Death Cultures, the Occupied Territories and Film

By Avi Mograbi

avenge-but-one-of-my-two-eyes-avi-mograbi-1.jpgAvenge But One of My Two Eyes, 2005

Avenge but One of My Two Eyes started in the beginning of 2002. There was a wave of suicide bombers inside Israel, Palestinian suicide bombers, and there was an international discussion following September 11th about the death culture of Islam. I raised the subject of our own death culture, the Israeli death culture and the subject of Massada and Samson were quickly on the table, we didn’t have to dig them out from somewhere, they are very much alive in our culture. So what stuck me about those two myths is the idea that Samson is the first suicide bomber in history. When I realised that, I knew I was going to make a film about it.

I never start with a clear plan, but there were a few clear ideas. For instance I grew my hair for 18 months thinking I was going to do Samson’s suicide video, like suicide bombers do, but this is not in the film. But the basic idea was to make a historical documentary about the myths of Massada and Samson and to have them narrated by different guides or teachers on one hand and illustrated on the other hand. But unlike historical documentaries, where they illustrate the narration by excavations, maps, even dramatise scenes – I thought I would illustrate those two narratives with situations from the Occupied Territories.

avenge-but-one-of-my-two-eyes-avi-mograbi-2.jpgAvenge But One of My Two Eyes, 2005

The phone conversations were taped a long time before I was made the film. They were spontaneous conversations with friends. During April and May 2002 the Israeli army invaded Palestinian cities, there was little information about what was going on and I was calling people I know to find out what was going on and to express my solidarity. And I started recording them because I had good past experience with taping phone conversations and I had an intuition, a filmmaker’s intuition. When I started to make Avenge… I realised that the conversations with this one person who was under curfew in Bethlehem for two months and whose emotional graph was very strong were going to become the backbone of my film. And this is something I couldn’t anticipate when I was talking to him on the phone and recording it.

The film was released in one cinema in Tel Aviv. No distributors wanted to take it, so I distributed it myself. One cinema, for three weeks, three times a day, but no one came to see it despite good reviews. People didn’t want to see it. It’s obvious. It got very good press but people didn’t come to see it – one of the reasons is the politics of the film, but that’s not the whole explanation. Seeing documentaries in cinemas is not very common, and the film was released during the disengagement process in July and people were overdosed with politics.

avenge-but-one-of-my-two-eyes-avi-mograbi-3.jpgAvenge But One of My Two Eyes, 2005

Outside Israel the film was extremely well received. It started with being selected for Cannes, which for me was a big surprise. Since then it has been doing very well in festivals and winning quite a few prizes and being released in cinemas in Europe and in Canada. So I am very happy with the international reaction, but I can’t say the same for the Israeli reaction. I made this film and all my films for my fellow countrymen.

I’m not hoping to convert anyone. I don’t believe in the power of film to change reality or to convert people – maybe we should be happy that films can’t change reality, otherwise we would have a Schwarzenegger world – and I’m not sure that this is what we are looking for. Maybe we do have a Schwarzenegger world. My politics are not the most popular in Israel. They are quite radical, not many people hold those views, but what can we do, shut up?

avenge-but-one-of-my-two-eyes-avi-mograbi-4.jpgAvenge But One of My Two Eyes, 2005

Israel is a wonderful democracy if you are Jewish. It is quite a free place to live in, harsh opinions can be expressed, you can say anything you want to say and people will ignore you. In the past we would be picketing and people would shout that we were KGB agents, homosexuals etc. but lately they just ignore us. Israelis have mastered the… how do you say… repression. Israelis don’t want to look at themselves and think critically. Israeli society is busy today with making the best of life, busy with its own well being, but it’s hard to say that Israelis are not involved in the occupation because their kids are the soldiers. And those kids go home and don’t tell their parents what they are doing, they hardly discuss their military jobs at home. They also hardly refuse to obey their orders.

The problem of the Occupation has to be resolved. Occupation has to be removed, full stop. Maybe if Israel returns to its senses and finds a way to end the Occupation, then this situation will allow us real dialogue, but I don’t feel we are close to that at the moment.

Avi Mograbi is an Israeli Jewish film-maker. Avenge but One of My Two Eyes is released theatrically in the UK in November – Avi Mograbi will speak after a special screening at London’s Curzon Soho cinema on 5th November.

This text is an edited version of an interview with Mograbi for Second Run.