Steven Spielberg, in his film Munich (2005), presents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as two-sided. Considering Spielberg’s Jewish background, it is significant that the Palestinian argument is not left unheard in the film. Along with countless representations of the Palestinian terrorists as “real people” with families and productive lives (ex. the daughter at the piano), one of the film’s signature moments is when a Palestinian terrorist and the head of the Israeli counter-terrorism squad, Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana), discuss the conflict calmly. The Palestinian talks powerfully and at length about home and about his people having lost their land, the land that became Israel in 1948. Kauffman does not respond directly to this speech, other than to express his skepticism about the Palestinian’s conviction that he will get his home back. An underlying theme in the film, I would say, is that there are two sides to every conflict. Spielberg is attempting to examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a “mutual context,” just as “some intellectuals…have called for the Holocaust and Al-Nakba to be examined within a mutual context” (Bar-On, 3).
In their article, “Bridging the Unbridgeable: The Holocaust And Al-Nakba”, Bar-On and Sarsar also present both sides of the argument, saying that Palestinians refuse to accept the Holocaust as “moral ground for the creation of the state of Israel,” while Israeli Jews refuse to accept the pain of the Palestinian refugees. In this context, Munich is not about the Holocaust, it is simply representing the present view of the Israelis as linked to the traumatic experiences of their past. One of the strongest and longest speeches in the film comes from Kauffman’s mother (Gila Almagor). “We had to take [Israel]”, she says, because “no one would give it to us.” She adds, “Whatever it took, whatever it takes, we have a place on earth at last.”
Zerubavel’s article, “The ‘Mythological Sabra’ and the Jewish Past,” demonstrates that this is a common interpretation of Israel’s side of the conflict with Palestine in literature, and the Holocaust is “a key historical metaphor of Jewish vulnerability” (Zerubavel, 119). The negative image of the “exilic” Jew (or “weak” Jew) is a thing of the past, in contrast to the new ideal “Mythological Sabra” (or “strong” Jew) (116), and I get the sense that the overall Israeli view is that “it is finally time for us to stand up for ourselves.” This is also reflected in Munich, especially through the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen), and the characterization of the Israeli counter-terrorists as strong, diverse individuals, with “several identities” (122). I believe that the Holocaust has in fact been a main influential factor in Israel’s actions toward Palestine, and that Spielberg’s inclusion of references to the Holocaust is not to make the film about the Holocaust, but about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the collective memory of the Holocaust does play a major role. It is interesting the irony in Israel’s actions toward Palestine, in general, but I think the current conflict can be viewed as inherently different from, though perhaps influenced by, the Holocaust. It is important to note that Spielberg is not suggesting a comparison between the two events, but he wishes to show the present as being rooted in the past.
It is also important to note, however, that artistic representations of Israeli culture (including the novels in Zerubavel’s article) might tend to lean toward developing the “mythological temporal framework” (Zerubavel, 138), linking past to present, more than reality would merit. I do not imagine many Israelis are constantly considering how to fight for their land or be “strong” Jews that are recovering from the trauma of the Holocaust. They are people with normal day-to-day lives filled with normal concerns. These sorts of intense concepts, though true also, are good for storytelling in a sense, and aid in gaining an understanding of Israel in the political sphere, but I do not think they “define” the Israeli, and I think this is important to keep in mind when viewing Munich and other “representational” works of art.
Bar-On and Sarsar, “Bridging the Unbridgeable: The Holocaust And Al-Nakba,” http://www.pij.org/details.php?id=17
Zerubavel, “The ‘Mythological Sabra’ and the Jewish Past,” http://jewishstudies.rutgers.edu/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=16&Itemid=158