of the wars he wages. The Nazi Holocaust should not be absent from our minds – it is on screen. Folman’s psychotherapist friend tells him: “For you this massacre is linked to another one, that of your family in Auschwitz” – another confirmation that the Israeli soldier is a victim of his own wars.

Folman follows the same path that justifies the Israeli military’s crimes – the blame for committing the massacres falls on that damn Nazi Holocaust!

In the commentary accompanying the film, Folman says: “I don’t think the human mind can believe that there are people murdering families for no reason just meters away from you!” Then, at another point, he says: “I don’t understand the point of wars being waged and people fighting each other over a piece of land.”

Put simply, this is an antiwar stance, a noble humanitarian stance, but it is also extremely vile in its neutrality and two-facedness, especially when we know that Folman remained a reservist in the Israeli army, writing scripts for its propaganda films until a few years ago.

The Israeli Soldier as a Victim of His Own Wars

One of the soldiers in the film, whose job was to take photographs, sorrowfully describes a scene in Beirut in which horses die: “What fault is it of these horses that they should have to die in the wars of humans?” Another confirmation of the pills of neutrality that the film tries to make the viewer swallow…

Waltz with Bashir can be added to the list of films that serve to beautify the offensive face of Israel. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has proudly adopted it and Folman boasts in interviews that Israeli ambassadors have received him everywhere he has gone to screen the film.

Folman did not condemn the recent war on Gaza when he was on various podiums to receive his prizes. It is clear that he has not stepped out of the consensus on killing Arabs from the time of Deir Yassin until Rafah. Given this, Waltz with Bashir is another film in the same apparatus that sees the Arab either though camera lenses or the barrels of guns; the same apparatus that justifies the crimes Israel commits, relying on the soldier’s lost memory and military’s selective memory. Without doubt, these are Israeli characteristics par excellence!

Salim Abu Jabal is a critic from the occupied Golan Heights, residing in Haifa.

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