Conflict Films

Liberal politics in Israeli movies of the 1980s and '90s.


Reprinted with permission of the author from an essay that first appeared in Independent Jewish Film: A Resource Guide (The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival).

Consumed with the war against the Palestinians, the impact of the Holocaust, and the death ethos, the political cinema of the 1980s in Israel presented a radical critique of Zionism and set the stage for an apocalyptic/dystopian cinema in the 1990s.

israeli conflict filmsPopular cinema in modern society functions in a similar way to mythology in prehistoric societies. It exposes conceptual contradictions, on the one hand, and explicates unresolved social dilemmas, on the other. In this respect, the 1980s Israeli cinema foreshadowed the emergence of a new historiography and sociology of the 1990s.

Left-Wing Politics in the Late 1970s

Loss of power to the nationalist right-wing parties in 1977 prompted a new moral and political stance among the left-wing cultural elite, which was totally opposed to the nationalist Likud government’s promotion of Jewish colonization. At the same time the left was disillusioned with the lethargic Labor party and its acquiescence vis-à-vis the colonization and the eviction of the Palestinians from their land.

The new platform of the left consisted of two main components: 1) resisting the occupation by means of every political and legal instrument, including objecting to military service in the occupied territories; 2) adopting the “two states for two peoples” solution and promoting direct negotiation with the PLO.

The Israeli cinema expressed the political mobilization of the cultural elite when, concurrent with the upheaval of the 1977 elections, a new school of films emerged. The political cinema was born protesting “the political reality in Israel and more importantly, foregrounding the question of Israeli identity.” (Gertz: 176) This new cinema articulated a radical critique of Zionism that in its rigor and dissidence exceeded a discourse of protest of the political left.

In the late 1970s, three films foreshadowed the forthcoming political cinema of the 1980s. Hirbeth Hiz’ah (Ram Levy, 1978), dealing with the 1948 roots of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, forecast the production of several “conflict films.”

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Judd Ne'eman is a well-known Israeli filmmaker.

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