From the point of view of Palestinians, Israelis are infidel intruders – a plague that needs to be eradicated by any means necessary. Aided by arrogant westerners, the Israelis took Palestinian land and reduced them to desperate, poverty-stricken subjects in their own kingdom.
From the point of view of Israelis, the Palestinians are a perpetual source of anxiety and fear. Their grandparents’ ill-fated decision to occupy the West Bank and Gaza has made their little country the target of international condemnation and decades of terrorist attacks. They view Palestinians as uncivilized fanatics who intentionally stockpile weapons in residential neighborhoods to ensure that women and children are killed in Israeli airstrikes.
The problem is that both sides are right. With the Jews and Muslims so close in proximity but so far apart in mindset, violence is inevitable.
Most everyone who has thought about the Arab-Israeli conflict has chosen sides but is aware that the side that he roots for is far from blameless.
In “Omar” (a Palestinian drama that was nominated for Best Foreign Film at last year’s Oscars), filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad has made a virulently anti-Israel movie that takes a harrowing look at the effect that the conflict has on young Arabs.
Omar is a good-looking, good-natured Palestinian teenager. He gets up early and bakes bread to sell every morning. And he woos his pretty girlfriend Nadia every afternoon. Omar isn’t political or angry, but he is willing to do anything to earn the favor of Nadia’s older brother Tarek. With the goal of winning Tarek’s trust and blessing, Omar casually joins Tarek’s terrorist cell.
His first terrorist attack goes smoothly enough. But with shocking efficiency, the Israeli police hunt Omar down and tie him up in a prison torture chamber for questioning.
The manipulative Jewish detective gives Omar two choices: work with Israel to take down Tarek or be separated from Nadia while he waits for a trial that may never come.
Unfortunate Omar agrees to help the police. What choice does he have? But director Abu-Assad makes it clear that Omar is already doomed. He’s either going to die, rot in a prison cell, or live alone as a hated collaborator.
The film makes us feel Omar’s suffocating horror as he realizes that both sides view him as a pawn to be used and discarded. His hopelessness is a metaphor for the entire Arab-Israeli conflict.
I admire the dreamers who strive to end the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But they will fail. As “Omar” shows, we are very far from peace in the Middle East.