Can a Film Push Israelis Into Peace Talks?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Israelis need to know that “peace” was once considered achievable.
By Justin Higginbottom
Who knew the lead-up to a handshake could be so riveting? The Oslo Diaries, directed by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan, tells the secret history of the 1993 peace talks between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Israeli government. The directors rely on the personal diaries of a chief negotiator and interviews with both Israelis and Palestinians involved in the meetings. Their previous film at Sundance was 2015’s Censored Voices, which focused on the Six-Day War.
Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan sat down with OZY at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival to discuss their film. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you decide to make a film about a peace progress that was over 20 years old?
Daniel Sivan: There are so many films about wars. Our last film was about the Six-Day War. Wars are very sexy. When we told people we wanted our next film to be about the peace process, they said that’s going to be so fucking boring, that’s going to be awful. But we explained there’s a lot of passion in peacemaking. And then we came across this diary by [negotiator] Ron Pundak. He wasn’t a famous politician, he was just a professor. We started reading it and we were shocked because it was so honest, so candid and so personal. This guy complained he didn’t have money for gas because he kept going from his home in Tel Aviv to Ramallah. He wasn’t funded by anybody and what he was doing was illegal, and he was afraid to tell his wife. We said, “OK, this is our story.”
How did you come across Pundak’s diary?
Mor Loushy: It was partially published, but when we started researching the film I met with his widow and she gave us access to all of his private diaries. All of the characters from the film wanted to take part — on both sides. And it’s not a simple choice for either side. For us as Israelis, right now it’s illegal to go to Ramallah. But we went there as guests. Hearing the other side is something significant and important.
Why do you think this story is especially important to tell now?
Sivan: In recent days the Palestinian Authority declared they are going to cancel the Oslo Accords, so it’s more timely than ever. This is really important now because, unlike in the ’90s, no party in Israel or Palestine promotes itself by saying it will bring peace. Peace is just a cliché that was totally deleted from every election ad. We don’t talk about peace in the Middle East. People just came to the conclusion that it will never happen and it’s better to focus on other stuff. We think it’s not only the most important agenda for Israelis and Palestinians, it’s the only agenda.
Loushy: For us as parents and civilians, peace is the most important thing. The fact is that every two years, we have a new war. Our son is 5 and a half. He’s been through two wars already. This is not the future we want. So when we set out to do this film, we said, “What happened in that moment? Why was there hope and why did it fail?” Also, people in Israel are not so familiar with the story. I think that to really understand what’s going on in the Middle East, you must understand this story.
Sivan: In Tel Aviv, where we live, everyone is vegan, almost everyone supports LGBTQ rights and everyone is so liberal and happy. It’s kind of this bubble. But if you drive 20 minutes away, you will discover another people, living under a military occupation. And it’s very easy for people like us in Tel Aviv to forget we are oppressing another people. For us, it’s important to take this film and put it in people’s faces and tell them, “Look, we are living in a war zone and there is a solution and we must get there because people are dying.”
The peace process made progress when the political mediators were separated from their associates and the media and other distractions. Is that possible today?
Loushy: Everything is possible, it just depends on will. For over a decade, our government has not even tried to go back to the negotiating table. This film is a call for action. We want a leadership that will take us toward a peaceful solution. We would like leaders who believe in peace and not in the status quo of occupation.
Sivan: Israel is very good at ending wars. We start a war, and we finish it. But in between wars we do nothing for the future of peace. And now we are in between wars. Instead of engaging in the peace process, we will wait until another war. And then Israelis will say we can’t negotiate with them because there is another war.
What do you hope people gain from your film?
Sivan: It makes me feel old, but this historic handshake [between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin] was over 20 years ago. That means that a 20-year-old Israeli soldier today, or a 20-year-old Palestinian who crosses a checkpoint and meets that soldier, has never lived in those years of hope. I really hope this film can give them this glance into a different reality.
- Justin Higginbottom, OZY Author Contact Justin Higginbottom