The First Waltz


Watching Ari Folman’s Waltz With Bashir inevitably reminded me of Eran Riklis’ Cup Final, also an Israeli film about its 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

When Cup Final came out in 1992, it made me think that a common future for Israelis and Palestinians was possible. I had expected the same of Waltz. Both films deal with the story of young soldiers during Israel’s horror-filled 1982 war. Both won critical acclaim, though Cup Final won just one award compared to the 10 Waltz scooped up before it hit the Oscars (but lost to another foreign film, Departures).

But there the resemblance ends. By contrast to Waltz, Cup Final gives voice not just to Israeli soldiers but also to the Palestinian guerrillas then based in Southern Lebanon.

It starts with an soldier bemoaning his fate: He has to fight instead of going to watch the World Cup matches in Spain for which he’s got tickets. Serves him right for voting for the rightwing Likud, his friend retorts.

The two soldiers are captured by Palestinian guerrillas, led by the handsome Palestinian actor Muhamad Bacri, and taken from South Lebanon to Beirut so they can be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. On the way, an unlikely friendship develops, rooted in a shared passion for football — and in the Israelis’ growing understanding of what the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is really about.

For me, the funniest — and saddest — moment of the film comes when the Israeli soldier speaks passionately of his love for Jerusalem. One of his Palestinian captors is from Jerusalem and he says how much he longs to see his hometown again. Why, the Israeli wonders, doesn’t he just go back to visit?

Palestinian and Israeli stare at each other for a long, long moment. I could sense the Palestinian character’s thoughts as clearly as if they were my own. Should he start by explaining about the expulsion and flight of 700,000 Palestinians in 1948, which is how his family ended up as refugees in Lebanon in the first place? Should he take a dip in history, back to the founding of Zionism in 1897, or the British promise to hand Palestine over to Zionist Jews in 1917 and the waves of Jewish immigration that followed?

Finally the Palestinian simply says, “It’s a long story.”

It is indeed a long story, but a simple one. That simplicity is captured in all its complexity by Cup Final director Riklis. The ending is tragically inevitable.

Waltz too leaves the viewer shaken. But its absence of context is problematic because it produces not just an incomplete story but also a distorted history. The distortion is deliberately fed by the film’s publicity materials and by the many Israeli and international Zionist organizations that have embraced it, some going so far as to issue a viewer’s guide to the film.

This one sentence from the film’s website — echoed in the viewer’s guide — illustrates the missing context: “In June 1982, the Israeli army invaded South Lebanon after Israel’s northern towns had been bombarded for years from the Lebanese territory.”

No mention is made of the fact that an informal ceasefire between Israel and the PLO had kept the border quiet for nine whole months. Then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon used the excuse of an attack on the Israeli ambassador to London by a renegade Palestinian group — one that was also anti-PLO — to launch his Lebanon invasion.

Does any of this sound familiar? In December 2008, Sharon’s political heirs launched a hellish assault on Gaza ostensibly to stop the rockets against Israel’s southern towns. Yet an informal ceasefire between Israel and Hamas that began in June 2008 had brought quiet to those towns — until an Israeli incursion on November 4 killed six Hamas fighters and led to a resumption of rockets, providing the excuse for the assault.

Waltz does not question the reasons for the Lebanon war, or even Israel’s role beyond its “indirect responsibility,” as an Israeli inquiry put it, for the massacre at Sabra and Shatila at the end of the war. But some 18,000 Lebanese and Palestinians were killed during the 3-month war for which Israel was directly responsible.

The Lebanon war was illegal, just like the war on Gaza. It was also unnecessary because enemies that shoot at each other can reach peace agreements; friends don’t need to. Sadly, Folman’s film contributes to the widely-held (and widely wrong) view that Israel is a moral country on which war is imposed.

Peace is – must be – possible. Films like Cup Final help because, unlike Waltz, they contribute to an understanding that will lead to justice. Thinking back to the earlier film, I hope one day to meet Riklis, Bacri and the cast. Perhaps even next year in Jerusalem.

NADIA HIJAB is a senior fellow at the Insitute for Palestine Studies.




October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?