The Israeli documentary "Checkpoint" does too little to explore its subject of the border crossings that define the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a personal level, but it does spur thought about the psychology on both sides of the country's divide.
By JOSHUA TANZER
This is quite a week to be seeing the documentary "Checkpoint." It's a week when many of the contradictions of Israeli politics are coming to a head, and the checkpoints that separate Jewish and Palestinian territories, where this film was shot, are flashpoints of the conflict.
To recap the news as this film screens in New York, Israel has just assassinated the founder of the Hamas terrorist organization, and throngs of Palestinians have turned out in the streets vowing a bloody revenge. It's impossible to sympathize with the head of an organization that bombs civilians on Israeli streets, and yet the Israeli action is plainly illegal and can only raise tensions to the boiling point. Peace a prospect that has never felt further off depends on a détente that just doesn't exist while hardliners on both sides are carrying out attacks like these.|
In "Checkpoint," we watch the daily routine at the militarized border, and these issues are very much in the air. Palestinians stand waiting sometimes for hours to learn whether they can cross. Frustration is heaped onto indignity, and those who can't tell a convincing enough story to the soldiers are refused entry, no matter how innocent their intentions. The Palestinians almost all of them ordinary and benign think the checkpoints, the searches, the arguments, the capriciousness, the authoritarianism, are destructive and absurd. "Terrorists don't use checkpoints," one of them shouts while waiting in a long line. "You people caused all this trouble," a soldier snaps back at some of the grumpy Palestinians.
And the thing is, both sides are right. The checkpoints are arbitrary, porous, low-tech, authoritarian and maddening. A bomber can undoubtedly think of a dozen ways past them; meanwhile, they only add to the hostility of the law-abiding population. They do seem to be self-defeating.
And yet, Israel reports that its border guards have stopped two youths trying to carry explosives through checkpoints in the past week one 14 and one just 11. So there's no good answer for this issue. What do you say about a policy that inflames millions of innocent people, if it also stops some bombers and saves some lives? On the other hand, what if it doesn't? Plenty of times in "Checkpoint," we see soldiers follow their hunches, stopping swarthy-looking men while giving women and youngsters a pass. Which of them might have been carrying a bomb?
The point is, we don't know. The soldiers don't know. The Israeli cabinet doesn't know. A policy that's protective one time in a million is destructive all the other times. An assassination that makes sense to hardliners on one side only strengthens hardliners on the other side.
"Checkpoint" has inadequacies as a documentary, but it does illustrate some of these issues. Director Yoav Shamir, using basically the one-guy-standing-around-with-a-camera technique, has done too little to find significance in what we see. He just lets us observe what happens as dozens of brief little dramas unfold and are then forgotten. But we still get some sense of the checkpoints as flashpoints, where security begets hostility.
|MARCH 29, 2004|
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