‘Battle for Jerusalem’ to be made into feature film

Movie rights sold for book by former ‘Post’ staffer on 1967 War; screenplay to be written by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker.

By
May 11, 2011 02:20
Rabinovich with paratroopers during Six Day War.

rabinovich and paratroopers six day war. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Will Tom Cruise don an eye patch, shave his head and portray Moshe Dayan?

Forty-four years since the lightning battle for Jerusalem took place in 1967, there’s a chance that a feature film on the momentous days that changed the country forever will finally be made.

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American producers Joseph Schick and Jacob Septimus recently bought the film rights to The Battle for Jerusalem June 5-7, 1967, the authoritative book on the subject by former Jerusalem Post staffer Abraham Rabinovich – and they’ve retained Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Lior Geller to write the screenplay for the story Schick calls a “tremendous drama.”

The book, which was originally published in 1972 (and revised in 1987 for a 20th anniversary edition), vividly reconstructs, via intensive interviews with over 300 participants, the events of the fateful days which led to Israel’s spectacular victory and the reunification of Jerusalem.

“I’m a Six Day War buff, and have read almost every book in English on the subject. And I was uniquely struck by Abe’s book and the unbelievable stories that he uncovered as a reporter in Jerusalem during the war,” said Schick last week, while on a research visit to the capital from New York.

Rabinovich, then a young reporter for an American newspaper – and aware that trouble was brewing in the Middle East – took a two-week vacation, and flew to Israel five days before the outbreak of the war. The combination of his youthful enthusiasm and lack of knowledge of the area, and the imminent danger, enabled him to serendipitously witness scenes and meet people that a seasoned reporter may have avoided, resulting in one of the best eyewitness accounts of the epic battle that changed the complexion of the region.

For Schick, a practicing attorney, the reading and rereading of the book kept conjuring up ideas and themes for a movie.

“I’ve always wanted to make two movies – one about the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, and one about Jerusalem in May and June of 1967. I always envisioned it as a period piece, that conveyed the experience of being in Jerusalem in May and June of 1967,” he said.

While the baseball movie may have to wait, Schick’s reconnection after a 13-year lapse with an old Columbia Law School colleague, Jacob Septimus, set the wheels of the war movie into motion.

The producer and director of several films, TV shows and commercials – including ABC specials on magician David Blaine and the feature length documentary B.I.K.E. – Septimus bought into the idea last year after meeting with Schick. The two partners then approached Rabinovich about acquiring the film rights to the book.

“I sent Abe an e-mail, and then last summer came to Jerusalem and we met. After a short period of negotiations, we made a deal,” said Schick. “Abe gave some suggestions and offered his unique perspective, which is very helpful. This week, we drove around together to many of the locations in the battle – by the Rockefeller Museum, the Musrara neighborhood, Shmuel Hanavi – and he recounted some of the stories in the book.”

Rabinovich said on Monday that he hadn’t provided the producers with any restrictions on how they package the movie or the script, but raised some doubt as to the feasibility of making an ‘objective’ film about the Six Day War.

“It seems problematic to me. How can you make a movie like this without it seeming to be a propaganda piece?” said Rabinovich. “If it can be done, then it would be a contribution to the world, as it was an historic turning point. I wish them well, but I have nothing to do with the script.”

That task falls to Geller, a Tel Aviv University graduate, whose short film Roads won 24 international awards, and earned Geller an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Student Film of 2008. After directing various television projects, earning a German Academy Award and Emmy nomination, Geller wrote the screenplay for Alone in Damascus, an upcoming feature film about Israeli spy Eli Cohen.

“To the extent that telling the Israeli side of the story of 1967 is taking a political stand, then that’s something we’re doing and we’re not going to apologize for,” said Schick, adding that avoiding the implications of the Israeli victory was going to be tricky, but not insurmountable.

“It’s acknowledged that the events of 1967 are the center of the entire political controversy in Israel today. We envision our movie ending in June or July, and we’ll leave to the audience to interpret what they saw and its implications for the next 44 years. We’re not demanding that our audience accept any political position – but at the same time, we’re not afraid to tell Israel’s side of the story,” he added.

Synthesizing and whittling Rabinovich’s vast tome into a concise action movie will require careful and incisive decisions and direction, and Schick said that all energies are now going into creating the best possible script. Decisions about whether to hawk the script to a major US studio or go the “indie” route will only be discussed at a later point.

“Our focus now is on making sure the story is great,” said Schick. “Our feeling is that if you don’t have a great script, you don’t have a great movie. It’s like the blueprint for a building. If it doesn’t work, the building will fall.

“We think that Lior is the right person for the job,” he added. “One thing we all agree on is that we can’t tell the whole story. We’re not trying to make the definitive movie about the Six Day War. We want to tell a story. Until now, there hasn’t been a film that’s told the story of Jerusalem in May and June of 1967.”

Another goal shared by the production team is to create a movie that will have mass appeal, not just to supporters of Israel or people interested in the region.

“We want someone in Tulsa, Oklahoma to go see the movie because it’s a great story,” said Schick. “In 1967, this was on the cover of every magazine and newspaper, and names like Rabin and Dayan were household names in Middle America. Even if the political implications have changed since then, the basic story hasn’t – the unbelievable experience of the time and the people involved. We’ve been meeting people this week who were part of the events and it’s just fascinating. Our aim is to tell a great story.”

With the riveting battle for Jerusalem, and Rabinovich’s book on the subject as their source material, they certainly are off to a good start.


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