Israeli housewives entrenched in the West Bank city of Hebron are chronicled in “The Settlers.” Happily cleaning their immaculate homes, attending art classes or reciting prayers in holy places, they appear oblivious to the all-Arab world surrounding them. Rare interviews with these surprisingly young women with hair bound in babushkas, and with six or 12 children trailing behind them, form the core of Ruth Walk’s docu. Coupled in its Gotham arthouse kickoff at the Film Forum with another real-life foray into the occupied territories, Ram Loevy’s “Close, Closing, Closure,” pic also is thriving solo on the fest circuit and should enjoy a similarly healthy small-screen run. The women sigh over the beauty of the landscape, marred only, they believe, by the presence of the Arabs. Serene in their faith in Israel’s divine right to the land, they point dispassionately to bullet holes in the walls of their homes. Expressing no fear for the welfare of their children, the women seem to live in a state of denial — a denial which is made possible by the presence of regiments of armed guards.
The settlers have been living in large mobile homes incongruously stacked on top of one another to facilitate archeological digs aimed at proving their biblical claim to the city. As director Walk chronicles their move to a permanent apartment complex, the banal logistics of packing somehow makes their lives in hostile territory seem all the more fanatic.
During Jewish holidays, the 120,000 Arabs in Hebron must stay indoors due to a curfew. As the settlers celebrate, the Palestinians watch silently from their curtained windows.
Wordless passages, well shot by Walk and neatly edited by Yael Perlov, show the women and children going about their regular rounds as clusters of Israeli soldiers camp on their doorsteps and protectively cordon off their every move. Walk’s shots pick up glimpses of ubiquitous Israeli troops roaming the perimeters, giving pic an impossibly absurdist, disturbingly relevant edge.