An Arab doctor and his suicide bomber wife are the focus of a complex film banned in Lebanon.
This film reviewed here is based on a novel. The film is a work of fiction. It is not a documentary. It is essentially a work of soft-core propaganda. It is not based on any real incident in Israel. There is no “real” Dr. Amin Jafaari, a Tel Aviv surgeon who grew up in Nablus nor is his Christian wife based on a real character.
I have just seen Lebanese director Zind Doueiri’s prize-winning film, “L’Attentat” (The Attack). The film focuses on Dr. Amin Jafaari, a rather soulful, assimilated Arab Israeli surgeon who lives and works in Tel Aviv. His colleagues are mainly Israeli Jews with whom he socializes; they are his social as well as professional intimates.
Early on, Dr. Jafaari accepts a prize for his work. He makes a graceful and grateful speech, but nevertheless, notes that he is the first Arab in 41 years to have received this prize. He softens this point, by saying that “every Jew is a little Arab, and every Arab is a little Jewish.”
For the moment, the world is his—except his beloved wife, Siham, is not by his side. We do not learn until late in the film that they fought about this, that Siham refused to be there, that she cried out: “It’s all for you, it’s all about you.”
Siham is not there because, at the time, she is strapping on explosives to blow up and murder seventeen Israelis, eleven of whom are children. Siham lives a privileged life in Tel Aviv but she seems to have no job, no occupation, no children, (she wants none—she says that instead, she “dreams of having a passport”). Siham has made a strange “career” move. Her husband saves lives—including Jewish lives. She will match and perhaps even trump him by destroying life.
Female suicide killers are sometimes clinically depressed either bio-chemically or because they are infertile and their husbands have divorced them and remarried fertile women; or they desire revenge for the deaths in battle of their husbands or brothers; or they have been compromised, sexually, by their handlers and blackmailed into going out in a cloud of glory.
Read Dr. Anat Berko, Israel’s leading criminologist on this subject in The Smarter Bomb. Women and Children as Suicide Bombers; read Barbara Victor’s Army of Roses. These motives are discussed at length.
There is one more motive. If a woman is trapped in purdah and veiled, if she is not allowed/does not choose to be employed outside the home, if she has absolutely no outlets, or, if she is a religious jihadist, then perhaps, becoming a suicide killer is her path to glory and a way of gifting her impoverished family with money.
Terrorist organizations routinely reward the families of suicide bombers with money. Saddam Hussein paid twenty-five thousand dollars to such Palestinian families; as of 2009, he had given thirty five million dollars towards this cause. Mahmoud Abbas routinely paid a monthly allowance, the Arab Bank paid 20 thousand rials (five thousand dollars), and Hamas routinely allotted such families three to five thousand dollars.
While Dr. Jafaari ultimately embraces his inner existential angst, Siham is Doueiri’s real heroine. She is not cloistered in an Arab village. She lives in modern Tel Aviv and dresses in a modern and sexy way. Her motives do not match any of the known motives of most Palestinian female suicide killers. Nevertheless, she is bent on revenge and wishes to make a giant statement about her husband’s choice to assimilate among the Jewish Israeli “enemy.”
Poor Dr. Jafaari is not only betrayed by his mysterious wife—it is his own family of origin in Nablus (Shechem), specifically his nephew Adel, who has indoctrinated his wife. Actually, she is the one who insists on becoming a suicide killer. Hiding in plain sight, Siham becomes Tel Aviv Central for a Nablus-based terrorist group. She launders money for them and stores their weapons. Her husband is utterly oblivious to all this. Even after identifying her corpse, he remains in denial for a long time. He refuses to believe that his wife could be a cold-blooded killer, that his wife would keep such an important secret from him.
Siham is not exactly believable in terms of motive but there is more: Siham comes from Nazareth; she is a Christian secularist (just like Edward Said), she is a Dhimmi infidel, not a Muslim. And yet, a Christian priest, not a jihadist mullah, is the one who counseled her in Nablus and who defends her valiant self-sacrifice to the assimilated Dr. Jafaari. The priest, calmly lighting church candles, tells Jafaari that his wife “died for your redemption.” He accuses Jafaari of being a Palestinian Uncle Tom.
According to Dr. Anat Berko, there have been no Palestinian Christian female suicide killers. None.
Thus, Siham’s motives are not typical—they are purely a propaganda ploy as is the decision to present her as a Christian. But there is one more Big Lie in this well-crafted film.
Dr. Jafaari’s nephew, Adel, explains what Siham’s true motive was. He says that “her brain snapped when she saw the massacre in Jenin.” And we see Jafaari roaming about Jenin where the rocks are clearly marked “Ground Zero.”
But there was no Israeli massacre in Jenin. Even the United Nations, issued a document saying so. In reality, 24 young IDF soldiers were forced to go in on foot without air cover so as to prevent civilian Arab casualties only to be picked off by snipers or blown up by pre-planted bombs. The global pressure was so intense that Israel did not dare to bomb Jenin, the base for suicide killers, from above. Instead, 13 of the soldiers were sacrificed in plain sight on the altar of public opinion.
By the end of the film, Dr. Jafaari is made to understand that, existentially, he belongs nowhere: Not among his Israeli colleagues who have sheltered him during this harsh time and not among his Palestinian relatives who have betrayed him. Now, he is truly a man without a country, without a family, and without a wife.
This film shows the gentle Dr. Jafaari being brutally interrogated by Shin Bet and imprisoned – for their not knowing if he had collaborated with his wife. It also shows brutish and brutal IDF forces portrayed as terrifying and bullying Arabs out of context, for no apparent reason. It shows us that Israelis have desecrated his apartment and painted the words “Child Killer” on his verandah. True, it also shows Jewish Israelis who are very proud to call themselves Dr. Jafaari’s friends and to stand by him after this atrocity.
This film has been banned in Lebanon. By Hizbullah’s standards, even though the film is based on a series of subtle as well as Big Lies, it is still too unacceptably kind to Israel.
We have just seen that 58% of Arab, (“Palestinians”), who are Israeli citizens believe that the Palestinian Authority is justified in violent rebellion; that 63% are in favor of Iran’s developing nuclear power; and that while 54% prefer Israel as a place to live, that 70% do not want a Jewish majority in Israel.
Yes, Dr. Jafaari may feel he is in free fall, a man without a country—but Jewish Israel has a serious Arab (“Palestinian”) problem in Tel Aviv and Haifa. While the film almost seems “fair” and balanced, it is not really concerned with the high body count of the allegedly brutal “occupier.”
The suffering of Yishmael is based partly on lies; the suffering of Yitzhak is real. I hope that someday a filmmaker will really portray all this without prejudice.
Prof. Phyllis Chesler
The writer is the author of fourteen books, including Women and Madness, Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman, and The New Anti-Semitism. She has published three studies about honor killing and is work on a fourth. Her new book, An American Bride in Kabul, (Palgrave Macmillan) will be out in the fall. Professor Chesler may be reached at her website www.phyllis-chesler.com