Title: TEARS OF GAZA
Director: Vibeke Løkkeberg
Screenwriter: Vibeke Løkkerberg
Cast: Amira, Razmia, Yahya, and the people of Gaza
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 8/14/12
Opens: September 19, 2012
Granted: a documentarian has no obligation to be unbiased, to present both sides of an issue—as fans of Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock and cheer. However, Norwegians Vibeke Løkkeberg, who wrote the script for “Tears of Gaza” and Terje Kristiansen who produced it, make no attempt whatever to show what provoked a series of attacks by Israelis against an area that is so woebegone that even Egypt had written off its former possession after Egypt’s conquest in the 1967 war.
Let’s fill in, then, by presenting the Israeli side of the fighting between Gazans and Israelis beginning in November 2008. Hamas had regularly lobbed missiles into Israel, some hitting the towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon. This led to an invasion by Israel, which maintains that Hamas, labeled by the U.S. a terrorist group albeit one democratically elected by the people of Gaza to represent them, used civilians, especially children as human shields. Further, Hamas strategy included calling on Palestinian civilians to gather near buildings where they believed the Israeli armed forced would soon launch air-strikes against Hamas targets. In some cases a crowd of civilians would gather on the roof of a building to stop an air strike, knowing that Israelis may be responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage but would not proactively go after non-fighters. Israelis claim further that police and paramilitary men would often shed their uniforms and, if killed, were exhibited as examples of Israeli brutality in a war against “civilians.” Even the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp, testified at UN Human Rights Council 12th Special Session, that “Israel encountered an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.”
Despite its flagrant biases, Løkkeberg—having been denied permission to enter Gaza for filming but who depended on Palestinian cinematographers Yosuf Abu Shreah, Mwafaq al Khateeb and Saed al Sabaa—has been able to fashion the raw footage of those who looked at the strife from the points of view of three children into an intriguing work. Without much doubt, some Israeli soldiers may have gone too far in firing upon non-combatants. This happens in war. While both sides may be condemned—Hamas for regularly shelling Israel for…who knows? Its members will never break the spirit of the Jewish state—and Israel for retaliating with more energy than situations have called for.
The articulate children, particularly, Amira, Razmia Yahya, tell stories of woe, of family members shot dead, in one case telling of a father who answered a knock on the door only to be shot and then cut to pieces. In a few cases the children blamed the “yehudas,” or Jews, but the English subtitles translated this into “Israelis,” perhaps in an attempt to conceal the general anti-Semitism of the Gazans and to focus their hatred on a particular country. Against a background of original music by Marcello De Francisci and Lisa Gerrard, the documentary proceeds in a certain rhythm: first the bombings including the awful phosphorus bombs that are akin to the napalm used by the U.S. in Vietnam; then the horrendous results on the land and some bodies are burned beyond recognition and buildings collapse, including a mosque said to be a repository of weapons. As one critic at the Toronto Festival notes, similar actions against civilians have informed Dresden, Tokyo, Baghdad and Sarajevo.
The footage shows us close-up just how a war affects unarmed civilians, mostly the kids. In the most graphic shot, some children under the age of six have apparently died from bullet wounds in the chest and head, the commentator holding that these kids were shot at close range, some even while running away. With a crippled infrastructure, many are deprived of water and are always thirsty. Commercial goods are hard to come by and are prohibitively expensive. Medicine is way out of the budgetary limits of most. One child sums up: “Even if they give us the world, we will not forget.” With these memories intact, what hope can there be of good will even should an effective peace be hammered out?
The film won awards at quite a number of festivals and played even at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2011. In Arabic with English subtitles.
Unrated. 82 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+