Monday, January 30, 2006

Hidden "Cache:" The Shape of Things to Come?

Playing now in Palestine and Iraq

CACHE Repeat Performace: Now in Your Neighborhood

Sometime in the early 1980's I was watching the film Battle of Algiers in a small movie theatre in Jerusalem. The West Bank and Gaza were relatively peaceful and quiet at that time, and when the movie ended I suggested to my companions that, you know, this could happen here. An uprising a la Algeria. They all thought that I was out of my mind. Since then we've been seeing that movie twice -- in Palestine and Iraq.
I was thinking about the way the "Battle of Algiers" -- which was directed by an Italian communist -- provided us with warnings about our current reality, as I watching over the weekend the French film Cache in a big movie theatre in Bethesda, Maryland. It's directed by Michael Haneke with the magnificent Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche in the central roles(above). It's a thriller and so I won't spoil it for you. The two play a middle-aged, successful literary couple that seem (!) to be terrorized by an Algerian man and his son that hold grudges against the husband (for something he did when he was a child). The movie was produced before the recent riots in Paris and some the scenes take place in those ugly apartment buildings where the Arab immigrants/rioters live. Forget about the political message of the film (that the French people need to feel guilty about their colonial past) and pay more attention to the mood the novie sets, that of fear. It's Europe's fear of the Moslem enemy within, of the barbarians who have broken through the "security fence" protecting the peaceful Parisian neighborhood, and threatening the middle class way-of-life and western civilization. It makes us conclude that the Battle of Algiers is now taking place in Paris, Iraq, Gaza (we watch the couple watching television images from these places). And there is not much that we can do to prevent that clash of civilizations that reflects our troubled history from taking place. The only good news that it's all going to be taped and being shown on television.
And if I were watching Cache in Jerusalem I would consider the following: There is something comforting in the non-romantic nationalist vision that Sharon has projected and that Olmert and his political allies want to implement: A compact Israeli state protected by a security fence, a strong military and a few nuclear bombs that has a clear Jewish majority and is continuing to be supported by the United States and the West. In a way, it’s an “isolationist” vision that assumes that Israel could “disengage” itself from the old Middle East and all those crazy Arabs, including the angry but weak Palestinians that will reside in a congested Gaza and in a few Bantustan-like small and dispersed cantons in the West Bank. According to this least bad scenario, the Jewish Commonwealth will live in security – but not in eternal peace – and focus its energy on building a sophisticated economy that could on day become an associate member of the European Union. The problem is that while the United States could in theory disengage from the Middle East and that the Europeans, notwithstanding their large Arab immigrant population have the luxury of a Turkey and the Mediterranean separating them from the Arabs, Israel is an integral part of the Middle East and is located right smack in the center of the Arab World. Even if the Israelis were to withdraw unilaterally from the West Bank, as they had done in the Gaza Strip, the Jewish state will still have a large minority of close to 25 percent consisting Palestinian-Arab citizens. These Arab citizens make up a majority in the Galilee and areas and who enjoy very high birth rates -- “Ahmed” is now the most popular name for Israeli babies -- and will insist on maintaining their cultural and political autonomy and perhaps even try to attempt to secede from Israel. And will the more than two-million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza just disappear into the Middle Eastern sunset? Against the backdrop of growing economic desperation, political chaos and rising level of crime, the militant Hamas has now gained power, and Israel will be discovering -- like the couple in the movie -- a time bomb ticking and ready to blow up right next to its security fence. Even nuclear bombs wouldn't be able to deter these forces. The deep hatered that is grounded in history, culture, religion is probably very difficult to contain even in this age of globalization and high-tech. In fact, as "Cache" demonstrates this high-tech -- in this case, a DVD player -- is used to re-ignite old conflicts. Like the husband in "Cache," the Israeli-Jews try to live a normal life in which the "Others" can disappear for a while only to return to haunt them again and again. It's a very, very depressing movie and one in which, I fear, we are going to watch for a long time.


Danny said...

Daniel Auteuil, IMO one of the best actors in the world, was born in Algiers, and was presumably ethnically cleansed by Arabs when he was 12 years old. How easy being a liberal at a distance!

About Israeli Arabs - I don't mean to sound complacent, but both sides in the last 60 years have on the whole behaved well - we pretend that they are loyal, and they pretend like they don't hate us. There are signs of increasing radicalization, but there are also other signs - in the coming election, percentage of Arab votes for Jewish parties will probably grow. They aren't doing so out of zionism but out of pragmatism, which is intellectually barren but has held up so far.

(The state of Israeli Arabs is less the result of discrimination - though there is that - than complete absence of mixing - there is no intermarriage for religious and cultural reasons, and both sides come from strong cultures that do not wish to assimilate culturally with each other - any Israeli civic identity would be completely artificial).

There is no danger of secession from Israeli Arabs - Israeli Arabs have a lower standard of living than Israeli Jews, but far higher than that of Palestinians. This means tht separation from Israel would be disastrous for them economically (for the very same reason, paleocon talk about irredentist Hispanics in SW USA is nonsensical). It's more like the other way around - if it were up to us, and could be accomplished by a magic wand, we would have liked to include in a Palestinian state the Triangle and Wadi Ara - Avigdor Lieberman's party advocates this, the idea being that "in exchange" Israel will get to keep some of the larger settlements. Unfortunately I don't see how this plan could get of the ground, and in any case would be a nasty thing to do to those Arabs, generally good people.

Anyway, you're right, the future does look grim, and borders offer only limited protection. But if, like Auteuil, I get to have a child with Emanuelle Beart, I'll ditch Israel in an instance.

Global Paradigms said...

Dear Danny:
Thanks for you comments which are the reason I have this blog. I enjoy very much the process of intellectual exchange. Now... I totally agree with you. My "film review" was more of attempt to provide you a sense of what I felt after watching the movie. I would approach very different the issues you mentioned, including the status of the Israeli-Arabs, if I had to write an analytical policy paper. Indeed, it's true that the Arabs in Israel are well-integrated in many ways into Israeli society and, in fact, are more "Israeli" on some level than some of the Russian immigrants... There was strong opposition to the idea of "joining" the Palestinian state from Israeli-Arabs in Um el-Fahem and other villages and town in the "triangle." And, hey, my guess is that many, many Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank would have immigrated to Israel, if they could. But the point is that we -- by "we" I refer to people like us (I assume that like me you are a Modern Man who believes in science, progress, etc) -- tend to play down those "atavistic" forces like nationalis, ethnicity, religion, etc. I don't see any contradiction between the fact that many Israeli Arabs are going to have PhD in engineering and medicine and would still be inclined to join a fundamentalist Islamic group. Moreover, there has been some demands among Israeli-Arabs for "cultural auntonomy" which is the first step towards secession, or for that matter, the creation of a bi-national state. So like you I hope for the best. But based on what's happening around us, I'm a little depressed (and as noted in my post, I didn't buy the "anti-colonial" message of the movie. Regards, Leon

Gothamimage said...

Your pointing out the power of nationalism and atavism stands in distiction to the conventional wisdom that rising properity and education will bring people to a shared understanding, based on reason and progress. We'll see. It does seem that Bush is wrong that countries with elected leadership do not fight each other. But that may not be something he really believes. It just may be a talking point.