Documentary film “Disturbing the Peace” looks into the unlikely solidarity between two different groups of people jointly pursuing the idea of peace in their violent world which has been torn by conflict for many years. As frequently going back and forth between these two groups’ seemingly opposing narratives, the documentary engages and then touches us via their emerging story of empathy and hope, and it eventually makes us have some optimism even while clearly recognizing how the situation has constantly been desperate and hopeless in their world.
The documentary opens with the depiction of one meeting held in the West Bank region of Palestine in 2005. A group of Israeli soldiers who had openly shown their opposition against the oppressive policy of their government on Palestine were invited to meet a number of Palestinian fighters who came to have a different idea on how they should resist against the Israeli government, and, as a number of interviewees in the documentary recollect, the mood was pretty tense from the beginning. The Israeli group had to take a considerable risk as going into an area which is surely not safe for Israelis, and the Palestinian group did not have much faith in whether this private meeting worked out well for both sides.
The uncertainty and anxiety between them are originated from the violent past of their world, and the early part of the documentary gives us the succinct background information mixed with personal stories from both sides. An Israeli interviewee tells us how his family came to have a strong Zionist viewpoint since their grandfather immigrated to Palestine around the 1930s, and we get some glimpse into those turbulent early years of Israel, which had to defend itself from surrounding Arab countries not long after its establishment in 1948. An Palestinian interviewee describes to us how his family and many other Palestinians came to lose their home and then were forced to live in a refugee camp which eventually became their new settlement, and several archival footage clips show us how things were quite bad for Palestinians during that period.
As many of you know, the resulting conflict between Israel and Palestine has only gotten worse during next several decades. While numerous terror attacks have happened in Israel, Palestine has frequently been struck by retaliation attacks, and this virulent cycle of violence is still going on even at this point as neither side is willing to step back.
Both Israeli and Palestinian interviewees in the documentary frankly reveal to us how much they all were motivated by ‘It’s-us-or-them’ mentality. The Israeli guys had no doubt on defending their country from Palestinians as much as they could, and Palestinian guys strongly believed that they had to fight against Israeli oppressors by any means necessary.
They also tell us about how they came to see things differently. In case of a Palestinian woman who was incarcerated in jail for 6 years due to her attempted suicide bombing, she reminisces when she tried to say a goodbye to her young daughter before her bombing attempt, and she later tells us how a small but significant exchange between her and a female prison guard changed her view on Israelis. In case of one Israeli guy, he remembers when he casually blocked a desperate Palestinian father and his sick children at a checkpoint, and he tells us how much he felt ashamed later as a family man.
When he and several other Israeli soldiers who have the same view on the conflict decided to express their political opinion in public, they received a considerable amount of criticism from many Israeli right-wing figures, but they also drew the attention of their Palestinian counterpart, and that was how the first meeting was held between these two groups. Both sides felt pretty awkward to say the least, but they soon found many common things between them as they began to talk with each other, and that led to the foundation of ‘Combatants for Peace’.
Of course, their organization is not so welcomed by many people on both sides. At one point, there is a heated conversation between one key Palestinian member and his wife who apparently does not agree to his belief, and I cannot help but wonder how much opposition he has to deal with outside. In case of Israeli members, they also have to deal with the opposition from a lot of people in their country, and they are even labelled as traitors by those people.
And the situation continues to get worse for Israel and Palestine as before. As there comes a possibility of peace talk between Israel and Palestine, the members of Combatants for Peace become hopeful and stage a non-violent demonstration on the both sides of the West Bank wall, but then Israel and Palestine eventually go back to their usual violent mode as refusing to negotiate with each other. That certainly frustrates many members of Combatants for Peace, but they do not give up their hope for peace, and it is really touching to see them keeping going with their strong belief in humanity.
Overall, “Disturbing the Peace”, which is currently available on Netflix, is worthwhile to watch for its moving human story, and directors Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young did a skillful job of weaving various interviews and footage clips into a compelling narrative. To be frank with you, I sometimes doubt whether humanity will survive the increasing chaos and danger of the 21st century, but “Disrupting the Peace” and other similar good documentaries remind me that we still can do better for ourselves, and I really hope that we will prevail through our better sides.