“It’s a small but stable group that has existed here since 1948,” says Oz. “The film skips from Yehoshua Satler, who during the War of Independence wanted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, to Ben Gurion, who ordered him to be shot if he tried to do it, to the ‘hilltop youth,’ the young men who at the age of twenty-something already have a history of administrative detentions and restraining orders.
"The focus of the movie is the story of the largest underground in the country’s history, which was active in the 1980s, and the stories of two of the terrorists from this underground, Yehuda Etzion, who still believes in his previous ideas, and Boaz Heinemann, who had a change of heart.”
Boaz Heinemann and Yehuda Etzion. Semi- terrorists or moderate rebels?
The 1980s were the years of glory for the Jewish underground, which poured out its wrath on the gentiles in a number of terrorist acts that caused deaths and led some of its members to jail. Among the organization’s actions were attacking the Islamic College, booby trapping the cars of three Palestinian mayors—PLO members—and a failed attempt to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount.
How did such an underground arise in the 1980s?
“The classic point of view of people from the Merkaz Harav yeshiva was that the State was, all in all, on the right path. Redemption would come in spite of the fact that the leadership and the public didn't understand that. The activists wanted to expedite the redemption.
"The Six Day War was to them a sign from God, the decision to evacuate settlements in the Sinai as part of the peace agreement with Egypt threatened the entire settlement enterprise, and this connected with a strong aspiration by several people to remove the Muslim presence from the Temple Mount. This group did not want to stop the withdrawal from Sinai. It wanted to take revenge on the Palestinians and to show the government the way. It thought it would teach the people of Israel.”
Boaz Heinemann (R) and Yehuda Etzion. Semi- terrorists or moderate rebels?
According to their testimony, underground members and their followers were convinced that they had seen the light while we were turning our backs on it, and that they had the ability to goad the public to an understanding through a dazzling explosion.
How did people of faith carry out acts whose results caused harm and even took lives?
“Yehuda Etzion, for example, has amazing ideas on the concept of sin. For him the commandment ‘Thou shalt not murder’ is for the Jewish
A terrorist with borders
Despite the off-putting phenomenon the film documents, people from all sides of the political spectrum can identify with one character in it: Boaz Heinemann, the underground’s “engineer,” who was imprisoned for two years for preparing an explosive device, undergoes a process of repentance and a change of heart before the cameras.
Oz notes that “on TV there is almost no such exposure.” In her opinion, the film’s story goes beyond the underground, beyond the people it documents. “There is more than one film here: there is a drama between two friends, and alongside it, a film about a phenomenon that encompasses very many years and events. I wanted to know the results of the escalation.
"Boaz asks in the film if there is such a thing as a semi-terrorist or a moderate rebel, and what happened is that Boaz demonstrates amazingly well how the snowball effect is built-in with terrorism. Once there is no permitted and forbidden among a group of people that has loosened the bounds, it’s always the extreme one who will lead.
“Boaz wanted only to blow up the Dome of the Rock, and found himself helping to booby trap buses with civilians. What comes out of the story is a very deep principle of the absurdity of terror: there’s almost no such thing as trying and succeeding in being a terrorist with boundaries, because once you are in the underground, you’ve become a lawbreaker and gone to a region where the boundaries no longer exist.”
According to Oz, she is also part of the story, even though most of the time you can only hear her voice. “Perhaps you don’t see me much, but what happened without my intending it to happen is that my character is the reasonable, average Israeli, who wants to understand what you are permitted to do in the name of an idea, how far you can go.”
How were you treated there when you came with your baggage—documentary film maker, woman, leftist, daughter of Amoz Oz?
”Ultimately I didn’t refer to the baggage when I came to speak with the people, and that is what mattered. There was no left-wing banner or women’s flag or ID badges of the old elite. In the end, in a dialog, such status symbols lose their importance. I didn’t come to make a film of the left and the right, but a film that has the right against the right. The film deals with the boundaries of opposition to the kingdom, to the government, and exposes a great rift within the right. It puts the national, statesmanlike camp on one side, and the extreme, combative camp on the other.”
If there is communication, there’s also hope
Oz came to examine the nature of Jewish terrorism, and found an internal debate in the group that engendered this extremism, a debate that points to a society in which a certain rot has spread, but if there is communication, there is also hope.
“The confrontation between Etzion and Heinman was documented in a long day of continuous filming, and it is interwoven throughout the film, and develops like a drama, whose end is reminiscent of a gunfight in the Wild West: they sit on a seesaw and smile, and there is a sort of closeness-friendship between them—and in the end they get to a real debate, at the climax of which Boaz asks Yehuda, ‘Who made thee (a ruler and a judge over us)?’ You want to change, but don’t force revolutions.”
More than political ramifications, and fateful questions on what would happen if someone succeeded in blowing up the golden dome on the Temple Mount and causing a regional catastrophe, Oz is interested in an abstract question whose roots touch the foundations of social science: How is it possible that a normative person goes and commits criminal acts and then goes back to being a courteous person, without the mark of Cain?
“The moment a person commits a crime because of a vision, he appears a bit less terrible to all of us," she says. "He returns to society with tremendous flexibility, and society allows him to do this. People sit and drink coffee with him and don’t think, ‘He’s a murderer,’ just because he’s an idealist. Partially, you can understand this obliviousness and repression—much worse things have been done to us. Jewish terrorism is not comparable to Palestinian in its essence, in its scope, in its cruelty, in its murderousness. It is not similar.”
What’s the difference?
“A peace-seeking society is a society that loves human life. There’s something optimistic in the profound and bitter discussion between Yehuda and Boaz. Such an open discussion is a characteristic of an open society, and here’s where I developed great hope. When a Palestinian from Hamas gets up and says, ‘Guys, we have crossed all moral boundaries, we’ve drowned the region in blood,’ and a Palestinian documentary film maker makes a film on him, then we’ll know that we’re close to peace.”