“For me, history and truth matter” – Gillian Mosely’s Film On The Israel-Palestine Conflict
Bafta-winning director Gillian Mosely grew up as a Jew in a strong Zionist home. A friendship with a gay Muslim Palestinian, however, forced her to challenge what she had long been brought up to believe about Palestine. This, she tells Service95, is what inspired her to make The Tinderbox, a film that explores the past and present of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
When I was about 17, I met Tamer at Taboo – Leigh Bowery’s iconic London nightclub. At that point, all we cared about was nightclubs and parties and what we were wearing to them. It was a good five years before we realised that I was Jewish, and he was Palestinian. At his house, I’d hear things over the dinner table that had happened to his family and so much of it just didn’t add up to what I’d been taught by my largely Zionist family.
I started to look into it and the more I discovered, the more I thought, ‘Wait a second, this isn’t right.’ And so, my film – although scathing about Britain’s role in the erosion of Palestinian rights – is also about holding up a mirror to the Jewish community. It’s not a mirror that certain Jews want to look in. As a Jew myself, that has been difficult. My family members and other people I know have avoided watching the film. But I believe that this is something we Jews need to get to grips with – because if we don’t, other people will do it for us.
There have been some interesting moments of change in the last year, much of which I believe is thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. Young liberal Jews who were supportive of the Black Lives Matter campaign couldn’t understand why their friends were then turning around and supporting the Palestinians. There have been many mini identity crises over that sort of thing, and I have a lot of sympathy for that. But, for me, history and truth matter. I’d rather know the truth and deal with it than keep sticking my head in the sand.
One argument that has been bandied around is that the criticism of Israel in this matter is simply part of anti-Semitic rhetoric, but I think it depends on who it’s coming from and how it’s phrased. I am not at all in agreement with people who say that being anti the Israel government is anti-Semitic. It’s eminently possible to criticise the government without being anti-Semitic.
I had been to the West Bank in the past, but when I went to Hebron, that gave me the most pause for thought. Hebron is a microcosm of the conflict writ large. You have this place where there are literally about a thousand Jewish settlers, and they’re the hard-line settlers, and they torment the Palestinians. My team and I saw a lot of this. They have the Israeli army around them, protecting them, and they harass Palestinians, and the Israeli army doesn’t do anything about it.
There are 200,000 Palestinians in the city, yet the thousand Jews living in the Old City have completely taken over. I was shocked by it. It’s also worth mentioning that we are talking about the world’s longest-existing refugee crisis. Before the Ukraine war, a third of the world’s refugees were Palestinians – and as a people, they’ve been refugees for around 70 years. The average is 20 years.
That said, I don’t think I’m going to change the minds of hard-line Jews. So the film is aimed at people (Jews and non-Jews) sitting on the fence. It’s asking them to engage with the story – a story I felt I had to tell. I come from three long lines of rabbis – we were some of Britain’s earliest chief rabbis – I’m a community leader, and as a history filmmaker with that background I felt, if I can’t say anything about this situation, no one can.
As a family, we had to take the Israel-Palestine conversation off the table early on as it would just turn into a screaming row. But something needed to be said. Often you read things people say and they get labelled a self-hating Jew, which is absurd. In my opinion, Jews who are endangering the rest of Jews because of their hard-line stance are putting us all in jeopardy. That, to me, would seem a more logical way to frame ‘self-hating Jew’.
The Tinderbox is on Curzon Home Cinema – watch it here