(Israel, 123 min)
Dir. Yaron Zilberman
Programme: Contemporary World Cinema (World Premiere)
The 1995 assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by far-right Jewish law student Yigal Amir derailed the Israel–Palestine peace process at its most promising moment, in the midst of the “Oslo Accords’:Lhttp://povmagazine.com/articles/view/review-the-oslo-diaries progress through Israeli parliament. Never since has peace seemed so close. Incitement, a tense docudrama of sorts by Israeli-American director Yaron Zilberman that dramatizes the life of Amir in the year leading up to the assassination alongside extensive documentary footage of speeches by Rabin and his political rival Benjamin Netanyahu, immerses us in the quagmire of Israeli society and politics at that time. By focusing on Amir, the film reveals the profound divisions within Israel—between Israel and Palestine, Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular Jews, Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, and so on—that contributed to Amir’s fatal radicalization in the crucible of the controversial peace process.
Reviews and festival conversations about Incitement have tended to circle around its timeliness, as violence at the behest of far-right young men like Amir has recently struck across North America and Europe. There is obviously something to that. The film quite rightly highlights Amir’s romantic frustrations, his ethnic and class-based sidelining as a working-class, dark-skinned Yemeni Jew, his radicalization via media—TV and pamphlets in this pre-Internet age—and his generalized resentment of anybody—Jew, Muslim, friend, family—who does not subscribe to his views. Much the same discourse emerges around each new school shooting in the US or act of terror in Europe. Incitement’s dramatization of the process of radicalization is thus welcome: knowing how the story ends, we look differently at everything that happens along the way, identifying at times with Amir—hard not to with the camera almost always looking over his shoulder; we see with his eyes—and at times with others around him who fail to confront him, dissuade him or, worst of all, tacitly encourage what he’s planning to do.
There are two ways in which Incitement broadens its scope beyond Yigal Amir. One is the brilliant intercutting of contemporary news footage documenting the progress of the Oslo Accords and the right-wing protests—led by Benjamin Netanyahu—against them. The other is the title itself. The word hardly comes up during the film but the concept is latent throughout and is invoked regularly in retrospective analyses of that time. Radical right-wing rabbis, terrorists like Baruch Goldstein (perpetrator of the 1994 Cave of the Patriarchs massacre), protesters holding signs that depicted Rabin in an SS uniform or with a target on his head, and politicians like Netanyahu all played a role. Amir carried out the assassination more or less alone but he acted as a sort of avatar of a large segment of the Israeli population, which promptly elected Netanyahu and not Rabin’s Labor Party successor Shimon Peres in the snap elections in 1996. (In fact, the failure of Oslo and the 2000 Camp David Summit essentially spelled the end of the Labor Party as a major force in Israeli politics.) It’s a quiet sort of mastery that brings all these things into play not as just-so stories but as forces the ultimate influence of which are unknowable—necessary but not independently sufficient causes of what was to come.
Incitement ultimately raises a devastating question: can peace be forced on people who don’t want it? One can only guess what would have happened had the peace process continued, had Amir failed to kill Rabin. Would Amir and his ilk—his inciters—have sat by quietly as territory and control were handed back to the Palestinians? Would the Palestinians have stopped blowing up Israeli buses? Either way, one doesn’t need to subscribe to a Great Man theory of history to recognize that the Israel–Palestine peace process was held together, ultimately, by Rabin alone. Zilberman is quite right to end the film where he does and let the trauma of Rabin’s murder sink in. It’s a powerful film.