On July 25th a filmed item headlined “Home movies tell Israel’s story” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East and Arts & Entertainment pages. The clip is from Tom Brook’s ‘Talking Movies’ film news and review programme which is broadcast on BBC World News.
The report relates to a film called ‘Kach Rainu‘ (‘This is how we saw it’) in Hebrew and ‘Israel: A Home Movie’ in English, which was made by Israeli film-makers Arik Bernstein and Eliav Lilti and which is composed exclusively of footage from home movies filmed in Israel between the 1930s and 1970s. As one reviewer of the film wrote:
“A prismatic meditation on an entire nation, Israel: A Home Movie is history as abstraction. Culled from hours of 8mm, 16mm, and Super 8 film from the 1930s to ’70s, the film chronicles the Israel timeline not as objective documentation, but as a living memory, with scenes so fleeting as to emulate the transitory nature in which we witness real-life events and how they’re stored.”
And as another reviewer noted:
” “Israel: A Home Movie” is neither a newsreel or documentary film, but a tapestry of images woven together by a group of master film weavers under Eliav Lilti’s direction. It offers no political message, but instead wishes to convey visually the story of a people and its unique connection with a land.”
Brook and the BBC, however, insist upon categorising the film as a documentary, with Brook saying in his summing up at the end of the report:
“To appreciate this documentary you need to have a good knowledge of Israeli history. Sometimes you can’t fully understand what’s going on because even with the voice-over narration, insufficient context has been given.”
Most of the excerpts from the film which Brook elects to show his own audiences are not accompanied by explanation on his part, with the notable exception of images of an Egyptian plane in Sinai on the opening day of the Yom Kippur war and footage of Palestinian refugees, with Brook saying in the voice-over:
“There are images that have rarely been seen: Palestinian refugees fleeing a small town in 1948 with their possessions, thought to be heading for Jordan.”
“Even more powerful is the section of the film that draws on footage from the early ’60s, juxtaposed with a soundtrack of poet Ronny Someck recounting his introduction as an Iraqi Jewish schoolboy, growing up in Israel, to the Holocaust. A neighbor’s wife commits suicide and when Someck innocently asks what she died of, the widower replies, “She died of Buchenwald.” This cryptic remark sends the kid back to his mother who explains with startling immediacy, triggering a lifelong concern for Someck.”
That particular section of the film can be seen in Hebrew here and footage of the ‘marbarot’ (temporary camps for the new immigrants, including many who had fled Arab lands) in the harsh winter of 1951 can be seen here. It is not unreasonable to assume that images such as those “have rarely been seen” by BBC audiences either – and perhaps even less than they have seen footage of Palestinian refugees.
Despite having been told in the interview with Arik Bernstein that the raw material for the film was gathered from members of the public by means of adverts in the papers, word of mouth and appeals on radio shows, in his final summing up of the film – on the back of his misleading categorization of it as a documentary – Brook opines:
“Also missing are home movies shot by Israeli Arabs…”
Israelis, it seems, will not be allowed to have their own intimate moments of recollection without the BBC demanding that they be more objective about it than any other nation remembering its history. Some might call that double standards.