It must be noted that this film is infuriating, disturbing, outrageous and deceptive. It deserved an Oscar for the illustrations and animation – but a badge of shame for its message. It was not by accident that when he won the Golden Globe, Ari Folman didn’t even mention the war in Gaza, which was raging as he accepted the prestigious award. The images coming out of Gaza that day looked remarkably like those in Folman’s film. But he was silent. So before we sing Folman’s praises, which will of course be praise for us all, we would do well to remember that this is not an anti-war film, nor even a critical work about Israel as militarist and occupier. It is an act of fraud and deceit, intended to allow us to pat ourselves on the back, to tell us and the world how lovely we are.
Hollywood will be enraptured, Europe will cheer and the Israeli foreign ministry will send the movie and its makers around the world to show off the country’s good side. But the truth is that it is propaganda. Stylish, sophisticated, gifted and tasteful – but propaganda. A new ambassador of culture will now join Amos Oz and A B Yehoshua, and he too will be considered fabulously enlightened – so different from the bloodthirsty soldiers at the checkpoints, the pilots who bomb residential neighbourhoods, the artillery men who shell children, and the combat engineers who rip up streets. Here, instead, is the opposite picture. Animated, too. Of enlightened, beautiful Israel, anguished and self-righteous, dancing a waltz, with and without Bashir. Why do we need propagandists, officers, commentators and spokespersons who will convey ‘information’? We have this waltz.
The waltz rests on two ideological foundations. One is the ‘we shot and we cried’ syndrome: Oh, how we wept, yet our hands did not spill this blood. Add to this a pinch of Holocaust memories, without which there is no proper Israeli self-preoccupation. And a dash of victimisation – another absolutely essential ingredient in public discourse here – and voilà! You have the deceptive portrait of Israel 2008, in words and pictures.
Folman took part in the Lebanon war of 1982, and two dozen years later remembered to make a movie about it. He is tormented. He goes back to his comrades-in-arms, gulps down shots of whiskey at a bar with one, smokes joints in Holland with another, wakes his therapist pal at first light and goes for another session to his shrink – all to free himself at long last from the nightmare that haunts him. And the nightmare is always ours, ours alone.
It is very convenient to make a film about the first, and now remote, Lebanon war: We already sent one of those, ‘Beaufort’ , to the Oscars. And it’s even more convenient to focus specifically on Sabra and Shatila, the Beirut refugee camps.
Even way back, after the huge protest against the massacre perpetrated in those camps, there was always the declaration that, despite everything, including the green light given to our lackey – the Phalange- to execute the slaughter, and the fact that it all took place in Israeli-occupied territory, the cruel and brutal hands that shed blood are not our hands. Let us lift our voices in protest against all the savage Bashir-types we have known. And yes, a little against ourselves, too, for shutting our eyes, perhaps even showing encouragement. But no: that blood, that’s not us. It’s them, not us.
Singing and wrecking
We have not yet made a movie about the other blood, which we have spilled and continue to allow to flow, from Jenin to Rafah – certainly not a movie that will get to the Oscars. And not by chance.
In Waltz with Bashir, the soldiers of the world’s most moral army sing out something like: ‘Lebanon, good morning. May you know no more grief. Let your dreams come true, your nightmares evaporate, your whole life be a blessing.’
Nice, right? What other army has a song like this, and in the middle of a war? After they go on to sing that Lebanon is the ‘love of my life, the short life.’ And then the tank, from inside of which this lofty and enlightened singing emanates, crushes a car for starters, turning it into a smashed tin can, then pounds a residential building, threatening to topple it. That’s how we are. Singing and wrecking. Where else will you find sensitive soldiers like these? It would really be preferable for them to shout with hoarse voices: Death to the Arabs!
I saw the Waltz twice. The first time was in a movie theatre, and I was bowled over by the artistry. What style, what talent. The illustrations are perfect, the voices are authentic, the music adds so much. Even Ron Ben Yishai’s half-missing finger is accurate. No detail is missed, no nuance blurred. All the heroes are heroes, superbly stylish, like Folman himself: articulate, trendy, up-to-date, leftwingers – so sensitive and intelligent.
Movies as psychotherapy
Then I watched it again, at home, a few weeks later. This time I listened to the dialogue and grasped the message that emerges from behind the talent. I became more outraged from one minute to the next. This is an extraordinarily infuriating film precisely because it is done with so much talent. Art has been recruited here for an operation of deceit. The war has been painted with soft, caressing colours – as in comic books. Even the blood is amazingly aesthetic, and suffering is not really suffering when it is drawn in lines. The soundtrack plays in the background, behind the drinks and the joints and the bars. The war’s fomenters were mobilised for active service of self-astonishment and self-torment.
Boaz is devastated at having shot 26 stray dogs, and he remembers each of them. Now he is looking for ‘a therapist, a shrink, shiatsu, something.’ Poor Boaz. And poor Folman, too. He is devilishly unable to remember what happened during the massacre. ‘Movies are also psychotherapy’ – that’s the bit of free advice he gets. Sabra and Shatila? ‘To tell you the truth? It’s not in my system.’ All in such up-to-the-minute Hebrew you could cry. After the actual encounter with Boaz in 2006, 24 years later, the ‘flash’ arrives, the great flash that engendered the great movie.
One fellow comes to the war on the Love Boat, another flees it by swimming away. One sprinkles patchouli on himself, another eats a Spam omelette. The filmmaker-hero of Waltz remembers that summer with great sadness: it was exactly then that Yaeli dumped him. Between one thing and the other, they killed and destroyed indiscriminately. The commander watches porn videos in a Beirut villa, and even Ben Yishai has a place in Ba’abda, where one evening he downs half a glass of whiskey and phones Sharon at the ranch and tells him about the massacre. And no one asks who these looted and plundered apartments belong to, damn it, or where their owners are and what our forces are doing in them in the first place. That is not part of the nightmare.
What’s left is hallucination, a sea of fears, the hero confesses on the way to his therapist, who is quick to calm him and explains that the hero’s interest in the massacre at the camps derives from a different massacre: from the camps from which his parents came. Bingo! How could we have missed it? It’s not us at all, it’s the Nazis, may their name and memory be obliterated. It’s because of them that we are the way we are. ‘You have been cast in the role of the Nazi against your will,’ a different therapist says reassuringly, as though evoking Golda Meir’s remark that we will never forgive the Arabs for making us what we are. What we are? The therapist says that we shone the lights, but ‘did not perpetrate the massacre.’ What a relief. Our clean hands are not part of the dirty work, no way.
And besides that, it wasn’t us at all. How pleasant to see the cruelty of the other. The amputated limbs that the Phalange, may their name be obliterated, stuff into the formaldehyde bottles; the executions they perpetrate; the symbols they slash into the bodies of their victims. Look at them and look at us: we never do things like that.
When Ben Yishai enters the Beirut camps, he recalls scenes of the Warsaw ghetto. Suddenly he sees through the rubble a small hand and a curly-haired head, just like that of his daughter. ‘Stop the shooting, everybody go home,’ the commander, Amos, calls out through a megaphone in English. The massacre comes to an abrupt end. Cut.
Then, suddenly, the illustrations give way to the real shots of the horror of the women keening amid the ruins and the bodies. For the first time in the movie, we not only see real footage, but also the real victims. Not the ones who need a shrink and a drink to get over their experience, but those who remain bereaved for all time, homeless, limbless and crippled. No drink and no shrink can help them. And that is the first (and last) moment of truth and pain in Waltz with Bashir.
Gideon Levy is a correspondent for Haaretz
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant