View a Nation Slide Show of excerpts of the graphic novel, Waltz with Bashir here.
A disclaimer: A decade ago, while serving in the Israel Defense Forces, a bit of my behind was blown off in Lebanon. When it comes to war, then, and to that particular country, I’m not exactly objective.
But stepping out of a screening of Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman’s masterful film, a few weeks ago, and immediately reaching for my iPhone to look up the latest news from Gaza, I felt a deep, seething anger lock arms with terrible despair and march defiantly down my throat. The movie, I thought, just taught me an awful lesson about my native country.
It wasn’t anything having to do with the 1982 massacre in Sabra and Shatila, the focus of the film’s final, ghoulish scenes. It wasn’t the needless loss of life. It wasn’t even the war.
What made me sick was the realization, simple and searing, that the Israeli public that heaped praise on Waltz with Bashir and selected it, in a recent survey, as the third most-favorite Israeli film of all time, the very same public–71 percent, according to a recent survey by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz–was ignoring every one of the film’s harrowing lessons and once again unequivocally supporting an aimless military campaign, its goals unclear and its potential for rapid and incontrollable escalation vast.
Anyone seeking some insight into Israeli society’s reactions to the newfangled war against Hamas, however, would be well advised to examine Israel’s previous violent escapade, the one that echoed the events portrayed in Waltz with Bashir so eerily that it instantly earned the moniker “Lebanon II.”
In September 2006, slightly more than a month after that war finally died down, along with nearly 1,800 Lebanese and more than 160 Israelis, public opinion polls asked Israelis to ascertain whether or not they were satisfied with Ehud Olmert; 68 percent responded that they were unhappy with the prime minister’s conduct.
This, in and of itself, made perfect sense: surely the same people who praised Waltz with Bashir for its courageous and unremitting examination of Israel’s bumbled, senseless and morally repugnant entanglement in Lebanon in 1982 would disapprove of any leader who orchestrated a similarly flawed and inexcusable excursion in 2006. And surely the same people, when asked today whom they would rather see at the state’s helm, would pine for a responsible, levelheaded and moderate politician, one who could guarantee that no similar violent escapades lay on the horizon. Surely.
But, casting their ballots earlier this month in the elections to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, the people gave an overwhelming number of votes to right-of-center parties, making it nearly inevitable that the next Israeli government will be led by Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu. Put another way, the very same Israelis who elected Bashir as their third-favorite film also elected Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home) as their third-favorite political party, proving the soaring popularity of its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, the former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu and a rising star in Israeli politics whose ambitious plans include the forceful deportation of Israeli Arabs, the bombing of Palestinian civilian and business centers, and the drowning of Palestinian prisoners.