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A Powerful Cinematic Quest For Truth in the Holy Land

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The Attack (2012), a movie by Ziad Doueiri, is the cinematographic adaptation of Yasmina Khadra's novel, recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Prix des libraires (2006) and the Prix Tropiques (2006). Starring Ali Suliman, Reymond Amsalem and Uri Gavriel, The Attack addresses several themes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a personal and a political perspective. Released in Canada on September 8 2012 at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Attack is playing in theaters since August 2.

The story revolves around the life of Amin Jaafari, an Israeli Arab surgeon living a comfortable life in Tel Aviv with his wife, Siham. No one can imagine the day when Siham will be pushed to commit a suicide bombing on a bus in the heart of Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, this is the tragic event that will change the life of Amin. Confronted with this unexplained tragedy, Amin embarks on a personal quest to find answers to this terrible event. What could have incited Siham to commit a suicide bombing attack, killing with her 17 innocent people? But Amin's sorrow won't heal as fast as he would like it to. The Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service, obviously gets involved. His Arab origins fostering prejudice against him, Amin is quickly accused of complicity with his wife. But lack of evidence helps Amin get acquitted very fast. His acquittal does not bring him back his peace of mind, though. More than anything else, Amin wants to know the truth: why did Siham perpetrated the attack?

Amin travels to Nablus, a West Bank town where Siham had gone before committing the attack. There, he discovers things that will touch him deeply. On the streets of Nablus, pictures of Siham make the pride of the inhabitants. "Your wife is a martyr, a hero!", chant remorselessly hundreds of people to Amin. This political recuperation of the attack irritates Amin at the highest point. Why Palestinians and Israelis fight each other? How can people from Nablus who never set foot in Israel despise their neighbors so much? Amin, who grew up in Israel, knows much better his country than his fellow Palestinians. But in Nablus, he is greeted coldly by the Palestinians: he is either on their side or with the Shin Bet.

Although Siham's suicide attack far exceeds the individual frame and includes political and security implications, Amin is not resigned to fall in the service of anyone. But he soon realizes that when it comes down to terrorism, privacy and personal quest are not welcome in Holy Land. In Nablus, nobody wants to provide Amin with information on the causes of the attack, for fear of being hounded by the Shin Bet. In Tel Aviv, Siham's case is a matter of national security. After all, Amin lives and works in Israel, a country that offers him rights, quality of life and respect. Is it not his duty as a citizen of Israel to collaborate with the authorities? Torn between loyalty to his country, his Arab origins and an insatiable desire to find the truth, Amin soon realizes that in Holy Land, not everything is black or white.

One scene in particular struck me. While the Israeli security services work to identify potential accomplices in the attack and Palestinian activists celebrate the attack as a political gesture aimed against the State of Israel, Amin goes to the morgue and kisses the forehead of Siham's corpse. This scene reminds me of the Prince Charming's kiss. Even dead, Siham's soul is recovered for political purposes, both by Israelis and Palestinians. Amin's kiss symbolizes for me his deep desire to bring Siham back to "normal life," in other words, to free her from any form of political recuperation and let her soul rest in peace.

The beauty of the movie lies in the craft with which the filmmakers were able to stage, in the same story, a personal quest and a geopolitical conflict. Throughout the story we see how the evolution of a geopolitical conflict and the work of Israeli security services may enter in conflict with the personal quest of an innocent person trying to find the cause of an attack. The movie is punctuated by several flashbacks, which refer to scenes where we see Amin and his wife living a happy life. These flashbacks, combined with moments of silence that highlight all the incomprehension and will to know of Amin, make The Attack a must-see drama.

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