A Third Way: Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors [subtitled in part]

A Third Way

A Third Way is a film that has its heart in the right place, but frankly just isn’t very good.

It is a low-budget documentary about the relationship between Jews and Arabs in the Israeli-occupied territories. I saw it at a community center where it was screened by the filmmaker Harvey Stein, who then took questions from the audience.

I’m not entirely sure if this was the final film, or a draft which was to be revised. If the latter, of course any criticisms I have must be qualified as not necessarily applying to whatever turns out to be the final version.

The website for the film makes it sound like it’s not finished yet, but then again the site has not been updated since about a year before I saw the film. At that time, it labeled what had been produced so far a “rough draft,” but since what I saw was a year later, I don’t know if what I saw was that same draft, a “less rough” later draft, or the completed film.

Anyway, my main problem with A Third Way is that the entire documentary seems like an introduction to a documentary. It feels like the main people are profiled and some of the background—the context—provided so that the subsequent story will make sense to the viewer, but then there’s no subsequent story. There’s no meat; it’s all set-up.

The main character is Rabbi Menachem Froman, the rabbi of one of the settlements. He is a kindly old man who has dedicated himself to establishing positive relationships between the settlers and the Palestinians. Mostly he is shown just mouthing platitudes, but I’d much prefer people do that than massacre each other on religious grounds.

According to Wikipedia, he is a former Israeli paratrooper who not only supported establishing Jewish settlements in the occupied territories but was one of the leaders of the settler movement, and, as mentioned, has been the rabbi for one of the settlements. So it’s not like he’s an anti-settlement peace activist.

Indeed, I’m not clear what it is specifically he’s in favor of. I think his position is something along the lines of “Whatever side you support, whatever goal you’re working toward, let’s at least agree that there shouldn’t be terrorism, vandalism, hateful rhetoric, scrawling of anti-Semitic graffiti or ‘Mohammed is a pig’ messages, and so on, that we need to cool the anger and passion and love each other as both the Jewish and Islamic faiths command.” Which is hard to disagree with, as far as it goes, but you still have to eventually figure out what justice requires for all concerned and how to bring that about.

Along these lines, one of the people in the movie states: “1-state, 2-state, 3-state, 7-state—whatever the eventual arrangement, it won’t last unless there are good relations on the ground.” OK, fine, but it’s not like the “eventual arrangement” is some minor detail. Are the settlements a gross violation of international law perpetrated by violent religious fanatics backed by a brutal army with a full panoply of modern weaponry? Are they a fully justified response by a plucky underdog country encircled by hostile neighbors intent on its genocidal destruction?

The approach of the rabbi and his admirers doesn’t seem to be a Gandhian philosophy of “let’s use nonviolent means to fight for what’s right,” but more of a “at least for now let’s not concern ourselves with what’s right but just tone down the rhetoric and see all concerned as human beings we should love rather than hate.” Again, it’s not that I’m not on board with that, but insofar as that’s the extent of the message it risks a passive acceptance of whatever fait accompli is established by those who are not so lovingly motivated.

That’s my frustration watching the movie: Do these people ever actually do anything? We see the rabbi meeting with other Jews or Arabs, or occasionally giving some sort of public talk, but is that all there is?

What of the people shown interacting with the rabbi, or praising the rabbi to the camera? Are they part of some organization he leads, or at least inspired? If so, what’s the name of the organization? What are its goals? What means does it use or intend to use to achieve its goals? Is it primarily Jews with a few token Arabs, vice versa, or is it about equally Jews and Arabs? What difficulties has it encountered? Which of the various parties in the occupied territories have been supportive, hostile, or neutral toward it? What criticisms do those who oppose it offer?

Those are the sorts of questions I expected to see eventually addressed, but they aren’t. Or maybe they are to a limited extent but I missed it. I know I wasn’t fully engaged by the movie, so it’s possible I zoned out here and there and missed some content that addressed these and other relevant questions.

There were also just sequences that struck me as not well edited. It’s hard to remember specifics, but here’s one: In the opening of the film, a voiceover talks about the settlements and some of the people involved with Rabbi Froman. At one point, one of the Jewish people and one of the Arab people who will appear later in the film are shown, and the narrator says something about how the issues these folks must deal with can destroy friendships, or create hostility between friends, or lead to personal conflicts, or something—I don’t remember the exact wording. But anyway, the clear implication is that this introduction is foreshadowing that there will be some significant clash between these two figures later in the film. But there isn’t. (Again, unless it was so minor and so brief that I missed it.)

That just seems like sloppy editing. It’s like at one point while putting the film together the filmmaker intended to include a sequence of these two people fighting and so put this little teaser in early, and then later decided not to include the sequence of them fighting but forgot he needed to remove this foreshadowing.

A Third Way is a documentary about an important topic, and its central character seems to be a good and perhaps even inspiring person (though I can see a case being made that—intentionally or unintentionally—he is encouraging passivity in the face of injustice), but at least the version I saw—which may or may not be the final film—does not live up to its promise.