Your film On The Side of the Road premiered in Tel Aviv on 28 November during the International Film Festival on Nakba and Return. Can you tell us about this festival, and the subject of your film?
The strongest element of Israeli DNA is knowing what questions you cannot ask. Once you start touching these questions about 1948, everything else starts to unravel
The film festival is the first in the world that focuses entirely on the return of the refugees that were expelled and fled in 1948, and the Nakba itself. Being held in Israel is revolutionary on its own. My film opened the festival. It’s a film that has never been done here in Israel before. It includes my story: someone that grew up in a settlement, deep inside of the colonial mentality and colonial project of Israel, who wakes up to the Palestinians and the Nakba. It profiles the soldiers who perpetrated the Nakba, who expelled and massacred the Palestinians. They talk about what they’ve done and return with me to the places that they have destroyed. The film focuses on the concept of return not from the perspective of the refugees, but from the view of the perpetrators. In that way, the film connects 1948 and 1967 to today, as one continuous project of dispossession.
Only two former Israeli soldiers testify in the film, even though you got in touch with many more. So how difficult is it to talk about the Nakba in Israel?
It’s incredibly difficult. As soon as you start talking about the conflict – whether it is with Israelis or Palestinians – you inevitably end up at 1948 within five minutes. It is not just something that happened, it’s an entire ideology, a mentality. The Israeli fear is based on the fact that what we did to the Palestinians in 1948 will be done to us. When I contacted other veterans, most of them did not want to talk about it in a critical light. They wanted to talk about it as this miraculous victory in a war where all odds were against us. Now that historians have started digging up the facts of the war, we’re starting to discover that what we believed about the State of Israel is pure mythology. When you talk to Israelis, if you start talking about the Nakba, it brings up this intense fear. In fact, veterans tend to be a lot more honest, because they did those things, but for their children or their grandchildren, for whom 1948 is just a concept, it brings this deeply embedded fear. The strongest element of Israeli DNA is knowing what questions you cannot ask. Once you start touching these questions about 1948, everything else starts to unravel. It’s an incredibly violent and terrifying process.
The film shows a scary side of Israeli society, racist and violent. Is it really that bad?
I am not sure how to answer this question. Israelis and Palestinians are incredibly politicized. Violence is a daily reality here and it’s mostly experienced by Palestinians and mostly perpetrated by the colonial project. The State, soldiers, the settlers and everyone else. The film itself shows violence against an idea. It profiles the Nakba as a very violent process of ethnic cleansing and destruction, where hundreds of villages were wiped off the map and refugees forbidden to return. It focuses specifically on the psychological violence against the idea of questioning. It starts and ends with Israeli Independence Day, one year apart. The whole film fits into what happened within one year, when the Israeli parliament tried to pass a law that forbids mourning what happened in 1948. It tried to silence history, silence people’s feelings about history, something that on its surface is an incredibly fascist move. The film starts and ends with this one day when we celebrate this big mythological bubble. On that day, when we are supposed to be celebrating our miraculous victory, our State, everything, activists from the organization Zochrot tried to question what this mythology is based on. The response from not only the State and the police but also from people is incredibly violent. They try to violently shut up these activists because you cannot talk about 1948 in Israel and certainly not on Independence Day. That’s why this festival is so important.
The film touches upon your own story. When did you, a girl raised in a Zionist family that moved to one of the biggest settlements in Palestine, Ariel, realize that what you thought was the truth was not?
I’m still realizing it. Unlearning and decolonizing your understanding is a lifelong process. The first time that I started to question things was at university in Canada. There was an Israel week organized by the Jewish student organization along with the Israeli affairs committee on my campus. These two Zionist groups organized what they thought was a celebration of Israel. For a whole week we had Israeli flags everywhere, displays showing that Israel is a democratic country, a queer-friendly country… I remember thinking that it was crazy for them to organize such an event on campus and say such things. I then realized none of them had ever lived in Israel.
What do you want to achieve with this film? Do you want to change people’s views? Have your parents seen the film? What did they make of it?
My parents refused to watch it, for different reasons. My whole family treats my journalism [for the Real News Network] as this thing that ‘Lia does and that we do not talk about’. My journalism and my filmmaking is something that we don’t talk about because every time they try to talk about it, it turns into me asking them uncomfortable questions and it is not a conversation you can have on a daily basis. We had a very deep conversation with my mum about the film and what is in the film and what is not. She believes it is a very dangerous film because it gives ammunition to the people who are resisting Israel.
Now that historians have started digging up the facts of the war, we’re starting to discover that what we believed about the State of Israel is pure mythology
As for the process of the film, it started as a very journalistic movie. It was going to profile the seven myths that we believe about the founding of the state of Israel through the stories of the historians and the journalists that have covered that history. I evolved, with the film, into someone who started to understand that you cannot fit this place into black and white, you cannot fit this place into any other kind of political conflict. The film evolved with me. I realized that the facts do not convince; the facts weren’t what changed my mind. It was the people that I met that changed my mind. Even when you bring every fact in the world into a conversation with Israelis they will bring you 400 other facts and you will never be actually talking about the essence of the thing. I wanted to touch on the essence of the thing and the only way to do that would be to talk to the persons, the individual people.
How did you manage to raise the funds to make such a film – a film that criticizes and demystifies 1948 and the creation of Israel?
Well, I have a sugar daddy! I’m joking! No, the entire film is funded by individuals. We did crowd-funding; there were two associate producers who donated quite big sums to the film and also regular people who care about this issue, who know me and the film, people who heard about me from my journalism work… The vast majority of the people who donated to the film are struggling themselves, financially. It is an enormous honour to see that people see the power in such a story that they are willing to put their wallets where their mouth is.