Not Much Time Remains for Israel- A Film Review by Gilad Atzmon

Gilad Atzmon

May 5, 2010

The London Palestinian Film
opened this year with Elia Suleiman’s latest feature "The Time that Remains"
(105min), a monumental reflective and poetic take on Palestine since

To a certain extent Suleiman’s
latest film reminded me of Ramzy Baroud’s book My
Was a Freedom Fighter
. Both works chart a personal and devastating
expedition into hopelessness. Both accounts are saturated with repeated
failures and betrayals, both Baroud and Suleiman are courageous enough
to criticise their collective narrative and yet, both pepper their
story  with some staggering wit, hope and humour. They make you smile
just when you are about to sob.

To watch trailer:


Like Baroud, Suleiman juxtaposes
the Palestinian journey from heaven to hell with the Zionist phantasmic
counter move from ‘hell’ to ‘heaven’. The devastating images of
Palestinian torture and dispossession are scattered with scenes of
cheerful Israeli arrogance, looting and sadism. This counter flow of the
two people is rather crucial to the understanding of the conflict. As
much as Palestinian expulsion is concrete and deeply imbued in the
consciousness of every Palestinian, the Jewish imaginary ‘home coming’
journey from ‘hostile Diaspora hell’ to the ‘Zionist Eden’ has proved to
be dubious and unforgiving for the Jews.

It is obvious that the Israelis
have never managed to make the holy land into their ‘homeland’. They are
alienated from its nature, they poisoned the soil and polluted their
rivers, they ruined the landscape shredding it with gigantic concrete
walls and monstrous urban settlements but worse than that they
eradicated the indigenous civilization of Palestine or at least this is
what they tried to do. In fact this unique form of Israeli detachment is
where Suleiman launches his film.

With Suleiman himself seated
silently in the back of a brand new limo we watch an Israeli chauffeur
prepare himself for a journey. Using his radio communication system the
driver reports to his station "do not try to contact me, I am about to
start a long ride…" Within a few seconds into the journey a storm breaks
out, lightning, thunder and rain is pouring. Our Israeli chauffeur is
totally disorientated, he can not see, he doesn’t know where he is, the
fuel is running out. It is not long before he stops his car just to find
out that the radio is dead. "What am I doing here? Where am I? How did I
get here in the first place?" He cries out. The Israeli driver is
stranded in the middle of the night out of nowhere. He is isolated with
no radio or fuel in an unknown land that was supposed to be his promised
one. He is lonely but not alone. He has a silent Palestinian passenger
sitting comfortably in the back seat staring at him.

The allegory is pretty obvious.
As much as the Zionists wanted to believe that their ‘home coming’
project was a journey from the ‘Diaspora hell’ into a ‘promised
shelter’, they are now becoming prisoners of their lethal unethical
aspiration. Soaked with power, loaded with American weaponry they are
driving a brand new Hummer in the dark, crossing an alien and hostile
land, they do not know where they are going, their fuel is about to run
out at any minute, they do not know why they do it. However, one thing
is certain, they have a silent Palestinian passenger sitting comfortably
in their back seat. The latter like the rest of us is watching them in
their downfall.

Suleiman offers a critical
reading of the Palestinian society. He touches some of the most painful
subjects, he looks at the collaborators, he confronts the cowardice, he
touches the manic depressive drive within Arabic culture and yet, in
spite of all that, he has hope in him. Miraculously enough, Palestine
seems to prevail.

To watch a scene from Suleiman’s
Divine Intervention

In Suleiman’s cinematic chronicle
we follow a reportage of an organised criminal army fighting scattered
civilian resistance, we see IDF soldiers looting, terrorising and
torturing the civilian population, we see the proud indigenous becoming a
defeated minority on their own land, we watch Palestinian children
singing Zionist songs at school to a cheerful Israeli minister. We then
witness IDF soldiers shooting these kids as they become resilient stone
throwing teenagers. As the story evolves Suleiman takes us to
contemporary Ramallah where we see Palestinians living somehow proudly
celebrating their Arab culture.

While in Ramallah we witness a
thought provoking scene that throws new light over the balance of power
between the Israeli and the Palestinian. As an Israeli Merkava tank
invades the whole of the screen, we notice a Palestinian youngster
leaving his front door on his way to empty some rubbish. The Israeli
tank stops. Its barrel chases the youngster’ head as he walk towards the
dustbin. This is no doubt a devastating image. However, on his way back
to his front door the Palestinian lad receives a mobile call from a
friend. The youngster stays in the street joyfully chatting to his
friend. All that time the Merkava’s barrel follows his move in something
that rapidly transforms into a comical parody on Israeli power. All
along, the young Palestinian doesn’t take any notice of the large
calibre barrel that chases his head. It seems as if the  Israeli power
of deterrence is a matter for historians.

Suleiman’s message is clear. In
order to maintain the Jewish national project, Israel may have to attach
a tank to every Palestinian. But it goes further. While the Palestinian
young man is up and about walking freely enjoying the Mediterranean
sun, four Israeli soldiers, probably about the same age, are locked
inside a Merkava tank. The Israelis are stranded by a merciless and yet
futile ideology that leads nowhere. They are enslaved to a Palestinian
lad who doesn’t even bother to look at them. The Israeli soldiers cannot
see the daylight. They see life through their military periscope. The
Merkava tank can be interpreted as a metaphor of the Israeli ghetto
mentality. However, as far as Israel is concerned, the Merkava tank is
not just a metaphor, it is not mere symbolism, it is actually the true
reality of the Jewish state and the Jewish political being. The Israelis
are locking themselves behind separation walls and within tanks and

While in his previous film a
victory was a matter for Divine Intervention, in the current
film the fog clears away. The Palestinians seem to win just because the
Israelis are doomed to lose. The Israelis are victims of their own
relentless brutality. The more sinister they are, the more tormented
they become by the fear they inflict on themselves. The Israeli paranoia
is a matter of projection. They think  to themselves, ‘if others are as
brutal as we happen to be, we must be in real trouble.’

Symbolically, Suleiman is from
Nazareth something that may remind some of us that someone else from the
same town presented a very similar criticism of Jewish tribalism just
two thousand years ago. Israel is indeed locked in exactly the same
vicious circle as its imaginary forefathers. The more brutal it becomes,
the more terrorised it gets by its own viciousness. Jesus saw it all.
Love your neighbour was his solution. Turn your other cheek he
maintained. The Israeli failure to grasp that compassion is the way
forward is the true meaning of the Jewish tragedy. We are dealing here
with an unfolding  chronicle of an imminent disaster. On the other hand,
in Suleiman’s depiction of   Palestinian recent history, it is the
Palestinians’ forgiveness that shines.

Suleiman, may as well be the
ultimate master of cinematic poetic symbolism. He manages to deliver the
most devastating message through music and silence. He manages to
convey the deepest philosophical idea through a little piece of
choreography. As much as film is largely a visual art form, in
Suleiman’s work, the ear  has its primacy. Music, sounds and rhythms
communicate where the eye fails. The sound is the bond with the past. It
is the ear that transcends us to the realm of the universal. Through
the ear rather than the eye we reconnect with our past, present and

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