As a child, Judge Brendan Babish once built a wall out of Legos to keep the cat out of his room. It had held up better than this documentary.
In attempt to stop the free passage of Palestinian terrorists and looters into its territory, Israel decided to build a wall to seal off its border with the West Bank. Simone Bitton brought her camera to villages on both sides of the wall to document the human toll of living in the shadow of a giant slab of concrete.
"Good fences make good neighbors," Robert Frost famously wrote in his poem "Mending Wall." Simone Bitton would probably disagree. While Wall grants brief concessions to impartiality, Ms. Bitton clearly sympathizes with the plight of Palestinian peasants and has created a film that aims to garner sympathy for them at the expense of edification or enlightenment. In fact, her film provides so little background of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an uninformed viewer could draw the conclusion that Palestinian suffering didn't begin until Israel began laying the asphalt around the West Bank. The truth is that a myriad of factors, which were in place long before construction on the wall began, have caused the extreme poverty in the Palestinian territories.
Additionally, Ms. Bitton virtually ignores all of the factors that drove Israel to build the wall in the first place. There is no mention of the failed peace talks between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat at Camp David. There is little discussion, and no footage, of the Palestinian Intifada that has almost exclusively targeted Israeli civilians. Ms. Bitton does interview a stoic Israeli general who briefly explains that the wall was built to keep out the Palestinian terrorists and those who see Israel as an "an unlimited resource for stolen goods." While the movie effectively documents how the wall's erection has increased Palestinian suffering, Ms. Bitton could have explored the general's argument by discussing the wall's effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, at protecting Israeli citizens. But instead she changes the subject and bates the general into an irrelevant argument about semantics, asking him whether he considers the wall a "security fence," "separation fence" or "separation wall" (strangely enough, "security wall" was not an option).
This is not to say that Wall is an inflammatory or reactionary film. Ms. Bitton's intent is not to demonize Israel, but to document the pacific nature of the migrant workers of Palestine (who seem to be the ones most affected by the wall). She employs (far too many) long, meditative shots of Palestinians engaged in banal activities—hanging their laundry out to dry, walking to work—in what can only be an attempt to provide a counterbalance to the pervasive media images of belligerent Arabs firing Kalashnikovs into the air and burning Israeli flags.
Though many of the Palestinians she interviews seem to have nothing but disdain for the wall, none ever express violent thoughts of retribution, or even criticize Israel directly. But then none discuss the bloody Intifada, or the corrupt, ineffectual Palestinian government either. Britton's interview subjects are all genial civilians (except for the Israeli general) and disdainful of the wall (again, except the general). While Ms. Bitton may have avoided controversial topics in an effort to advance empathy for the Palestinian cause, Wall's failure to address these central points of contention between Israelis and Palestinians does a disservice to those hoping to learn more about Middle East politics and ultimately leaves the movie flat and unfulfilling.
For all of the movie's faults, it is still a marvel to look at. Ms. Bitton found some beautiful locations to film, and the DVD transfer adequately shows the detail of the striking murals on Israel's side of the wall—and empty desert on the Palestinian side. The sound quality is fair, but negligible considering the likely budget constraints on the film.
Wall comes with no extras. This is especially unfortunate because it would have been interesting to hear the director's opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ms. Bitton is an Arab Jew, and at one point in the film expresses conflicting emotions about the way Israelis treat Palestinians. One of her movie's great flaws is its lack of content and strong opinions. Ms. Bitton could have gone a long way toward remedying that on a commentary track.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While the movie rarely scratches the surface of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it vividly documents the living conditions of those unfortunate enough to live on the wrong side of the wall. In silent, beautifully shot sequences of the West Bank, Ms. Bitton shows us the difficult lives and stunning locations that are often overshadowed by the brutal violence of the conflict.
In the film, a migrant worker tells us that the beauty of the land is God's gift to the Palestinians. For those of us who are only familiar with the poverty and filth of overpopulated Palestinian cities like Ramallah, this claim would have seemed absurd. But after watching Wall you will understand what he means.
Wall is not a good primer for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, it is not even a good primer for the wall itself. While it is unfortunate that Ms. Bitton chose not to provide even a modest introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is inexplicable why she does not provide any sort of history of the wall. The movie does not tell us when construction on the wall began, when it is expected to be finished, or even where in Israel it is being built.
If there were already countless documentaries on Israel's wall of separation, this film could be praised for its singular focus on Palestinians and those who oppose the wall's construction. However, most viewers of Wall will be expecting a comprehensive presentation of the movie's subject, and they are bound to come away disappointed.
Due to a lack of representation, the jury is unable to reach a verdict on the Israelis' role in this project. The court acknowledges Ms. Bitton's good intentions, but finds her in contempt for providing a lack of evidence.
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