First Run Features Director: Hava Kohav Beller Screenwriter: Hava Kohav Beller Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/20/17 Opens: January 5, 2018
Our President states that if anyone can negotiate peace in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians, it’s his son-in-law, but then, that was before he provoked days of rage in the Arab community by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The conflict between the two peoples has been going on at least since 1948, since Palestinians recognize all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza as Arab land.
With the thought of stimulating discussion between young people in the two communities, a number of youths are invited to Germany to discuss their opinions with one another. They are deliberately housed together, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Central European country when they are not trading viewpoints in a large room. What’s called “Vacation from War” is thankfully just half of the 123-minute film. The rest, easily the more arresting sights, involves an array of individuals throughout the West Bank and Israel proper.
First, though, as for the discussions. There is no stated objective, but we might surmise that one aim is to show that all the individuals are human beings, none of whom possessing horns on his or her head. They do that. Another might be to project into the future that some of these youths might become high level members of government, using their knowledge to negotiate peace. That’s a long shot. What actually occurred is that the Palestinians and the Israelis acted like today’s Republicans and Democrats, remaining united with their own separate tribes, sticking together just as all Republicans in our own Congress voted the same on the disastrous tax bill and all the Democrats likewise stuck with one another.
As I see the conference, the two tribes did not get together, not even at the pace of an aging, sclerotic snail. Quite the contrary, they dug in, provoking anger rather than kumbaya at every moment. The Arabs declared that no Jews should remain in either Israel proper or the West Bank, though when asked whether they would support the existence in some way of a Jewish populace, they averted the issue. For their part, the Jewish contingent brought up the Holocaust, maintaining that some place simply had to become a refuge for the oft-humiliated Jews, whether from the Holocaust or the pogroms of various countries and empires. What’s the point of “Vacation from War” when one side believes that it is treated so badly by the Israeli government that their suffering is worse than what was experienced by the Jews of the Holocaust. Have these people ever seen films about the camps?
Aside from the discussions’ being needlessly provocative, insipid and wholly without originality, the film is saved by events occurring on the outside over a wide area. The most heartwarming sense involve a Gazan woman whose young child, Mohammed, has a serious heart defect and is given permission to cross the Erez frontier into Israel for surgery. There, a Jewish doctor performs the delicate, complex operation to restore the flow of blood and end the suffering and anticipated early death of the cute lad. “We don’t see people as residents of different areas,” states the heroic doctor. (In a similar vein, Israeli hospitals are treating Syrian refugees who cross the Golan Heights for treatment.)
On a sadder note, 85-year-old director Hava Kohav Beller, whose film spans decades and who worked on it for years—even showing the heart-operated recipient four years after surgery—observes the tense battles erupting now and then via intifadas. The Arabs throw stones, the Jews return the fire with rubber bullets. We realize a dichotomy in the titles of the film, as “pomegranates” are a Middle-East-grown fruit associated with rebirth but is also the Hebrew word for grenade. Summing up, in a future film, lose the pointless discussions and show more depth about both the fighting and incidents of heroism.