It was a portrait of a community founded on hatred, on the principle that conciliation is a moral sin. There are around 500 settlers in Hebron, surrounded by some 100,000 Arabs, and the Jews see themselves as a candle in the darkness, vulnerable to extinction but vital to the world. 'Our mission is light. Light to the whole world,' said Rabbi Waldman with that utter conviction that suggests it's time to head for the bunker.
Some of his flock take a very practical view about keeping the flame alight. Contact glue mixed with petrol is useful, for instance, a recipe for home-made napalm which was passed on by a settler on night-patrol. They use it for setting fire to Arab cars - 'The enemy should always be with the head bent,' he observed. This isn't just talk - Peled also accompanied a 'historic tour' through Hebron, a provocative excursion which Rabbi Gilon Bensaid and his followers could be confident would provide the excuse for 'self-defence', that is, shooting Palestinians who throw stones. The extremist group Kach (outlawed since the film was made) offers a bumper sticker saying: 'I already killed an Arab. And you?'
Such opinions are hardly news. But Peled's film confronted you with their intensity and, more depressing still, showed how a new generation was being taught to hate. Children in a school bus sang a cheerful song: 'All the world hates the Arabs / And the main thing / the main thing / Is to kill them one by one'. One child, like many of his elders, approved of Baruch Goldstein's attack on the mosque - 'If I could, I'd have tried to help him,' he said with innocent evil. For these children ancient hatreds and recent violence provide the petrol, but the approval of adults adds the glue which will make it stick and burn to the bone.
It helped if you had seen Timewatch (BBC 2) before you turned to the dismal echoes of Peled's documentary - helped your understanding, if not your spirits. Pawel Lozinski's striking film was a simple account of Henryk Grynberg's return to Poland to try to find out what had happened to his family during the war. He and his mother had escaped to America - his father and younger brother had not. He looked too young to have personal contact with the Holocaust, which was a useful shock in itself, confirming that the event is well within living memory. Or living amnesia in the case of the elderly Polish villagers Grynberg confronted.
In a winter landscape as flat and dull as grief, he pressed for recollection, for names to be named. Everybody had helped, it seemed, everybody had given food; it was always neighbours who had denounced the hiding Jews or forced them to move on, always others who had been cruel. But even now people didn't really want to talk, haunted by bad conscience and fear. Extraordinarily, Grynberg unearthed the truth, finding witnesses who thought they had seen his two-year-old brother shot and confronting what may have been one of his father's killers, an old man with a Brueghel face.
He unearthed his father, too, buried by the roadside with the bottle he always carried, a fragment of Grynberg's childhood memory which was suddenly there, cold in his hands, smeared in mud. As he prized the skull from the clay he saw with a sudden shock that the flesh was still on the bone. The villagers stood around the pit, a frieze of passive watchers. This startling film made you offer up an entirely contradictory prayer - God preserve us from forgetting the claims of history.Reuse content