Robert Fisk: My challenge for Steven Spielberg

'Munich' suggests for the first time on the big screen that Israel's policy is immoral

Share

Jewish groups have suggested that Spielberg has dishonoured his Jewish roots by portraying Mossad agents as criminal, self-doubting murderers who ultimately come to despise their own country. There must be something interesting here, I said to myself, as I sat down on the other side of the Atlantic to watch the director's blockbuster of murder and bloodshed.

There's plenty to be appalled by: the killing of the athletes interlocked with scenes of assassination leader "Avner" copulating with his wife in a New York apartment; the Israeli murder of a Dutch call girl who has set up a Mossad killer for assassination - she walks naked and bleeding across the floor of her canal barge, trying to breathe through the bullet wound in her breast; and the Middle East cliché of the year. It comes when "Avner" - in an entirely fictional scene - talks to an armed Palestinian refugee whom he will later kill. "Tell me something, Ali," he asks. "Do you really miss your father's olive trees?"

Well, of course, "Ali" does rather miss his father's olive trees. Ask any Palestinian in the shithouse slums of the Ein el-Helwe, Nahr el-Bared or Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon and you'll get the same reply. It's a staged, creepy scene in which Avner's educated, philosophical approach is contrasted with the harsh, uneducated Palestinian's anger.

And there's a lot else wrong. The same Mossad team's real-life murder of a perfectly innocent Moroccan waiter in Norway is deleted from the narrative of the film - thus avoiding, I suppose, the embarrassment of showing one of the murderers later hiding in the Oslo apartment of the Israeli defence attaché to Norway, a revelation that did not do a lot for Scandinavian-Israeli relations.

But Spielberg's movie has crossed a fundamental roadway in Hollywood's treatment of the Middle East conflict. For the first time, we see Israel's top spies and killers not only questioning their role as avengers but actually deciding that an "eye for an eye" does not work, is immoral, is wicked. Murdering one Palestinian gunman - or one Palestinian who sympathises with the Munich killers - only produces six more to take their place. One by one, members of the Mossad assassination squad are themselves hunted down and murdered. Avner even calculates that it costs $1m every time he liquidates a Palestinian.

And the film's ending - when Avner's Mossad minder comes to New York to persuade him to return to Israel, only to be rebuffed when he fails to supply evidence of the murdered Palestinians' guilt, and to walk away in disgust from Avner's offer to break bread at his home - suggests for the first time on the big screen that Israel's policy of militarism and occupation is immoral. That the camera then moves to the left of the two men and picks up a digitalised re-created image of the twin towers through the haze was what I call a "groaner". Yes, Steve, I said to myself, thank you - but we've got the message.

Yet that's the point. This film deconstructs the whole myth of Israeli invincibility and moral superiority, its false alliances - one of the most sympathetic characters is an elderly French mafia boss who helps Avner - and its arrogant assumption that it has the right to engage in state murder while others do not.

Perhaps inevitably, the author of the book upon which Munich is based - George Jonas, who wrote Vengeance - has done his best to deconstruct Spielberg. "One doesn't reach the moral high ground being neutral between good and evil," he says. What turns audiences off the movie is "treating terrorists as people ... in their effort not to demonise humans, Spielberg and Kushner (Tony Kushner, the chief screenplay writer) end up humanising demons". Yes, but - that's the point isn't it? Calling humans terrorists does dehumanise them, whatever their background. The "why?" question - prohibited after the 11 September 2001 crimes against humanity - is the very same question every cop asks at the scene of any crime: what was the motive?

Presumably intended to coincide with the movie, Aaron Klein has come out with a new book on Munich, published by Random House. As one reviewer has pointed out, he writes of the same Mossad hoods as cold-blooded hit squads rather than self-doubting mercenaries. In quite another context, it's interesting to learn that Klein, a captain in the Israeli army's intelligence unit, also happens to be Time magazine's military affairs correspondent in Jerusalem. I assume that august pro-Israeli journal will soon appoint a Hamas member as its military affairs reporter on the West Bank.

But again, all this misses the point. It's not whether Spielberg changes the characters of his killers - or whether Malta doubles for Beirut in the film and Budapest for Paris - but that Israel's whole structure of super-morality is brought under harsh, bitter self-examination. Towards the end, Avner even storms into the Israeli consulate in New York because he believes Mossad has decided to liquidate him too.

So now the real challenge for Spielberg. A Muslim friend once wrote to me to recommend Schindler's List, but asked if the director would continue the story with an epic about the Palestinian dispossession which followed the arrival of Schindler's refugees in Palestine. Instead of that, Spielberg has jumped 14 years to Munich, saying in an interview that the real enemy in the Middle East is "intransigence". It's not. The real enemy is taking other people's land away from them.

So now I ask: will we get a Spielberg epic on the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 and after? Or will we - like those refugees desperate for visas in the wartime movie Casablanca wait, and wait - and wait?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup