It is not that we were not able to get into some of the settlements—we decided not to try to do it. I do not think there is any settlement that we are not able to get into, and once needed, we’ll be in and get all the people out.
—Eival Gilady, 16 August 2005
[The Gaza blockade] is a disaster for everybody because it’s touching everybody in every aspect of their life, from the moment you get up in the morning until you go to bed at night. The way things have been reduced here, there’s a very sub-human existence for the general population.
—John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for the UN Refugee and Works Agency, 12 May 2008
Lior is a surfer. Tanned and shaggy, the 20-year-old Bob Marley fan likes spending afternoons on the beach where he’s a lifeguard, playing his guitar and singing. “My family,” he explains, “don’t come here for ideology… We are farmers.” As he dives beneath the surface of a pale blue-green sea, his voice-over continues: “I don’t feel that some soldier come to me and tell me to get the fuck out of here. I don’t feel it. I feel like I’m just going to stay here for a couple of years.”
“Here” is the Gaza Strip, where Lior’s family has lived for over two decades. His story is one of several recounted in Adam Hootnick’s trenchant, intelligent documentary, Unsettled. Concerning the forced evacuation of Israeli settlers from Gaza and the West Bank in 2005, the film notes the irony of Ariel Sharon ordering the removal, Sharon having premised so much of his earlier politicking on the assertion of Israel’s right to the land, “settled” by Israeli civilians after the Six Day War. As is well known, that 1967 decision led to ongoing conflict between settlers and Palestinians. Sharon’s reversal in 2005 produced more trouble, setting Israelis against Israelis, an intricate dilemma that Hootnick’s documentary reveals in significant, mostly subtle detail.
Offering multiple viewpoints accompanied by a lively soundtrack (which includes traditional music as well as Matisyahu), the film argues for understanding and respect amid this perennially intractable discord. Caught on its razor edge, Tamar is a soldier in the Israel Defense Force (IDF). She’s lived in Israel, she says, since the fourth grade and joined the army two years ago. Previously a liaison officer for a U.N. representative in Syria, now she’s training to remove Israelis out of their homes. As she and her fellow soldiers “prepare for extreme scenarios,” the drill instructor explains, “You will have to tell your grandmothers back home that you are evacuating this piece of land.” The soldiers set their jaws. “There is no enemy,” the instructor continues. “There is no victory. We have to do it with determination but with a sense of sensibility and sensitivity, of the mission.” The soldiers can show no emotion, take no pleasure in what they’re doing. While the caution sounds apposite, while watching their faces as they train, it’s hard to imagine these soldiers will feel anything but anguish over what they’re doing.
Even as Tamar, according to a caption, “is training to evict [Lior],” he spends his last weeks on Gaza with his best friend Meir, who, the film notes, “believes God set his country’s borders.” They sing together, “I feel like a stranger where should I go? What will we do? Where is there another place on earth that looks like a picture?” Almost as soon as Lior declares he wants “no more killing, no more rockets, no more nothing, just they live there and we live where we live,” he’s interrupted by the sounds of distant explosions and a nearby alarm. “You see the reality,” he tells the camera, “This how we live, man, we surf in the morning and we hear bombs in the night.”
Neta, 20, describes her life in Netzarim similarly, while also insisting on Israelis’ right to “the land.” “For us,” she says, “it’s not a settlement. For us, living in Netzarim is totally normal, even if there are hard things, like bombings and like Arabs and all kinds of other things.” As she undertakes to document her experience of Netzarim, her filming becomes the subject of Unsettled cinematographer Mickey Elkeles’s filming. When, speaking for her camera, Neta’s 14-year-old sister says she’s “angry at the soldiers who are coming to take me out of my house,” her younger cousin, just six years old, asks, “Why are you mad at the soldier and not the prime minister?” The question goes to the heart of the tensions explored in Unsettled, the ways that different understandings of duty and allegiance—to religious tenets and to government service—set Israelis against one another.
The film looks at a range of this conflict’s effects, emotional, ideological, and political. Where Neta expresses outrage that Israeli family homes will be destroyed by Israelis, according to “an agreement with the Palestinian government,” another view is articulated by a representative of the Return to Zionism movement; when she asks how this movement can support the evacuations, he explains, “Zionism is not about the land of Israel. It’s about the character of Israel.” At the same time, the film reveals the mix of anguish and determination expressed by Ye’ela, an activist trying to “stop the killing” by backing the evacuation. Framed by the death of her 15-year-old sister by a suicide bombing at the Tel Aviv Emporium in 1996, Ye’ela’s position is surely complicated. “Some of [the Palestinians],” she says, “are not acting like people,” she says, “but they are human beings, so now, today, we are asking Israel people to leave their houses.”
She describes the difficult route to her current view. When her sister was killed, Ye’ela says, “You have a big hole in everyone’s heart. One part of me wanted to go out and kill all the Arabics that I could and another part of me said, ‘You have to think, you can’t cause more suffering.’” Her thinking has led her to see multiple perspectives—and to worry about various lives. “The religious people are born and raised one way, and they can’t get out of this.” But their rigid beliefs, Ye’ela suggests, blind them to the risks they assign to others, namely the soldiers who guard settlements. “They treat the soldiers like they are their soldiers,” she observes. “They are the soldiers of the country, not their private soldiers.”
The film closes on soldiers engaged in grueling emotional work, making their way past protestors, literally carrying settlers from their kitchens. Alternately accosted and opposed, the young people in uniforms do their best to maintain the unexpressive faces they were trained to show. “If you don’t cry, you’re not a Jew!” asserts one woman. Tamar, dedicated to serving her nation, observes, “People look at soldiers now and all they see is the person who took the Jews out of their homes.” Unsettled works to show something else, the many perspectives that might be embodied by even one person.