Documentary Film Traces Historical Roots of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Posted March 5, 2014

MP3 Interview with Alice Rothchild, author and filmmaker, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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Alice Rothchild is an obstetrician from the Boston area who was raised in a Jewish household. Growing up, she was a Zionist who supported the state of Israel. When she traveled to Israel with her family, she remembers never having seen the Palestinians who lived there. In 1997, Rothchild began trying to understand the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and has since organized many delegations to the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, with a strong contingent of medical professionals.

In 2007, she published a book titled, “Broken Promises, Broken Dreams,” which examines the roots of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. In her 2013 documentary film, called “Voices Across the Divide,” she features interviews with Palestinians about the conflict, some of whom recount their personal memories of the turbulent time in history, when during the birth of Israel in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their land and homes.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Rothchild after a screening of her film at the Yale University Law School in late February. Here she describes the many different divides in the region, and her understanding of the Palestinian-organized Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

ALICE ROTHCHILD: The way I came to making this film started with writing a book, which actually had Jewish Israeli voices and Palestinian voices. And when I was book touring, Palestinians in the audience wherever I was speaking would interrupt me to tell me their stories. So I became aware that there was this huge wealth of family stories out there that I did not know, and there was a whole history that I didn't know. So I came to making this film as an attempt to add to the historical record and to bring to the fore the history that we don't hear. And since the Jewish version of history, the Zionist version of history, the Israeli-Jewish version of history is the predominant one, it seemed to me that it was very appropriate for me to search out Palestinian voices and hear what happened to them from their point of view.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Just explain the divide as you understand it. I was surprised that your film is the voices of only Palestinians, not including Israelis as is so often the case. I thought that was the divide you were referring to. So, what is the divide your title refers to?

ALICE ROTHCHILD: I don't think there's only one divide. As I was growing up there was this unbridgeable gap between the Jews and the "Arab terrorists," basically,and so that was one big divide. And then I began to learn about the divisions in our understanding of history, and justice, and humanity, so that's another divide. And the more I look at this conflict, the more divides I see. So the name "Voices Across the Divide" was referring to me as a Jewish woman going across whatever divides there are that separate me from my Palestinian cousins and try to figure out what their lives are about.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, we're in a situation now where the relatively new U.S. Secretary of State has really made achieving peace in the Middle East priority number one, maybe along with climate change. The idea of a two-state solution – do you think that's still even possible.

ALICE ROTHCHILD: Well, I think the idea of a two-state solution, which came out of the Oslo Accords (in YEAR) may possibly have been possible at that point, although there's a lot of questions about what kind of states they would be. When I'm in the region now and I see the massive settlement growth, the bypass roads that only people with Israeli license plates can go on, the fact that the Jordan Valley is now a military zone and Palestinians are not allowed to live there except around Jericho, when I look at what some people call the Bantustanization or the cantonization of the West Bank, I don't see a viable state, and then if you look at the separation wall, 85 percent of it is in the West Bank, it's very hard for me to imagine what kind of state they're thinking about. So I'm sure there are many people who are for the two-state solution, but they don't ask what kind of state. And Palestinians don't have a state that is contiguous with itself, that doesn't have borders with other countries, they don't have some control over their water and their air – all the things a state needs to have – it's not going to be viable. So, at this point in history I think the behavior of the Israeli government has removed the possibility of a two-state solution. And in fact if you look at (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu's cohorts and his party, they're not in favor of a two-state solution, and there are plenty of people in his camp who believe in a greater Israel and I think that's what they've created. So for me as a Jewish activist, I see the struggles ahead more as a struggle against apartheid rather than a struggle for a two-state solution. And I see the struggle has to do with human rights for all in the region, and not the privileging of Jewish rights over Palestinian rights.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Another thing that I think is one of the hot issues in the region is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, which is a Palestinian civil society movement that started in 2005 and, as you said in your talk tonight, is picking up steam. Talk about your view of the BDS campaign, and especially the academic and cultural boycott, because I think there's really a lot of misunderstanding about what it is.

ALICE ROTHCHILD: First of all, I see Palestinian civil society engaged in a liberation struggle. And I feel that this is a nonviolent struggle and that we, as fellow activists who are interested in human rights, need to respect the call. It is clear to me that the academic and cultural boycotts are the most complicated; they involve issues of freedom of speech and hearing the other and all those kind of things. And it is clear to me also that there will be problems with people having their voices heard if there is a real cultural and academic boycott. On the other hand, it's not that you can't invite an Israeli professor to your university in the U.S. – that is completely allowed. What's not allowed is to set up, for instance, like the joint program between Cornell and the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology), where the institutions on an institutional level are having a joint program. And the reason for that is to call attention to the fact that so many Israeli universities either have huge military contracts, are involved in developing security apparatus, have campuses on the West Bank, have campuses on destroyed Palestinian villages – it's calling attention to the complicity of universities in the occupation. The other thing the academic boycott is calling attention to is the fact that Palestinian universities are under occupation; their professors can't get permits; American professors can't get permits to go work in a Palestinian university. There's a huge amount of repression and lack of being heard going in on Palestinian academic settings that we're completely oblivious to. I think it's really something we need to take seriously.

For more information about the film visit voicesacrossthedivide.com, where you can access video interviews and transcripts; a list of resources; a timeline of the conflict through Palestinian eyes and a study guide for university students. For more information about Alice Rothchild and her documentary, “Voices Across the Divide,” visit her website at alicerothchild.com.

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