Amos Gitai, veteran observer of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, is back with his documentary “West of the Jordan River,” another in the assortment of films that look for hope but generate pessimism.
Near the end of the film there is a glimmer of what could be as we watch Israelis and Palestinians in the adversarial but friendly competition in a peaceful game of backgammon. It is a brief flash of optimism, but the overview of Gitai’s film offers little hope that the basic conflicts can ever be resolved.
Early in the film we painfully see the opportunity that was lost with footage of Gitai’s interview with Yitzhak Rabin when he was Israel’s Prime Minister and a progressive force in the effort to make peace. Rabin’s idealism shines through, but his subsequent assassination sent peace efforts into a tailspin and the interview can make one nostalgic for what might have been.
The present right-wing government is committed to ever-expanding West Bank settlements that undermine the possibility of Israelis and Palestinians forging an agreement. Gitai, as an effective documentarian, explores many viewpoints in his focus on both sides, which gives us the opportunity to observe the grievances and wounds.
The film makes clear the seemingly irreconcilable differences. Palestinians show hostility toward the occupation of territory they see as rightfully theirs. Gitai also shows the situation from the perspective of the settlers.
As one watches the film, one can provide one’s own perspective on the effect of Israel’s right-wing rule, in addition to bringing to the film the contemporary knowledge of how President Trump has further exacerbated the situation by unilaterally declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel.
Gitai’s film is consistently absorbing, but also depressing in the impression that it leaves of Israeli-Palestinian peace a long-way off, if it can be achieved at all. A Kino Lorber release. Reviewed January 26, 2018.