Based on Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre's best-selling account of the partitioning of Palestine, Elie Chouraqui's (HARRISON'S FLOWERS) formulaic film recounts the tumultuous birth of Israel, beginning with the 1946 bombing of a British command center at Jerusalem's King David Hotel by Zionist extremists and ending with 1948's six-day cease-fire. History is seen through the eyes of three fictional friends — two Jewish, the third Palestinian — who are predictably torn apart by the violence that follows the decision to carve Palestine in two.
New York City, July 22, 1946. As news of the King David Hotel bombing reaches the U.S., Jewish GI Bobby Goldman (J.J. Feild) makes a new friend: Palestinian Arab Said Chahine (Said Taghmaoui). Both men are aware of the tensions mounting in Palestine, which has been ruled under a British mandate for the past 26 years, but their political differences don't keep them from becoming fast friends. Bobby also introduces Said to Jewish Jacob (Mel Raido) and their Canadian gal pal, Cathy (Mhairi Steenbock). A year later, however, news of the impending U.N. vote on whether or not to partition Palestine into separate Arab and Jewish states pushes those differences to the forefront. Jacob announces that he's leaving for Palestine, where he hopes to fight alongside his fellow Jews in the war that will doubtless ensue when the British pull out, regardless of which way the vote is decided. Said is called home to Jerusalem by his uncle (Peter Polycarpou), a respected Arab leader who also anticipates a violent struggle. Bobby decides to tag along, and after meeting in Tel Aviv, Jacob, Bobby and Said travel by bus to Jerusalem along the Bab el Oued Road, the crucial lifeline to the ancient city that will prove pivotal in the upcoming war. As the Nov. 29 vote nears, rhetoric on both sides of the Jewish/Arab divide intensifies. The Zionists, under the de facto leadership of the Jewish Agency and David Ben-Gurion (Ian Holm, looking astonishingly like the man himself), reaffirm their claim to a land from which they've been exiled for 2,000 years, while Palestinian Arabs, who've been living on that land ever since, vow to drive the Jews into the sea. The dramatic U.N. decision to partition is greeted with jubilation throughout the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, while grieving Arabs prepare to stand their ground. Attacks occur on both sides, increasing hostilities to the point where Bobby, who's joined the Jewish armed forces of the Haganah, and Said, who loses his brother (Jamie Harding) in a terrorist bombing, can no longer remain friends. As the British, under the command of Sir Alan Cunningham (Tom Conti), prepare for a May withdrawal, Jerusalem braces itself for a cataclysm that will either give birth to a Jewish state or end the 2,000-year-old dream forever.
Taking Collins and Lapierre's novelistic approach to Israel's founding several steps further, Chouraqui and coscreenwriter Didier Lepecheur invented their three major characters out of whole cloth: Said, Bobby and Jacob are pure fictions who just happen to be present at most of the major events of Israel's traumatic birth, from Golda Meir's famous refusal to allow the removal of a Jewish woman from a Bab el Oued bus by British authorities (Meir is played by Tovah Feldshuh, who also portrayed the future Israeli prime minister in both the Broadway play Golda's Balcony and the subsequent film version) to clandestine meetings between the Haganah and members of extremist groups Irgun and the Stern Gang. Such fictionalizations are the stuff of TV miniseries (think HOLOCAUST and MASADA), and only serve to add confusion and melodrama to a history that, as Collins and Lapierre's book proves, hardly needs further dramatization. leave a comment --Ken Fox