And then came the Oscar nod. The nomination led to an unseemly competition for credit, with both the Israeli and Palestinian media claiming it as their own. But Davidi announced this week that not only did he not want the film to be perceived as representing the State of Israel, but that he was a supporter of BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions), the civil society movement that advocates an economic and cultural boycott of Israel. At that, the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles backed away from the film.
A third documentary portraying the devastating moral and physical repercussions of the occupation has been released in the past 18 months. The Law in These Parts, which was directed by Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, is a series of striking interviews with former judges in Israel's military courts, where Palestinians are tried and convicted at a rate of 99 percent for offenses ranging from suspected association with a militant organization or stone throwing to military action. The retired judges acknowledge that they knew torture had been used to extract confessions from the men and boys they sent to jail. And they readily take credit for policies that provided a legal veneer to the confiscation of privately owned Palestinian land for Jewish settlements. Again, they show no remorse.
This is not the first time Israeli directors have turned out a crop of thematically unified films grappling with controversial aspects of their country's recent history. The trilogy of films about the occupation comes about five years after a trilogy of films about Israel's 1982 invasion and 18-year occupation of Lebanon. Waltz With Bashir, Beaufort, and Lebanon are all powerful films told through the eyes of the men who fought there, all of whom seem to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Waltz and Beaufort were both nominated for Oscars in the foreign film category, though neither won. They are similar in theme to the crop of Hollywood films about the American soldier's experience in the Vietnam War -- films like The Deerhunter and Born on the Fourth of July.
There is little evidence of the sabra hero-warrior in any of these films. Paul Newman is dead in more ways than one. But with one exception, all of them are about the effect of the occupation, or the effect of serving in a misguided war, on Israelis and Israeli society. Only Five Broken Cameras forces the viewer to see the occupation through the eyes of Palestinians -- not masked men carrying Kalashnikovs, but women and children and unarmed men who just want to pick their olives and be left in peace.
For Israelis, this means identifying, at least a little bit, with people they have been conditioned to think of as terrorists and enemies. Maybe that's why the commercial cinemas in Tel Aviv shied away from the film. And perhaps that is why so few liberal Israelis have expressed opposition to the security barrier, even as they continue to advocate, at least in theory, a negotiated two-state solution: It is easier to ignore the people on the other side if you can't see them.