UMass Amherst Jewish Affairs

Jewish Affairs

Understanding the "Enemy"

Two Israeli documentaries explore the humanity of
Palestinian prisoners and Israeli soldiers and settlers

In November 2007, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met in Annapolis, Maryland in an attempt to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. For that process to succeed, several difficult issues will need to be resolved, including permanent borders, security, and the status of Jerusalem, refugees, prisoners,
and Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian prisoner

Two of these issues—Palestinian prisoners and Jewish settlements—are the subjects of the two Israeli docu-mentaries in our "Understanding the Enemy" film series: Storm of Emotions and Hot House. There will never be peace until we learn to see the humanity of the "Other"—even when, as now, that humanity is often cloaked in hatred or mistrust. We believe that mutual understanding brings us one step closer to peace.

Israeli police evacuating Kfar Darom, Gaza

Thursday, April 3, 2008 at 7:30pm
(dir. Shimon Dotan, Israel, 89 mins)

Monday, April 7, 2008 at 7:30pm
(dir. Yael Klopmann, Israel, 83 mins)

Both films will be shown at Flavin Auditorium,
School of Management 137, UMass Amherst

Free for UMass students, staff, faculty (with I.D.)
$8 general admission. Wheelchair accessible.

Hot House

Almost ten thousand Palestinians, designated by the Israeli government as "Security Prisoners," are incarcerated in Israel today. Most Israelis consider them murderers and criminals, but most Palestinians regard them as freedom fighters.

Palestinian prisoners praying in cell

Granted rare permission to film inside the country's highest security facilities, Israeli filmmaker Shimon Dotan shows everyday prison life, including biweekly family visits, internal elections, daily prayer, periodic security searches of cells, and relations between inmates and prison staff.

The film features interviews with a number of prisoners, both men and women, from Fatah
and Hamas, including some who were involved in the planning of suicide bombings. The interviews provide a starkly candid look at the experiences, motivations, and mindsets of these prisoners.

HOT HOUSE also shows how the Israeli criminal justice system has a significant impact on Palestinian democratic political life. For example, thirteen prisoners, who were not involved in terrorist actions, were political candidates in the 2006 Palestinian elections which saw Hamas rise to power. In this regard, the film shows how Israeli prisons have become veritable universities for political education, and proving grounds for future Palestinian political leaders.

Palestinian prisoner

The Palestinian experience in Israeli prisons has become a national symbol in Palestine, and the prisons themselves have become virtual universities for Palestinian nationalism, shaping the prisoners' ideology, strengthening their political convictions, and, as was the case on South Africa's Robben Island, enabling the development of future political leaders.

"Endlessly fascinating... a movie that undercuts viewers' preconceptions, invites them to make interpretations and forces them to question their sympathies—especially regarding the Middle East—deserves plaudits... This is the rare doc that leaves audiences confounded, and in a bit of a state. You likely won't change your position, but you won't be as dead certain of it as you were when the lights dimmed." —Michael Fox, Chicago Jewish Star

"Chilling... insightful...a disquieting portrait of a community that, despite or even because of its shackles, remains fervently committed to its cause." —Variety

"Remarkable, a coolly detached look at the potential next generation of Palestinian leaders...The fascination of HOTHOUSE derives in no small part from the ways that Dotan's interview subjects defy our expectations." —The Jewish Week

2007 Special Jury Prize, World Cinema Documentary, Sundance Film Festival

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Storm of Emotions

Poster for "Storm of Emotions"

The 1982 peace agreement with Egypt obliged thousands of people to leave their homes in the Sinai desert. From the options they were given by the Israeli government, many chose to relocate to "Gush Katif" in the Gaza Strip.

To advance the peace process, the Israeli government ordered the evacuation of all Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip in August 2005. This decision created political and social turmoil within Israel. The evacuation was to be the most complex and sensitive mission ever undertaken by the police forces. This film documents the conflicting beliefs and emotions of the Israeli border police and soldiers who carried out the evacuation, and the Jewish settlers who were forced to leave their homes for the second time.

It's likely that any future peace agreement will require some Jewish settlements in the West Bank to be evacuated. So the experience in Gaza provides important insight into the emotional pain and political difficulty that any such peace agreement will entail.

The film brings us face to face with the human beings on the front line of this conflict: the men and women of the police unit responsible for the actual evacuation, in particular an Orthodox policeman whose own religious beliefs create tremendous sympathy for the settlers he is forced to evacuate.

Jewish settlers carrying Menorah during Gaza evacuation

The border police unit is a special branch of the police force. The "Valley Division"—policemen and women pulled from their regular units and assembled into new units established especially for the disengagement process—found themselves painfully on the front line of the conflict. It is largely through their eyes that we experience these historic events.

A lawyer by profession, Chief Inspector Asaf Walfisch joined the police force because he felt it was his way to contribute to the community. Walfisch was given command of a bus unit that was responsible for taking the evacuated settlers to their new homes or temporary residences. As an Orthodox Jew who sympathizes with the settlers' beliefs, Walfisch faced a personal and moral dilemma.

Storm of Emotions was one of 15 films on the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' short list for the 2006 Oscar nominations for "Best Documentary Feature."

"Best Documentary" and "Angel Humanitarian Award"
—2006 Monaco International Film Festival

The Office of Jewish Affairs was created to foster better relations between Jewish, Muslim, Arab and other students. Programs such as this film series help build these bridges of understanding between racial, ethnic and religious communities.

For more information...

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process: The Annapolis Conference
(Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 12/7/07)

Hot House website

Police and settlers carrying Torahs during Gaza evacuation

Storm of Emotions website

PBS Independent Lens: Storm of Emotions

Israel's Disengagement Plan
(Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Photos of the Gaza disengagement (

Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival
(March 23-April 17, 2008)

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