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Primer on Mideast politics lacks insights

Documentary 'Blood and Tears' tells us the region's conflicts are complicated. Really?

August 24, 2007|John Anderson | Special to Newsday

At the outset of Isidore Rosmarin's "Blood and Tears: The Arab-Israeli Conflict," we learn that "the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a very complicated one." (And we say to ourselves: No kidding.) Toward the end of the film, a subtitle tells us (and we paraphrase): Despite there being absolutely no reason to expect peace to ever come to the Middle East, some people continue to hope it will.

In between doses of the obvious and the dispiriting is a primer on the Arab-Israeli situation, and -- should one choose to see it that way -- all the justification in the world for taking out Iran before that country gets a nuclear bomb.

Yes, TV journalist Rosmarin has an agenda, despite his ostensibly objective technique in bringing together a veritable who's who of Mideast political punditry. The strategy seems to be: Talk to as many august heads as one can gather in a feature-length film and give what seems like equal time to both Palestinian and Israeli points of view, until the end, when you cast the Israelis as patient and the Palestinians as crazy. We get Hamas leader Abdulaziz Rantisi, who was assassinated in 2004, and PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat (one of the more rational people in the film), both of whom expound in about the way you'd expect. Likewise, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and professional Israel supporter and sometime lawyer Alan Dershowitz. No one springs any surprises from his rhetorical grab bag.

But if you're making a serious film about Middle Eastern politics and history, do you really want to include people like Gary Bauer, the Rumpelstiltskin of the American religious right? Or a pandering Sean Hannity wannabe like WorldNetDaily's Joseph Farah (who once endorsed the murder of adulterous husbands)? A good-looking university student here, a former prime minister there. Rosmarin throws them all in and arrives at . . . nothing, really. There are no solutions. There are no philosophical presumptions. There are no hard perspectives. There are statements of fact from which the viewer can be expected to glean very little. That, and some very dubious expert witnesses.

To break up the monotony of his stationary talking heads, Rosmarin goes with a mélange of visual techniques, including violent crosscutting, a la music videos, and the occasional interruption by dictionary-style titles, which explain things like "Judaism," "Christianity" and "Islam." I'm not kidding. We're also told that most people in the Middle East would get along if they could only meet as individuals (a timetable for this hypothetical mixer is not included). And that most people are not extremist; they're somewhere in the middle. With insights like that, the whole problem should be cleared up in no time.


"Blood and Tears: The Arab-Israeli Conflict." MPAA rating: PG-13 for violent images. Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes. Playing at Laemmle's Grande, 345 S. Figueroa St., downtown L.A., (213) 617-0268.

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