Beyond the Walls

Welcome to the site for an undergraduate course entitled “Beyond the Walls: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Through Film.” My aim is to provide my own students a place where they can access lectures, find links to relevant readings and screenings, and read and take part in discussion threads that have to do with the history, politics, and socio-economics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of the cultures of the various groups involved — ethnic, religious, gendered, etc. — as reflected in movies. But I’m hoping that others who are interested in the subject matter — or who are perhaps considering teaching a course of this sort — might also find the site a worthwhile resource and, perhaps, even participate themselves.

In the course, we’ll be screening primarily 21st-century feature films, as well as a few documentaries, virtually all of them directed by Israelis and/or Palestinians (that and/or should signal something in advance about the complexity of identity in the region). Not only have I selected films that concertedly reflect multiple points of view, ideologically speaking; the films also reflect a range of genres — everything from the nationalist-hero epic, gangster narrative, and epistolary narrative, to drama, comedy, satire, and even animation.

Israel-06876 - Dome of the Rock & Western Wall

Photo by Dennis Jarvis

The films will also be arranged on the basis of a loose chronological structure, such that they will additionally provide some sense of how we get from the Ottoman Empire; to the founding of Israel; through the several wars that redefined borderlines; and on to attempted peace treaties, settlements, uprisings, and the recent building of the infamous concrete wall.

As for why film would aid us in this regard, that is a relatively easy question to answer: narrative films put a human face on the issue — on any issue, really. The abstraction of history, religion, politics, et cetera, becomes animated and reflected through people — people with whom directors typically want spectators to achieve some kind of identification, whether this be through empathy, understanding, or even misunderstanding or shared frustration.

Instead of retreating from  the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of its being “too complicated” or “too incendiary,” let us face it head on.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom (in alphabetical order)


The Conflict: A Brief, Historical Overview

If you’re interested in learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and admittedly (or not) know little about it, here are a few video resources freely available via YouTube that offer reasonably unbiased attempts to explain it from the historical perspective. It’s a perspective that too often gets lost in current discussions in the mainstream media.

Since no source is completely unbiased, I’m providing two short docs here. They’re no less interesting as a route to swiftly discerning some of the key terms, events, and themes apropos the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (e.g., Zionism, Balfour Declaration, Six-Day War, West Bank, Intifada, settlements, checkpoints, security, peace).



How Many Sides to a Story?

When it comes to how the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perceived and told, so much depends on who or which “side” is telling the story. Take a look at this subjective timeline, produced by Rachel Segal for The Perspective, which outlines the modern history of the region from both an Israeli and Palestinian perspective.

While there are hardly only two ways of envisioning or recounting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — and we’ll be seeing that time and again in the movies we screen — Segal’s timeline provides a helpful introduction to the complexity of history-telling writ large.

By the way, The Perspective is a website whose tag line just happens to be “There are at least two sides to every story.”