Friday, June 29, 2018

Mohammed Alatar

Mohammed Alatar's compelling and brilliantly-constructed 2018 legal procedural, "Broken: A Palestinian Journey Through International Law," contains a tour-de-force animated sequence, less than 20 minutes into the film, to show the ominously convoluted route of the concrete security wall through a West Bank dotted with Israeli settlements (top film still, above). Regarding this structure, we hear two irreconcilable points of view: The Israelis are represented by retired Colonel Danny Tirza (middle still), who calls the wall a "security fence." The view of most of the rest of the world is represented by John Dugard (bottom still), a retired South African professor of International Law, who somberly notes that "Israel was using 'security' as a pretext for annexing land." Dugard, the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory from 2001 to 2008, became alarmed in 2003 that the wall was being built within Occupied Palestinian Territory and thereby confiscating Palestinian land and redrawing "the boundary of the state of Israel to include 80% of the settlements."

Lightly narrated by the filmmaker "hoping to make sense of a senseless story," the film lays out the legal and moral case against the wall, first with a dramatic retelling of the International Court of Justice's 2004 deliberations (at the request of the United Nations) and second with a current-day evaluation of what should have been a game-changing legal victory. The land-grabbing route of the wall was a major point of the Palestinian legal team's 2004 case, as elegantly laid out by Vaughan Lowe, Nasser Al-Kidwa, and James Crawford in the first half of the film. Had the wall been built for security, they argue, it should have been placed on Israeli land or on the Green Line and not on (and deep into) Palestinian land. Israel did not participate in the 2004 ICJ proceedings, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction over the case.

When the ICJ's advisory opinion, that the "construction of the wall and its associated regime are contrary to international law," is sent back to the UN General Assembly as a draft resolution in July 2004, the UN's vote is clear: 150 countries endorse the ICJ's opinion, 6 against and 10 abstaining. Masterfully-edited archival footage of the UN in New York and the ICJ in the Hague, along with riveting current-day interviews with the key ICJ participants, establish a sense of urgency for a fresh look at the illegality of the wall. The film also sheds light on the collapse of the Oslo promise for a peace process, a decade and a half since the ICJ opinion. "Broken" beautifully lays out legal theory to show the path to the ICJ's 2004 advisory opinion, but the magnetic appeal of the film derives from its interviewees: an extraordinary set of personalities who give personal and emotional resonance to the watch.

Indeed, the second half of the film puts us in the center of a debate among the judges from the ICJ's wall case. Recent interviews weave together arguments about the wall and the International Court of Justice itself. The only American on the IJC panel, Judge Thomas Buergenthal, who dissented from the advisory opinion, predicted the failure of the ICJ and UN process to halt the progress of the wall. Judge Bruno Simma of Germany, in contrast, believes "the last word has not been spoken" and that the advisory opinion was just, even though it did not result in the dismantling of the wall. (in 2004, Simma endured a spray of spurious accusations of anti-Semitism from the recently-deceased Charles Krauthammer.) Like Tirza and Dugard at the beginning of the film, Buergenthal and Simma hold contradictory views. The film's achievement is in impeccably documenting the facts and laws behind the wall case for today's audiences.
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Documentary Starts Here by Nancy Kalow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.