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Confronting the seven myths of Israel’s history

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Israeli filmmaker Lia Tarachansky tells Frank Barat about the challenges and rewards of making On The Side of the Road.

Palestinian refugees in 1948 [Related Image]
Palestinian refugees, 1948 gnukx under a Creative Commons Licence

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.

Lia spoke to Frank Barat for Le Mur a des Oreilles
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  1. #1 Robert Arlan 12 Dec 13


    I am certainly no expert on the ’Arab-Israeli conflict. However one of your phrases ’where hundreds of villages were wiped off the map ’ has grabbed my attention. I am not certain of which period that you refer to here. The land purchased by incoming Jews was paid for handsomely at between 1000 and 1100 $US per acre I read. It wasn't as though Robert Mugabe's henchmen suddenly moved in, or modern day China's bulldozers flattened an area.

    Isn't the 100% crux of the matter this. The Jews want a homeland, and the Arabs want the Jews to have nothing.....fulfilling Mohammed's loving deathbed wish to ’ Kill the Jews wherever you find them?’

  2. #2 Jonathan Garlow 12 Dec 13

    Hi Lia! As a Haudenosaunee man I am deeply interested in the 1948 reclaimation of land, Zionism and the recolonization and repatriation of the Israeli state. As you know I am Onkwehon:we, original person to what is now called North America and what happens in the middle-east may replay itself over here someday. I wonder if it will take us 2000 years to regain our homeland, and I wonder if it will be done peacefully or if the Haudenosaunnee ’Red Indians’ will have to resort to violence to re-establish our sovereign nation in our original lands of what is now known as NY State! Skennen/Shalom

  3. #3 Robbie Lintree 20 Dec 13

    The ’Jewish’ problem has several roots. Yes, they have been discriminated against and vicitimized, perhaps more than any other religious-ethnic group, but this is a matter of degree only. Other groups: blacks, gypsies, witches, Koreans (in Japan), white westerners (in China and in Japan), Christians (yup, them too) and of course Moslems as well, gay people, etc etc have all been vicitimized. Jews are not alone or even significant in this regard by any stretch of the imagination. We all should stop thinking (if we ever did) that Jews are special because they bore the brunt of terrible discrimination.

    One of the roots of the Jewish problem is historic, namely, they are an ethnic group with a very strong identity but the fates left them without a country for many years, and perhaps this only served to increase the strength of their cultural identity.

    Another historic root of the problem is the blame that Christians (scum of the earth) placed upon the Jews for what happened to Jesus.

    But we mustn't forget that another BIG root of this problem is simply the fact that the Jews themselves believe that THEY are the chosen people, and the last thing any good Jewish papa or mama would allow is their son or daughter to marry a gentile. So, much of the discrimination is upon their own shoulders. If Jews want to be accepted as ’human beings first and foremost’ then they should turn their back on their stupid religion, intermarry with a vengeance, and distance themselves from anything remotely related to Zionism. They should become ’unjews’. Just as level-headed young people these days realize that Christianity is a bunch of bullshit.

  4. #4 bhglennie 22 Dec 13

    The European Model of Colonization has been to send of few immigrants or ’explorers ’ with a platoon of soldiers and priest or religious leader to a ’ New Land ’. If the locals resist being civilized push them off the land, put them on reservations or kill them and bring in new European immigrants to fill the ' Empty ' land. Then some ’International Law’ is cited to justify these actions.
    The U.S. and Canada refused entry to ships of escaping European Jews during WWII, forcing them to go back across the Atlantic Ocean and finally land in Mid-East.
    It is good to see more of this brought out .

  5. #5 Monique Buckner 31 Dec 13

    Robert Arlan- yes, hundreds of villages were demolished and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were made refugees. This is an indisputable fact. The expulsions and killings (Plan Dalet) began in December 1947 and is ongoing. Read Illan Pappe's book 'The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine' for more information or see the Zochrot website. Indeed you are correct in saying that some land was purchased legally, but mainly land was seized illegally and violently. Many of the forests you see in Israel cover the ruins of former Palestinian villages on purpose so that refugees cannot return and to cover the evidence of this violence. You should also realise that this country was called Palestine for centuries up until May 1948 when it began to be called Israel, so not only were villages wiped off the map, but also an entire country. Today, the Bedouin have their villages destroyed many times (research Al Araqib, for instance) by Israeli military bulldozers which also demolish individual homes in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank as acts of punishment or merely to harass or in order for settlers to seize (a war crime).

    It's only zionists who want a homeland, not all Jews. Please make this distinction clear in your mind and also understand that not all zionists are Jews because fundamentalist Christians support them in this colonial project for their own agenda. I also wish to point out that Palestine is the home of Christianity and that Palestinian Christians are the original Christians. You seem to think that all Palestinians are Muslims, or even religious. This conflict is not about religion as some would like you to believe- it is about rights and resources. Your painting of Muslims as Jew-hating is wildly inaccurate. Jews and Muslims were neighbours here for centuries, living in tolerance. Jews have historically been treated worse by Christians than by any other group. You say 'the Arabs want the Jews to have nothing' which is patently untrue. Firstly, which Arabs are you talking about? Palestinians have recognised Israel and merely ask for their rights to be implemented (see for instance the call for the boycott of Israel which explicitly states this). Nobody, anywhere has a right to take the homeland of another people to call their own. This holy land is holy to Islam, Christianity and Islam and home to many non-believers. All should have equal rights in it; nobody should have exclusive rights and special privileges- and this is what Palestinian civil society has clearly expressed.

  6. #6 Monique Buckner 31 Dec 13

    Jonathan Garlow- what do you mean by 'reclaimation', 'recolonization' and 'repatriation'? If you think that Israel was a country prior to 1948, you are mistaken.

    Historically, 'Israel' always referred to a people. The country known as Israel from May 1948 onwards is the realisation of the zionist colonial project (though its illegal, non-declared borders are ever-expanding through settlement expansion and land grabs).

    Jewish zionism has been around since around 1897 but Christian zionism, rooted in anti-semitism, began before this and inspired Jewish zionism which adopted many of its ideas that Jews didn't fit in, etc. Judaism and zionism are not the same thing.

    Palestine the country has been around since over 1000 BCE evidenced by Egyptian dynasties mentioning it and Greek scholars writing of it, through the Roman times and beyond. Palestine (where Christianity and Judaism began) was never the exclusive homeland of the Jewish people or the Christian people- in fact, Palestine has a rich culture from its many different tribes of people who inhabited the land or who ruled over it. Today's modern Palestinians are the descendants of the ancient Hebrews, Canaanites and other tribes, who also intermarried with their neighbours as is natural. Jews and Palestinians are gentically similar because they have in the past come from the same mix of people from this region. It's sad that you think that one group should label a country according to their ethnicity. The Palestinian people are looking for equality and their rights, not apartheid and further injustice. Palestinians point out that a zionist came emigrate with little difficulty from anywhere in the world while getting generous support by the state of Israel while a Palestinian refugee from 1948 or 1967 (or internally displaced or exiled at any point since) have never had their inalienable rights as refugees, as guaranteed by international law, recognised and implemented by Israel who see all Palestinians a 'demographic threats' to their ethnocracy. A Palestinian has a right to return to his or her land and home and have their looted property (books, bank accounts, jewelry, livestock, businesses, etc.) returned to them, yet Israel has to this day failed to do so.

    That you identify with the oppressors rather than the oppressed is mystifying.

  7. #7 Monique Buckner 31 Dec 13

    Robbie Lintree- I think your opinion that there is a ’Jewish problem' is extremely offensive, ignorant and racist. There is no problem with Jewish people- it's with zionism (and anybody can be a zionist). That you try to neutralise Jewish suffering over centuries, which culminated in the Nazi holocaust, says a lot about your own tendency to discriminate.

    The zionist project has got nothing at all to do with Judaism. Jews lived for centuries in Palestine, not wanting Palestine as their Jewish state, but happy to live as equals, sharing it with Christians and Muslims and others, and living there mainly for religious reasons. (Note to Robert Arlan: Saladin allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem after they were banished for 500 years- and not by Muslims. Muslims did not try to exterminate them over the centuries, even when they had plenty of opportunity, given that Jews constituted less than 10% of the population of Palestine as pre-state of Israel population records show. I do not pretend to claim that relations between Jews and Muslims during these centuries were always good, but they were a co-existing community whose lives converged usually peacefully.)

    According to the bible, Jews are chosen by God, but then you have Christian and Muslim religious chauvinism also which says that any that do not follow their gods will burn in hell. So it's really six of one and half a dozen of the other. Some of the people in all three religious groups intermarry, some don't. Some Catholic parents want their children to marry other Catholics, some do not care. Same with Jewish and Muslim parents. The point is that it is not exclusive to any one religion; only anti=semites believe otherwise. Jews have every right to be treated as human beings- how dare you suggest that this is on condition that they reject their religion?

    That you again conflate Judaism and zionism, while completely ignoring the vast (perhaps even greater) number of Christian zionists indicates not only ignorance on your part but perhaps another marker of your racism. That you want Jews to disappear as an ethnic and religious group is chilling. Tell me, Robbie, do you also think that people who practise other religions should also not be treated as human beings until they follow your ideas about what is sensible and what isn't?

    Articles on Israel/Palestine have a tendency to expose the creepy bigots.

  8. #8 Carol Jones 01 Jan 14

    I have just watched part 1 of Al Nakba on Al Jazeera TV, and I found it impartial with interviews from both Palestinian and Jewish historians and commentators. I was struck that the whole idea began in 1799 when Europeans thought it would be politically in their interest to have a Jewish buffer zone which was pro-Europe in the Middle East.
    I think Robert Arlan has a good point in that the documentary did not claim that land was stolen, it merely said that land was bought from Palestinians and then the British Government identified land which seemed derelict and gave that to the Jewish to build settlements. Whether it really was derelict I don't know. This was all in the 1920s and 30s, way before 1948. So I think he has a point, can we really point to instances where the land was stolen rather than purchased?

  9. #9 Justpeace 05 Nov 14

    My interest is so piqued, I can't wait to see ’On The Side of the Road’ thank you for exploring this vast area that Israelis are afraid and unwilling to talk about or allow others to talk about it.

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