One rock, three religions – and a single documentary

"The lavishly shot film ambitiously endeavors to summarize the complex layers of political and religious meaning at the Temple Mount."

A view of Temple Mount (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A view of Temple Mount
Los Angeles-based director Isaac Hertz’s 84-minute feature- length documentary One Rock, Three Religions has been released at a “fortuitous” time – just as a wave of would-be shahid (martyr) terrorist attacks crashes over Jerusalem.
In the Holy City, viewed through the lens of Tinseltown, life imitates art imitating life and death.
One Rock, Three Religions had its Israel debut on October 13, when it was presented by producer Valentina Castellani Quinn at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.
The lavishly shot film ambitiously endeavors to summarize the complex layers of political and religious meaning at the Temple Mount.
“My aim was to allow our film to expose the humanity of all parties,” says filmmaker Hertz, whose last film Life is Strange tells the stories of Jewish people displaced during World War II.
“It’s not easy to have all those religions in one movie,” acknowledges the film’s editor and writer, Alain Jakubowicz. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to watch, especially the scenes with the horrifying pictures.”
Hertz and Jakubowicz have included recent graphic and disturbing images of Muslim rioters throwing fireworks and other objects at Israeli riot police from inside the Aksa Mosque, as well historic depictions of victims of Arab-Israeli violence. They carefully include contextual material about the UN’s November 29, 1947, partition vote on Palestine; the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948, during which Jordan seized control of the Western Wall; the 1967 Six Day War, when Israel captured Jerusalem’s Old City, but then Gen. Moshe Dayan symbolically returned control of the Temple Mount to the Islamic Wakf; and the “suicide” attacks in the 2000s.
Footage with Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, and interviews with survivors of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and scenes of the city’s shot-up Hyper Cacher supermarket, illustrate that in Jerusalem politics are both local and international at the same time.
Interspersed throughout the film are striking images of contemporary Jerusalem, a place described as “a city whose streets have remained the same, while the people have not.” Residents are shown living vastly different lives, and as Rabbi Michael Melchior notes, “living seconds from each other and not knowing each other.” Jerusalem’s 300,000 Palestinians have little interaction with its Jewish majority. Their only connection is the divided city they call home, he observes.
All of the above is somehow standard for a film aiming to explain the religious roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most interesting to this reviewer are the clips in One Rock, Three Religions of Jerusalem Arabs calling for Muslims and Jews to share rights on Mount Moriah.
For example, the Islamic narrative of Muhammad’s miraj – the celestial ascent from Mecca to the furthest Mosque and the Seventh Heaven – is recounted, here by Dr.
Maher Mathout. But then the founder of the Muslim Public Affairs Council adds: “I don’t think people should bomb for the sake of a shrine. But we need to protect it. It is part of us.”
Similarly Kanan Maikaya, author of The Rock, says “It’s impossible to divide Jerusalem.
How do you cut a rock? It will be Jewish and Muslim at the same time. Jerusalem belongs to more than one faith. No one faith can claim it. Today Muslims and Jews, and to a lesser extent Christians, compete with one another by denying each other’s rights. The idea that I should be in the business of competing – that it actually is of more importance to me than to you because I was here first or you didn’t yet exist - is stupid and deeply destructive and of course irresolvable.”
Palestinian-American lawyer Lamis J. Deek concurs. “Knowing the geographic context of Palestine, understanding the geographic context of Jerusalem, I am certain that we will have a Jerusalem that is home to all three Abrahamic religions, where all three are able to practice peacefully.
And where all three faiths and people from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds are able to live freely. I am positive of that.
How long is that going to take I don’t know. How many Palestinians will suffer, what that suffering will look like, what the Israelis might face in between where we are now and getting there, I think that is up to us.”
Citing the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsur, founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, concurs. “I think there is no reason not to achieve a historical compromise between the Palestinian nation and the Israelis in this Holy Land. There is no reason. I cannot tolerate any ideology which might push this dream away.”
Fr. David Neuhaus of Jerusalem’s Hebrew-Catholic Vicariate emphasizes that the Haram al-Sharif today is also a site revered by Christians both because Abraham was prepared to offer up his son Isaac there, and because Jesus repeatedly visited the hill when it was the site of King Herod’s Second Temple. “We go there to revere the memory. Without memory, there is no identity. You are nobody if you don’t remember where you came from.”
Memory and identity are also inextricably linked for Dr. Dore Gold. “You have to show a certain respect for the narrative of the other side. That is part of coexistence.
If you deny that history, if you deny that past, you will never reach peace,” adds the former Israeli ambassador to the UN.
Most lucid among all these voices for peace and neighborliness based on universal spiritual values is Rabbi Melchior: “We have two peoples living here, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, nearly equal in size. And we have to work it out here. I believe that not only the Jewish people has a historic and judicial right to be here. But also that this is part of God’s plan. If I believe that this is God’s plan, then I can’t believe that it is an accident of history that there is another people, the Palestinian people, living here. And therefore it doesn’t matter, the whole discussion of whether Zionism is justified.
Or if there is a Palestinian people, or not. It doesn’t matter.
We’re here now. Both of us. And if we believe that God is somehow a part of history, then God wants us to work it out together.”
Now if only Jerusalem’s modern- day sicarii (dagger-carrying assassins) could be persuaded to subscribe to Hollywood’s saccharine version of the Holy City.
One Rock, Three Religions will be screened at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on December 10.