Hitchhiking across California in the Seventies, a young woman called Colleen Stan found herself on the outskirts of a town called Red Bluff. She turned down two lifts because she wasn't sure about the look of the drivers, but then a young couple drew up, the woman nursing a baby, and Colleen made her first big mistake. She climbed in. A little later, when the car stopped at a petrol station and Colleen paid a visit to the bathroom, she made her second, which was even bigger. She ignored the inner voice, which was telling her that there was something not quite right about the man. When she climbed back into the car, he drove to the edge of town and pulled a knife on her, forcing her to lock her head into a specially constructed box, lined with insulating foam to muffle the sound of her screams.
I don't suppose you'd be in a condition for dispassionate analysis at such a moment, but if you were, I think you'd recognise that the box was a very bad sign, evidence that your attacker hadn't just got carried away in the heat of the moment but had everything planned. And so it proved. Cameron Hooker, an apparently inoffensive type, was bringing to fruition a carefully calculated scheme to acquire a female slave, and doing it with the acquiescence of his wife, who was keen that someone else take up the burden of satisfying Hooker's obsession with torture and bondage. The deal was simple. As long as Hooker didn't sleep with Colleen, he would be allowed to keep her in the basement and torture her from time to time.
As Five's film The Girl in the Box made clear, Hooker didn't just want someone who had to be chained up. He wanted a mental captive, too, a woman reduced to a state of unquestioning obedience. So, after applying Rumsfeldian tactics of sensory deprivation, stress positions and sexual abuse, Hooker began to train Colleen up to a greater liberty. He told her that he belonged to a shadowy group called the "Company", which, should she make any attempt to escape, would track her and her family down and kill them all. Broken by her regular beatings and torture sessions, Colleen believed him. In the end, Hooker's control was so effective that he was able to let her go to work at a nearby motel and even visit her family, who had assumed that she'd either been murdered or had joined a cult. Even this was at Hooker's whim, though. And when he became bored, Colleen spent nearly three years in a coffin-shaped box underneath Hooker's waterbed, emerging only for a few hours a day. Hooker's young daughters had no idea that she was even in the house.
Eventually, for some reason, Hooker's wife spilled the beans, at which point Colleen escaped and Hooker was arrested and charged with kidnap and multiple rape, the only problem for the prosecution being Colleen's solo excursions and the fulsome love letters that she'd sent to Hooker under her slave name, a symptom of complete psychological dependency that Hooker's defence team immediately enlisted as evidence of consent. Tellingly, the jury didn't find it remotely difficult to believe that a man would do something so outlandish and cruel, only hesitating over the possibility that a woman might not immediately flee when she had the chance. Fortunately, they grasped what enthusiasts for torture – both psychopathic and governmental – cannot, which is that it reduces its victim to a person quite incapable of discriminating between truth and fiction, or between their own interests and those of their tormentor.
Quite a lot of Israelis presumably view Yulie Cohen as just such a person, so disturbed by aggression that she has lost sight of the self-preserving duty of enmity. When Cohen was working as an El Al flight attendant, she was caught up in a London attack that left two of her colleagues dead and her with shrapnel in her arm. Now a film-maker and active in the Israeli peace movement, she decided it was time for a personal gesture of reconciliation, and began working for the freedom of the man who once tried to kill her.
My Israel was a kind of accumulated diary of this enterprise, as well as a portrait of Israel today, and her own deeply conflicted journey from proud member of the Israeli armed forces to patriotic dissident. It was a strange, compelling film, mostly distinguished by a sense of pain, whether it was that of the Israeli mother whose daughter had been killed in a terrorist attack (she fiercely opposed Cohen's attempts at forgiveness, but was allowed to put her case at length) or of Cohen herself, as she heard her father confess that he participated in the killing of Palestinians fleeing from Beersheba, unable to say for sure whether they were fighters or civilians. It was a portrait of a society simmering with rage and fear, and it was impossible to tell where one emotion stopped and the other began.Reuse content