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Israeli director to Palestine group: ‘Watch the film’

After disrupting the screening of an Israeli documentary in Wellington, a pro-Palestinian group says it will hold a “Die in” and form a human blockade when the film is shown in Auckland this week. Mark Jennings spoke to the director Yariv Mozer who says the protesters are missing the point.

Yariv Mozer is accustomed to controversy. He is an Israel film director who made an anti-war film while fighting with his unit in the Lebanon war.

His second film was about the plight of gay Palestinian men hiding in Tel Aviv after being thrown out of their own communities.

His latest documentary about Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion is probably his least polarising but, last week, was at the centre of an unusual protest in Wellington.

Police were called to the Roxy Cinema in Miramar after protestors infiltrated the cinema and chained a beeping black box to a seat.

The organisers of the film festival, Doc Edge, described the box as a “fake bomb” while the protestors called it a “noisemaker”. No arrests were made.

Peace Action Wellington says it targeted the film Ben-Gurion, Epilogue because the Israeli embassy paid for Mozer to come to New Zealand to talk at the screenings and his film is “racist propaganda”.

Earlier attempts to get the festival organisers to withdraw the documentary had been met with a firm rebuff.

Mozer, who was still on his way to New Zealand when the disruption at the Roxy took place, says the protesters don’t understand the significance or context of his documentary.

“First of all, I would invite these people to watch the film. They will be surprised,” Mozer told Newsroom.

The film is based around a long-lost interview with Ben-Gurion in 1968, a year after the Six-Day War in which Israel defeated its Arab neighbours.

The resulting spoils of war saw Israel take over some of its enemies' territory including East Jerusalem, previously held by Jordan.

These areas are now referred to as the “occupied territories” and are at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“Ben-Gurion was against keeping the territories, it was always his view that Israel would have to withdraw back to its pre-1967 lines if it was to have a lasting peace,” said Mozer.

“He had a clear vision that we would end up where we are today if that didn’t happen.

“He considered that there was enough land in the Negev desert for all the Jewish settlers and offered to give back the occupied areas including the whole of Jerusalem in order to have a two-state solution.

“He thought having a country was more important than having Jerusalem.”

“The whole reason we are doing these films is so people can get a better understanding and see different points of view – if the boycott movement shuts artists down or makes us silent – it stops dialogue.”

Mozer says Ben-Gurion’s vision was not shared by Golda Meir, who became Prime Minister in 1969 when the country was “so drunk (with euphoria) from the (military) victory".

Since then, two peace offers have been turned down by Palestinian leaders and Mozer says he, like a lot of Israelis, is close to losing all hope of peace.

“It is something that makes me really sad, as I believe the two-state solution is still the way to solve the conflict.”

While he is pessimistic about the chances of the two sides ever reaching an agreement, Mozer says those calling for a cultural boycott of Israel are “ignorant” and work against the peace process.

“The whole reason we (documentary-makers) are doing these films is so people can get a better understanding and see different points of view – if the boycott movement shuts artists down or makes us silent – it stops dialogue.”

“If you want something to change then you must start with the arts, this is the way you get to understand other people’s cultures, languages etc. If we don’t do this then the conflict will never end.”

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue is a co-production with French, German and Canadian TV stations. The film screened in some of those countries in the last few weeks to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence. It is based on an American history professor's interview with David Ben-Gurion that Mozer stumbled on when he was looking for another film in the Spielberg film archive in Jerusalem.

“I saw this pile of discarded reels of film and wondered what they were. It turned out to be six hours of interview with Ben-Gurion but there was no sound.”

Mozer eventually tracked down the sound recordist who was living in London.

“He was 86 years old but still had all the sound recordings from films he had worked on, including The Bridge on the River Kwai and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Ben-Gurion interview.”

Mozer spent months syncing the vision with the sound and then hunting out additional footage of the man considered to be Israel’s founding father.

“He is one of the biggest figures in modern history along with Churchill, Eisenhower and De Gaulle. I think it is important to hear what he had to say and it is very relevant given the situation today."

Few would argue that the film is of historical significance, but I put it to Mozer that accepting an airfare from the Israeli embassy allows protesters to claim he has been compromised or is “complicit" with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I would say there is nothing unique here, every other country in the world supports their filmmakers to travel as they do with other artists and sports people. The only time I have spoken to anyone at the embassy was to find out how much they are going to reimburse me for the travel costs. We haven’t discussed a single other thing.”

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