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Yom Hashoah--Part 1
Taxi driver stopped in middle of street for siren of Yom Hashoah
by Judy Lash Balint
April 25, 2006

"I feel funny being here on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day)" the young Israeli woman told the crowd assembled in the auditorium of Al Quds University in eastern Jerusalem last night. "But I decided it was important to come to hear opinions I never usually hear.." she continued.

Instead of heading off for the traditional ceremony at Yad Vashem that marks the beginning of Yom Hashoah I too opted to attend a screening of a new film on "the conflict" entitled Blood and Tears, produced by American Jewish filmaker, Isadore Rosmarin and funded by private Canadian backers. The chance to observe Arab students' reaction to a Jewish made film struck me as appropriate for the day.

Rosmarin's production, made with Prof. William Helmreich as consultant, attempts to present a balanced view of the history and current reality of this tiny part of the Middle East. Rosmarin, whose credits include production, directing and writing for 60 Minutes, NBC Dateline and ABC's 20/20 is spending the next week screening his documentary for audiences in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, Gaza, Ramallah and Nazareth.

The film is a fast-moving collection of images, interviews and text, backed by the relentless beat of American-style "news-music." On the Israeli side, the interviewees included people like Bibi Netanyahu, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Eve Harow from Efrat; Rabbi Seth and Sheryll Mandel from Tekoa; John Loftus, Alan Dershowitz, Joe Farah of WorldNetDaily, Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren. Dominating the Arab side was the ubiquitous Saeeb Erekat, Jibril Rajoub, and some footage of the assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

At the end of the 75 minute film, Rosmarin invited the audience to stay for a discussion with a panel. A number of the Arab students walked out, joined by Sari Nusseibeh, philosophy professor and former PLO Representative in Jerusalem and his British-born wife, Lucy.

Rosmarin asked the twenty or so people remaining in the auditorium to raise their hands if they felt the film was balanced. Two hands went up. "Was it a pro-Palestinian film?" he went on. No hands. "Pro-Israel?" Almost every hand was raised.

The panelists gave their criticism/impressions of the documentary and then the floor was open for discussion. Apart from a pointed but polite question from a Norwegian, Rosmarin was barraged with harsh criticism from several audience members.

"It's cheap propaganda," declared a thin woman in western dress. "I suggest you give the film to the Israeli foreign ministry," she added. "All the ugly pictures are Palestinians, all the nice quiet ones are Israelis." Her male friend agreed.

"You focus on Palestinian children who are bombers. You make it seem as if Arab kids have terrorist thinking in their makeup," he asserted. Warming up, he accused Rosmarin of showing grief-ridden Israelis as sorrowful and in quiet tones, while the funerals of assassinated Arab terrorists were depicted as raucous events with gun-toting angry young men.

The young woman continued: "It's a bad film, you're ignorant. You know nothing about events of 1948. You depict the kid who bombs himself (sic) because life is unbearable as a terrorist, while those forces who throw bombs at houses in Gaza are not," she yelled.

When panelist Calev Ben David of the Israel Project retorted, the woman firmly declared: "The weapon of the weak is suicide--you didn't leave them any choice."

Rosmarin proved that no outsider can ever fully appreciate what's going on here. Apart from stating that he had brought the film to eastern Jerusalem to be shown "in Palestine," he tried to reiterate the goal of his film. "It's to promote dialogue and allow each side to see the other side that it normally demonizes," he said. "It's for both sides to clarify the conflict and put it into context."

For most of us living the daily reality here the conflict is plenty clear. I didn't really need to hear once again the justification for homicide bombers that has now become de rigeur in almost all Arab circles to put into context the fact that the majority of them voted for Hamas.

I'm heading up to Kibbutz Lochamei Haghetaot for the formal concluding ceremony of Yom Hashoah tonight. That should provide a better context for the conflict.