Sundance documentary looks at Israelis in West Bank
Shimon Dotan, an Israeli documentary filmmaker who lives in New York City, sees there being two sorts of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the subject of his Sundance Film Festival entry "The Settlers."
Some are in the West Bank for religious or ideological reasons. Others, encouraged by Israeli policies, are there to take advantage of socioeconomic conditions. The settlers are not a homogenous group of Israelis and not all of them are in the West Bank to reclaim land promised during biblical times, as might have been the case before, he said.
But it is those in the West Bank for religious reasons who are seen as having a primary role in the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Dotan said. They are there "under the belief that the redemption of the people of Israel is conditioned on the redemption of the land of Israel. And they are actually driving the politics and the ideology that surrounds settlers."
Dotan is a professor at New York University who primarily teaches political cinema. The documentary focuses on the lives of the Israeli settlers. He said the daily life of a settler is similar to that of any other Israeli. The settlements are city-like places in the densely packed West Bank. Dotan said the documentary attempts to present the logic of the settlers.
"The reality is that if you look at the political resolution by evacuating some of the settlements, or most of them, or I don’t know what that decision would be, the actual issue is to deal with these hardcore settlers," he said. "There is a belief that for most of the others, as long as their quality of life, or their housing, would be preserved, you can theoretically move them to another place."
Dotan in the interview traced nearly 50 years of the conflict, starting with the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel captured the occupied territories in the war and has retained them since. The settlements began as something "almost naïve without much thinking about the possible consequences," he said.
"Already in September 1967, the first settlement took place. And when it was initiated by people for religion and other religious reasons, the government which was at the time and was for many years later secular in character, did not really pay attention or was not aware to the possible consequences of starting a settlement movement in the West Bank," Dotan said.
Over the years there has been an imbalance in the population of the West Bank, Dotan described, saying the Palestinians greatly outnumber the Israelis. But it is the Israelis who rule the West Bank, he said. The settlers, meanwhile, exert pressure on the Israeli government, preventing the negotiation of a peaceful resolution, he said.
"When you have two populations living in the same territory, when one is discriminated by the other based on its ethnicity, and the discrepancy is enormous in every possible level," he said in describing the situation. "One has the right to elect its government. One is ruled by military decree. One enjoys economic prosperity, and the other does not. One has the freedom of movement, the other does not."
He argues for an Israeli withdrawal of the settlers over a long period of time with the Jewish state meeting benchmarks. He acknowledged that some claim Israel’s security would be threatened, but he said a mechanism can be found to maintain security and enable a withdrawal. That could ultimately lead to a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel, the so-called two-state solution, he said.
Dotan said a resolution depends on the United States taking an aggressive role in the situation. He sees the settlements as a threat to Israel, prompting him to make the documentary.
"The threat is not military. The threat is that Israel may disintegrate from within because it . . . imposes a type of government which a good part of Israelis, I would like to think the majority, would not accept. And yet it’s taking place," Dotan said.
Screenings for The Settlers are: Jan. 22 at 3 p.m. in the Yarrow Hotel Theatre, Jan. 23 at 1 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 2, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. at the Salt Lake City Library Theatre, Jan. 27 at 9 a.m. at the Temple Theatre and Jan. 29 at 12:15 p.m. at Holiday Village Cinema 2.
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