Shakhaf returns home from school. Daddy, who recently returned from his reseve duty, asks how was her day. Shakhaf, who is in the first or second grade, says she has homework to do: answer the question whether Israel has a right to exist. Daddy, and you can see how much it costs him (“if it has a what?” “a right to exist”), keeps his cool and asks what she thinks of the question. Shakhaf says it’s a simple one; he asks for the answer. She says “yes, it does”; he asks “why?”. Shakhaf is stuck: “I don’t know”.
Here comes the expected Zionist answer: a house which we’ve abandoned and yet remains ours, the 2,000-years exile and all of the usual mythos. But, daddy says, when we’ve come back, we’ve forgotten other people have lived here in the meantime – “and these people are right, and these people are right as well, and because of that we’re entangled with ourselves for a 100 years already”.
And perhaps the recognition of tragedy, the collision of two sides in the right, is a bit too much for a seven year old child. Especially in a reality where this collision takes the form of terrorist attacks and unfocused assassination strikes.
 Touching every open sore
The new movie of the brothers Tomer and Barak Hayman, “A Bridge over the Wadi”, tells the story of the mixed school for Jewish and Arab children so named, residing in Qafr Qara. The school is supposed to promote coexistence among Jews and Arabs – and the movie takes a good look at every pothole on that road.
It begins well: excited kids go to school. An Arab mother says she grew up hating Jews and she doesn’t want her son to grow up like her. Asaf, a Jewish boy, goes to school with mixed feelings: he is afraid of a terrorist attack, the school is in an Arab town. The year is 2004. The children reach school, balloons go up, and everything looks fine. The teachers teach the children trust-games: one child closes his eyes, and the other leads him throughout the school grounds, guiding him so he won’t fall or harm himself.
Then Hanukah comes along. All of the children, Jewish and Muslims, sing holiday hymns. They light “eight candles of light and love”. Some of the Muslim parents feel ill at ease – which is noticeable when their own children sing “[and we thank thee] for the salutations, and for the wars You fought for our forefathers”.
The first flashpoint comes during Ramadan: A Muslim child leads all of the children in a holiday prayer, and the children bow and pray. This is too much for Moni, who takes her son out of school. She claims to be an atheist, but says Jews have, over the generations, have preferred death to bowing. It’s very hard to blame her for this.
A short while afterwards comes the suicide attack in Be’er Sheva. Asaf is hosting his friend, Bashir, in his grandmother Bruria’s house. During lunch, Bruria cross-examines Bashir: Are you sad when Jews are killed? Did your parents teach you life has intrinsic value? Asaf is trying to defend his friend (“they don’t speak to them about it, so they won’t be afraid”); the grandmother carries on with the crucifixion. When the two finally escape towards the video games, she fires at the camera: “we educate the people who will kill us”.
The Hsymans aren’t going easy on themselves, do not act as toy leftists, and don’t pretend the occupation is the source of all the problems in the universe. At a campfire, after Shakhaf and her friend are taken by the friend’s father, Farouq, to the Luna Park, she asks Farouq about love. Farouq says there are no such things among them, it’s forbidden. Shakhaf, amused and curious and detecting bullshit a mile off, asks what would happen if her friend would tell Farouq she was in love. Farouq, noticeably agitated, repeats his reply. Shakhaf asks, wondrous: what do you mean? There are no rules in love, if she falls in love she falls in love. Farouq does not reply. The director intervenes, and repeats Shakhaf’s question. Farouq finally answers: “If this happens, I’d shoot her and turn myself in, I’d go to prison”. Shakhaf, terrified: “You’d kill her?”
And all this is a bit too much. It’s not clear why kids in second class have to learn about Land Day. It’s not clear why the school, which always makes certain all lessons are bilingual (which, as the teacher Yasmin justly notes, means in practice that the Arab pupils are losing their mother’s tongue, because they speak Hebrew with their friends), is split particularly on Independence Day. Some learn about Independence Day, some of the Naqba. And what will they say to each other, when they return to school after two days?
The movie is well edited, the directors’ involvement is minimal (aside from the question directed at Farouq, they asked no other question), and it leaves the viewer with huge despair, huge fear. After all, this school was established by the more tolerant people of the two groups, and if this is the result when their children meet, what would be the result in the general public, where xenophobia is a central ingredient of identity?
The last scene is a conversation among the children. One child, Jewish, all children, even civilians, will have to be soldiers at one point. Another Jewish child is trying to soften the message: no, not everyone. Yes, everyone, the first child insists; it’s either the army or the prison. The second speaker, defensive, says: but you don’t have to serve in a position which forces you to kill Arabs. The first speaker replies: it’s your commander who decides what you’ll do, not you.
One of the Arab children blows a fuse: if you kill Arabs, I will come to your house and blow you up. The second Jewish children gives it his last shot: but maybe, by the time we grow up, there’ll be peace. The first speakers nods dismissively: I don’t know, but I don’t think so.
And if this is the level of pessimism among second graders, and second graders who know the “other side” intimately, maybe it’s time to close up shop.
(Written by Yossi Gurvitz for Nana Culture, published November 4 2007, translated into English today, November 6.)