Arab-Israeli conflict. Three words that are charged with so much emotion and meaning. Everyone has an opinion (a staunch one at that), everyone has taken a side, and everyone thinks they’re correct.
Will there ever be a solution that completely satisfies both sides? It’s doubtful. But filmmaker Ziad Doueiri certainly is able to present both sides, with equal parts criticism and empathy, through the eyes of Amin Jafaari in The Attack.
The Attack, directed and co-written by Lebanese-born Doueiri, follows Amin Jafaari, an award-winning Arab-Israeli surgeon living in Tel Aviv. Amin and his wife, Siham, are completely integrated into Israeli society; Amin is a surgeon at a highly regarded medical center in Tel Aviv, working amiably alongside Israeli doctors and nurses. The recipient of a prestigious award, Amin is fully embraced by the Israeli medical community. But when disaster strikes, Amin must face the difficult task of coming to terms with the truth: his wife, Siham, is responsible for a suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv restaurant, which leaves 17 dead, 11 of them children celebrating at a birthday party.
Coming from a secular Palestinian background, Amin is shocked and outraged that Siham is accused of being responsible for the attack. Because she wouldn’t do that. Kill people? Kill children? Or so he believes.
After being handcuffed, interrogated and eventually freed, Amin returns home to find a letter from his wife, pre-dating the suicide bombing and postmarked from the Palestinian city of Nablus. In the letter, Siham reveals her intent, propelling Amin to journey to the West Bank to find out who “brainwashed” his beautiful wife.
Once there, he desperately tries to find out why and how Siham came to the decision to blow herself up, but finds himself rebuffed time and time again by different individuals. He is told to go home, that he isn’t wanted in the West Bank. Walking around Nablus, Amin sees the reality that is life in the Palestinian territories. Palestinians live very differently than Israelis, heavily monitored and treated with suspicion. Amin sees posters of Siham, portrayed as a martyr, displayed everywhere on the walls of the city. He tears down every poster he comes across. When he finally meets with a religious figure who is willing to talk to him, Amin doesn’t get the answers he is looking for. The man had never met Siham; he never spoke with her. What he does tell Amin is that although he lives amongst Jews and goes to their “fancy parties,” Amin doesn’t really belong. Amin finally learns the truth about the moments leading up to Siham’s death from his nephew, who is also involved in the bombing, and then leaves Nablus.
After returning to Tel Aviv, Amin meets with Kim, a supportive Israeli friend from the medical center at which Amin works. After asking him a couple of questions about his trip, to which Amin gives noncommittal responses, Kim verbalizes what the audience has witnessed: that Amin’s perspective has changed, distancing him from the Israeli community.
At the end of the movie, Amin is left in no man’s land. He isn’t wanted in the Palestinian territories, but he has alienated himself from his Jewish friends in Tel Aviv. Everything Amin thought he knew about his life turned out not to be true. What will happen to Amin? We don’t know.
The Attack straddles the thin line of being non-partial. The film doesn’t want the audience to feel one way or another, showing the negative aspects of both sides of the conflict. We follow Amin on his journey, witnessing what he experiences. It is only at the end of the film that we separate from Amin, at a time where he distances himself not only from his friends, but from us, the audience, as well. We feel an urge to judge Amin. The audience’s disbelief is given a voice through Kim, who questions his decision not to relate the information and evidence he has obtained to the police. In one of the best lines of the movie, she effectively says, “The next time you have someone on your operating table, think about who you are trying to save.” She reminds Amin that he has succeeded because he has been given the opportunity. He has been accepted into Israeli society. Who is he now protecting? Amin has consciously decided not to take action. This decision reflects the inner conflict in his mind.
Which is more important: righting a moral wrongdoing or protecting family? Amin has made his choice, and now he deals with the aftermath of his own actions.
Doueiri’s film tackles a subject matter that hasn’t been addressed. Instead of following the story of the suicide bomber, or the lives of the victims, Doueiri chooses to give voice to another type of victim. Amin is a secular Arab-Israeli who didn’t ask for this unexpected turn of events. Yet he is forced to deal with the aftermath. Although Siham thinks she has made a decision for her own life, her actions hold life-changing consequences for her husband’s life as well.
The Attack is a controversial film, not only because of the subject matter, but because of the message it sends to the world, or, rather, the lack of message; the film refuses to take either a pro-Arab or pro-Israeli stance.
Because Doueiri filmed in Israel, violating the Lebanese boycott on Israel, the film has been banned in the Arab world. Nevertheless, Doueiri said in an interview with The Washington Post, “The film probably would have been released if I had demonized Israelis.” But that wasn’t Doueiri’s objective. The film is not a political statement or a documentary; it is a piece of art.
Since its premiere, The Attack has received glowing reviews from movie critics. The defining moment was the film’s premiere at Jerusalem’s Cinematheque theater. As the film deals with issues Israelis face daily, it could have gone either way, yet there was an overwhelmingly positive response.
With so much hateful noise on both sides of the conflict, The Attack enables us to drop our emotional baggage and, for once, listen. If only the Arab–Israeli conflict could be approached in a calm matter, with both views presented without chaos, perhaps we would be much closer to a resolution.