Finding our voices on the Middle East conflict

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Documentary filmmakers Cindy Burstein, Tony Heriza and Wendy Univer came to Swat to show their film “Passionate Voices” and lead a discussion about the issues raised. Passionate Voices deals with the discussion about the Palestinian versus Israeli conflict within the American Jewish community. To many, the perception is that American Jews are united in unilateral support for Israel, but the film aimed to show that the argument is multifaceted.

“Passionate Voices” was shot between 2002 and 2004 for WYBE public television in Philadelphia, with a very limited budget and tough deadlines. However, it still offers a very compelling look at the argument over Israel within the American Jewish community. The film opens with a montage of images of violence in the Middle East, as well as pro and anti-Israel protests in the U.S. and abroad. While the images fade in and out, voiceovers play in the background giving many different views on the issue. All throughout the film we are given a balance of Jews who believe that Israel has a right to their land and a duty to commit violence in self defense, and those who believe that peace can only come by ending Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and negotiation. A woman against the occupation summed up her argument by saying that “You can’t build a state on somebody else’s back.” A man in favor of Israel’s actions countered by saying that “Israel is being abandoned and singled out. I have an obligation to do everything I can.” This quote relates to one crucial notion that the film references time and time again; the idea that the future of Israel and the fate of the Jewish people are irrevocably intertwined. Both sides of the argument buy this idea, though they differ on what exactly the ideal Israeli future is and by what means it should be obtained.

While the film clocked in at a mere thirty minutes, it opened many important avenues of discussion. For this reason, the three directors of the film had the viewers break up into groups of three to discuss the issues raised. “The film asks some very hard questions that we all have to struggle with,” said Burstein. She added that the point of breaking up into small groups was to raise the likelihood that everybody would listen to their neighbors instead of simply trying to get their own opinion across.

After a few minutes discussion prompts such as ‘why are you here?’ and ‘why is the issue so hard to discuss,’ the viewers reconvened to report what they had discussed. One issue that many people raised as being a novel idea to them was a quote from the film, which said of Jewish people, “We’ve always thought of ourselves as being victims. Israel has changed that…we are not ready for that as Jews.”

This single quote sparked many channels of discussion and argument among the viewers in LPAC. Issues of propaganda, bias, and the nature of the relationship between Israel and “the Jewish soul” came to the forefront. The issue of bias was particularly interesting as Heriza reminded the crowd that “it’s impossible to make a completely objective, neutral film.” However, the film was objective enough to lead to the calm, constructive discussion that was really the fruit of the filmmakers’ labor.

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