Veteran Israeli documaker Avi Mograbi draws a potent parallel between the stories of Samson and Masada, and the anger of Palestinians humiliated by the Israeli army in “Avenge But One of My Two Eyes.” The idea sounds academic, but there is nothing abstract in the way the filmmaker displays the Israeli soldiers’ arrogance and arbitrariness toward civilians. Though it has no solutions to propose, the film boasts several eye-opening scenes that should earn it a prominent place among the more reflective films on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly among festivals and pubcasters.
The film is constructed around a phone call between Mograbi and a Palestinian friend. The friend insists that the army’s intrusion into his daily life has become so overbearing and inescapable that life is barely worth living. He contends this feeling of being pushed to the wall with no way out is what makes the suicide bombers multiply.
In conjunction with this, school kids and old women are shown waiting for hours to cross isolated checkpoints. Farmers, who are prevented from ploughing their fields for no apparent reason, also are shown, and a businessman transporting goods and a woman being taken to the hospital in an ambulance are filmed being turned back by menacing tanks and disembodied voices from sinister control towers.
Though furious, the Palestinians appear intimidated by the soldiers’ bullying. The only ones who protest, and loudly, are liberal Israeli observers on the scene and the filmmaker himself, who becomes incensed at the sight of Palestinian children waiting helplessly for a metal gate to be opened.
Intercut throughout the film are shots of young American tourists visiting Masada, the historic site where, in 72 C.E., 960 Jews killed themselves rather than become slaves to the Roman conquerors. Coached by their zealous Israeli guides, the tourists relive the moments of this collective suicide. The guides’ intention is clearly to stoke the fires of patriotism toward the state of Israel, but the film makes a very different connection to the humiliation of the Palestinians under the Israeli yoke.
Same thing for the story of Samson who, blinded and humiliated by the Philistines, brought the temple crashing down on the heads of his tormentors. It’s fascinating to eavesdrop on a lesson with very young pupils, who already know the story and its meanings by heart. Here again, Mograbi’s montage skillfully questions their nationalist reading of the tale, turning it completely on its head.
Docu’s one real shocker is a small concert given by an aging right-wing rocker named Kahana, who sings about Samson to foment a crowd of enthusiastic religious extremists. To the blind Samson’s verse “Avenge but one of my two eyes” he chillingly adds, “…on Palestine. Revenge, revenge, revenge.”
Philippe Bellaiche’s handheld DV camerawork is unpretentious, often giving the impression of stolen footage captured at the risk of having the camera snatched out of his hands. Film’s real strength lies in its lack of superfluous commentary, letting the strong images speak for themselves.