The Middle East for dummies

Isidore Rosmarin's documentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict attempts to give a general audience an unbiased glimpse into the conflict here.

blood and tears film 88  (photo credit: From the film 'Blood and Tears')
blood and tears film 88
(photo credit: From the film 'Blood and Tears')
Isidore Rosmarin is a brave, or foolhardy, documentary filmmaker. In Blood and Tears: The Arab-Israeli Conflict, he has attempted to encapsulate the hostile history of the region, without fear or favor, all within 73 minutes. Surprisingly, Rosmarin, a veteran of 60 Minutes and Dateline, has come as close to objectivity as seems possible amidst the swirling passions. He starts out on the assumption that his general audience has little factual knowledge about the Middle East and that partisans on either side are largely ignorant about how their adversaries feel and think. Thus, like a good teacher, he stops the narration at intervals to flash signboards with pithy explanations of key terms: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zionism, Hamas, Fatah. That technique may be a bit of a drag for the "expert," but helpful to the millions with firm opinions based more on prejudice than knowledge. Through interviews, file footage, graphics and animation, the film manages to squeeze in an astonishing amount of information and an impressive array of talking heads, spanning the spectrum of ideologies on both sides. To add flavor and body, regular folk in the Arab village street or Jewish town have their say, often to convey their grievous sense of loss and pain at the killing of sons and daughters. Israeli politicians such as Binyamin Netanyahu on the Right and Yossi Beilin on the Left weigh in, as do Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat and Hamas co-founder Abdul Aziz al-Rantisi, interviewed in the film before he was killed by a missile from an Israeli Apache helicopter in 2004. Lending a scholarly, though not unbiased, view are Bernard Lewis of Princeton, Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, and Akbar Ahmed of the American University. But more interesting than the largely predictable pronouncements by politicians and professors is the genuine soul-wrestling by such men as American-born Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, who served as a soldier in the Gaza Strip. On the one hand, "There was the shame of policing other people," ponders Halevi, offset "by the realization that [the Arabs] wanted to turn us into refugees." His counterpart on the Palestinian side is a young physician, who rejects the argument that the land is too small for two different people by quoting an Arab proverb, "A small house is large enough to accommodate a hundred friends, but too small to hold two enemies." Pessimistic Prof. Lewis puts little faith in proverbs, explaining that a basic tenet of Islam is that any land once under Muslim rule can never be given up, but must be taken back from the infidel. For his part, filmmaker Rosmarin holds out little hope that peace will come through the exertions of politicians or pressure from outside powers. Peace will only come "from the ground up," he believes, when the two wounded people decide that an imperfect compromise is better than endless killing.