Monday, 14 April 2014

The Attack

I read Yasmina Khandra´s The Attack a few year ago. It´s the story of an Arab doctor, Amin Jaafari, living and working in Tel Aviv. After a suicide attack rocks the city, Jaafari is called to identify his wife Sihem’s body, one of the victims of the attack. Little later, he’s confronted with the information that Sihem herself was the suicide bomber.

Khandra takes us with his beautiful, sensitive, incisive writing through the different stages in Jaafari’s emotional state and to his journey in search of answers: from the pain of losing his wife, to the incredulity when faced with the information that the woman he loved had committed such a crime, to the confusion and anger when realizing, little by little, that he was unaware of a number of his wife’s actions, thoughts and feelings, to the determination to find an explanation that could help him make sense and the return to a reality he had long left behind.

I loved Yasmina Khandra´s book because it shows that friendship, tolerance, understanding and coexistance are possible, they are one reality. And with this reality as a starting point, he slowly  takes us, following Jaafari’s quest, into that other reality, which exists right next to the first one, compromising it, questioning it, every single day: that of millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories or in exile; that of daily humiliation, dispair, hopelessness, pain, abuse, death, revolt; that of an arbitrary rule that bears terrorist suicide bombers, who are venerated as heroes and martyrs.

Khandra makes us question the first reality. Is it the product of convenient silences; of ignorance? Is it fake; fragile; unable to survive if the silence is broken? Or rather the result of strength and determination, of the informed and thus conscious wish for peace?

The director of The Attack, Ziad Doueri.
The film The Attack, by Ziad Doueri, opened this year´s Judaica – Festival of Cinema and Culture in Lisbon. I went to see it knowing that rarely or never are films as good as the books. The rule was more than confirmed.

What stroke me the most was how superficially Doueri dealt with the story. He was not able to give any depth to the characters, their feelings and views, and more than once I was left thinking that I was watching a soap opera. Furthermore, he decided to ignore Yasmina Khandra´s narrative when describing Jaafari’s quest into the territories and basically presented the Palestinian´s as nothing more than a big mafia. I got up as soon as the film ended, also puzzled about the ending that was totally different from that of the book. Just before I left the room, I was able to hear the film director explaining to the audience that the ending of the book was not convenient to him, so he chose a different one. Why didn´t he write the story he wanted instead of ruining Khandra’s?

A scene from the film The Attack.
Some days later I watched an interview with Doueri and I realized that there is probably more to it. Talking about his growing up in Beirut, about his liberal parents, about the Arabs’ taboos with regards to Israel, about how stupid ramadan is, I realized that Doueri, wishing to be progressive and open-minded and liberal, built his own version of The Attack with the intention to challenge the Arab point of view. To challenge by ignoring it, turning it into a caricature. Once again, why didn´t he write his own story instead of taking advantage of Khandra´s best-seller?

Coexistance, reconcilliation, the building of a common future is no easy thing. This is what Khandra tells us. This is what I feel when I have to talk to my son about the Greek-Turkish past and present. This was what tortured my mind when reading Jean Hatzfeld’s The Antelope's Strategy, Living in Rwanda after the Genocide. It might require some silences, but as a result of knowledge and understanding and not of ignorance. It requires strength, the ability to forgive without forgetting. It requires open-mindedness, the capacity to listen and weigh the arguments of the other side. It’s not easy; it’s very difficult and it’s complex. One needs to start by recognizing precisely that; and respecting it.

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