Category Archives: Israel

“Traitor: A Thriller” by Jonathan deShalit— A High Stakes Thriller

deShalit, Jonathan. “Traitor: A Thriller”, Atria Books, 2018.

A High Stakes Thriller

Amos Lassen

I cannot say too much about Jonathan deShalit’s new novel, “Traitor” since we have a few months before it is published bit I wanted to let you know about it so you can add to you list of books to be read. It is a high-stakes thriller that pits the intelligence of one man against one of the most successful spies ever to operate against American interests. It all begins when a young Israeli walks into an American embassy and offers to betray his country for money and power but he has no idea that the CIA agent interviewing him is a Russian mole. Years later, this same young man becomes a trusted advisor to Israel’s Prime Minister and throughout his career, he has been sharing everything he knows with Russia. Now, there is a hint that there may be a traitor in the highest realms of power and a top-secret team is put together to hunt for him. The chase takes this team from the streets of Tel Aviv to deep inside the Russian zone and, finally, to the United States, where a very unique spymaster is revealed. The final showdown—between the traitor and the betrayed—can only be dealt by an act of utter treachery that could have far-reaching and devastating consequences.

 

“ALMOST FAMOUS” Contemporary Israeli Youth

“ALMOST FAMOUS”

Contemporary Israeli Youth

Amos Lassen

Shir’s brother Tomer is a talented musician with a lot of friends, good looks and he has just been accepted to sing on an Israeli reality show thus making him somewhat famous very quicky. Shir has one best friend, excellent grades and becomes very nervous whenever she whenever she sees handsome Omri.   She does not feel that being intelligent would cause a guy to be attracted to her and she really wants to be popular.

Tomer is a mediocre student and se thinks that this proves her point about her own self-confidence.

Shir is sure her life will change when people understand that she is Tomer’s sister and she really wants to move up to be a member of the “cool kids” at her school and find both real friends and first love.

This is a contemporary youth drama that vividly and sensitively shows us what teems think is important when they live in a society where the desire to be ‘famous’ is often stronger than the need to fill that 

Society with what is real. We see what it is to be “blinded by glittering lights and about identity – about what and who we dream of being, and about the courage to choose who we really are.”

“LATE SUMMER BLUES”— An Israeli Classic

“LATE SUMMER BLUES”

An Israeli Classic

Amos Lassen

Renen Schorr’s classic cult film, “Late Summer Blues” has now been digitally restored. When it was first released in 1988 it won the Israeli Academy Awards Winner for Best Film,

 

Best Screenplay and Best Original Score and was screened at over 30 international film festivals around the world It is set in the summer of 1970 in Tel Aviv and looks at a group of seven eighteen-year old kids just before their induction to the army during the time of the War of Attrition at the Suez Canal. During the “short and charged weeks they will try, individually and as a group, to dream, to fulfill their ambitions and to change reality by their graduation ceremony show.”

It is a beautiful and sensitive film that shows the effects of war on everyday life while barely touching the topic of war. We see a mix of joy and sadness, childhood and maturity and the dilemmas that the characters are facing as they decide to join or not to join the army and in which unit. We meet a variety of characters including the non-conformist who joins the army because he understands that there is no such privilege; the guy that everything works for, an aspiring filmmaker; a hopeful songwriter; a left-wing conscientious objector; a young newlywed couple; and a likable, curly-headed oaf who is the first to be drafted and the first, naturally, to be killed (but not in battle: a nice irony).

The film wonderfully captures all the exuberance and awkward idealism of youth without the stereotypes. We also seethe effects of an unending war on a young generation compelled by duty and circumstance to sacrifice more than just their lives.

“SCAFFOLDING”— Torn Between Two Worlds

 

“Scaffolding”

Torn Between Two Worlds

Amos Lassen

17-year- old ASHER has always been an impulsive troublemaker. It’s hard for him to concentrate in class, and he is filled of rage and violence. He also has a lot of charm and street wisdom. His strict father sees him as a natural successor to the family’s scaffolding business but Asher finds a different masculine role model in his gentle literature teacher Rami and has a special connection with him. Asher is torn between the two worlds and looks for a chance for a new life and new identity. Then a sudden tragedy takes place and he has to take the ultimate test of maturity.

Director Matan Yair had once been a teacher who believed that he could inspire his pupils by letting them follow their own path of self-discovery. One of his students was Asher who was the inspiration for this film.

Asher (Asher Lax) doesn’t care much for education and makes little effort to prepare for his final exams. Besides being a student, he helps his father Milo (Yaacov Cohen) with his scaffolding business. Since Milo thinks that his son will take over the company one day, Asher doesn’t believe that he has any options for a different life available. But everything changes when Rami (Ami Smolartchik), a literature teacher, becomes his mentor and a role model. He helps Asher with his studies, and shows Asher that he has other options in life aside from his father’s business. Although the teacher gives it his all, he himself is also lost. One day, Rami suddenly disappears from the students’ lives and leaves them with nothing but anger and sadness. Asher has to decide if he will continue with what he has already set out to do and if it will give him enough inner confidence to try to find happiness and fulfillment.

This is a sincere and compelling portrait of a young man’s self-discovery. It is also an allegory for Asher’s life. Asher Lax gives an incredible performance and this is first shot at acting. Ami Smolartchik’s Rami is an honest, heartening performance. This Israeli-Polish co-production is a finely woven production with a profound ending.

“MONTANA”— Coming Home

“Montana”

Coming Home

Amos Lassen

Efi, (Noa Biron), a young woman returns to her hometown in Israel after the death of her grandfather and she begins an affair with a married teacher in the debut feature from Israeli filmmaker Limor Shmila looks at how Efi confront secrets of her past when she returns the town of her youth.

Efi returns to her hometown of Acre and immediately gets involved in the problems of various people from her past. Shmila uses a low-key, deliberate sensibility that we see in the keenly reflected in the uneventful narrative of Efi’s subdued exploits in and around her small-town environment. After discovering an illicit affair, Efi falls in love with a married woman. Efi is a mysterious and conflicted character but her exploits really do not deliver any great shocks yet the film is interesting in its different view of Israel.

“WAITING FOR GIRAFFES”— A Zoo in Palestine

“WAITING FOR GIRAFFES”

A Zoo in Palestine

Amos Lassen

THE Qalqilya Zoo is the only municipal zoo in the Palestinian territories. It is a short distance from the Israeli-occupied West Bank at a location rife with conflict and while it seems impossible that a zoo should be established there, it acts as something of a beacon of hope to the Palestinian people who visit it.

‘Waiting For Giraffes’ follows Dr Sami Khader, the life force behind the Qalqilya Zoo. He’s raised many of the animals by hand, and has worked hard at bringing the zoo up to international standards. He dreams that it will one day become a member of international zoo association EAZA that would allow him to bring a new giraffe to Qalqilya.

Dr Sami is an inspiration and quite a character. He is officially the zoo’s vet but he is also a mentor to fellow workers, a persistent innovator, passionate animal caregiver, and Palestinian refugee. His hard work and dedication have done much to change his workplace.

Like Dr Sami himself, the film tries to avoid politics but it’s impossible to do anything in Palestine without getting political. Buying more Palestinian-owned land to expand the zoo requires the approval of the Israeli authorities, and traveling to the closest zoo in Israel requires extensive paperwork for visas. Everything is a complicated challenge in a situation that might fall apart if it were not for Dr Sami holding it together.

We see the evolution of the zoo as it undergoes the process of applying for EAZA and this is a challenging task that Dr Sami is determined to conquer. It’s made all the more difficult by those around him and problems appear endless.

Dr Sami brings some humor to any situation and his ability to is an important tool. At times, the challenges of Qalqilya Zoo seem like a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Despite the hardship, Dr Sami and his team persevere with their goals, and we want them to succeed.

“SURVIVING PEACE”— Achieving By Understanding

“SURVIVING PEACE”

Achieving By Understanding

Amos Lassen

History has taught us time and again that peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding. In the situation between Israel and Palestine, this does not seem to be happening and it is probably because tempers are hot and what has happened in the past has not been forgotten. Personally, as an Israeli citizen, I do not see how it is possible to forget the tremendous number of soldiers that fell in Israel’s wars for peace.

“Surviving Peace” asks Israelis and Palestinians (extremely resourceful and innovative peoples in every other field of endeavor) why they suffer from dull and nonproductive thinking, lack of imagination and innovation when it comes to achieving peace with each other.

Director Josef Avesar draws on his own experiences as an Israeli-Jewish-Arab-American to nvestigate the controversy and suggest a way out. The film was shot in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the United States and goes deeply into the core issues driving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and

proposes that the two sides, as well as the U.S. and the international community, cease from attempting to repeat formulas for peace that have already failed in the past and proposes the creation of a third independent government, a confederation for the people of Israel and Palestine, to solve problems together while each retains its own original government. It even proposes constitutional arrangements that will allow the two sides to cooperate without sacrificing core needs or their desire for national sovereignty. The documentary argues that the best way to resolve the conflict is to emphasize what the two sides have in common, instead of what sets them apart. The film challenges basic beliefs by revealing a path to a just and lasting peace.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is already over a century old and is one of the world’s major sources of instability. Attempts to make peace have perpetuated hatred and violence and the prevailing Two State formula has proven a failure. The “Peace Makers” seem to be moving in the wrong direction, thus causing scholars to question whether the Two-State formula is dead.

Israelis and Palestinians share similar cultural, historic and biblical roots, but remain distant. Yet even with the physical and emotional estrangement; the two maintain a fascination and mystical attraction to one another. Their conflict has gone on for so long that the world seems to accept it as permanent., Israelis and Palestinians are interwoven in their violence and animosity for each other

Surviving Peace features candid interviews with major Israeli and Palestinian leaders, along with government officials and thinkers; some of who make surprising admissions. “Israelis and the Palestinians are both extremely resourceful and innovative people in every other field of endeavor but when it comes to peace, they have to deal with “stagnated thinking and lack of innovation”. The film offers a solution and will change the way you think about the conflict.

We see and hear interviews with Uri Avneri, Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement; Muhammad al-Madani, head of the Palestinian ministry for ‘interaction with Israeli society,’ Israeli Statesman and scholar Dr. Yossi Beilin, and Palestinian diplomat Saeb Muhammad Salih Erekat who served as chief of the PLO Steering and Monitoring Committee until 2011 among others.

“LOOK ABOUT YOU”— Israeli Road Trip

 

“Look About You”

Road Trip

Amos Lassen

Israeli director Amit Shalev brings us a unique road trip movie that paints a painfully touching picture of real life in Israel, portraying the subtle interdependence between family and society, and the need to overcome separation.  

Social unrest sends a family into the heart of Israeli society and we see that this is a society in turmoil, mired in conflict and never-ending questions. Squeezed in a tiny RV, they meet and live with people from all walks of life as they balance hope and despair and collect the pieces of an ancient dream from among the fragments of contemporary reality.

We meet amazing people who live in a difficult reality and poignant questions. We see and understand some the impermeability, the pain and the beauty that characterize Israel today. Israeli society is complicated and the questions that are raised here are very real and always tough. As we watch, we become part of the family and feel its empathy, love, and compassion. 

“Angels in the Sky: How a Band of Volunteer Airmen Saved the New State of Israel” by Robert Gandt— Israel’s War of Independence

Gandt, Robert. “Angels in the Sky: How a Band of Volunteer Airmen Saved the New State of Israel”, W.W. Norton, 2017.

Israel’s War of Independence

Amos Lassen

In 1948, just three years after the Holocaust, Israel was founded and immediately came under siege from a coalition of Arab states. These Arab nations vowed to annihilate the tiny country and its 600,000 settlers. It seemed that a second Holocaust was in the making. Israelis were outnumbered sixty to one, with no allies, no regular army, no air force, and no superpower to intercede on their behalf. The United States, Great Britain, and most of Europe enforced a strict embargo on the shipment of arms to Israel and in the first few days, the Arab armies overran Israel. The Egyptian air force held the sky and conducted continuous air attacks on Israeli cities and army positions. Israel seemed to be on the verge of extinction.

But then help came with a group of volunteer airman from the United States, Canada, Britain, France and South Africa. Most were World War II veterans who were young, idealistic and courageous. Two-thirds of them were Jews. Most of them knowingly violated their nations’ embargoes on the shipment of arms and aircraft to Israel. They smuggled in Messerschmitt fighters from Czechoslovakia, painting over swastikas with Stars of David. They not only defied own countries’ strict laws, they risked everything to fight for Israel.

There were less than 150 of them. They flew, fought, died, and, against all odds, helped save a new nation. This is a story that most of us are unaware of and the book is a military thriller and a piece of Israeli history. It was as if David was once again facing Goliath. There are 8 pages of illustrations.

“No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel” by Shimon Peres— Last Words from One of Israel’s Founding Fathers

Peres, Shimon. “No Room for Small Dreams: Courage, Imagination, and the Making of Modern Israel”, Custom House, 2017.

Last Words from One of Israel’s Founding Fathers

Amos Lassen

Shimon Peres was one of Israel’s founding generation. He was a tireless advocate for peace, who lived his life with a sense of hope and possibility. These are his final words and they deliver a strong message.

Shimon Peres was eleven-years-old when he emigrated to the land of Israel from his native Poland in 1934. He left behind an extended family who would later be murdered in the Holocaust. Peres become one of the towering figures of the twentieth century and served Israel as prime minister, president, foreign minister, and the head of several other ministries. He was central to the establishment of the Israeli Defense Forces and the defense industry that would give the young country its military power. He was crucial to launching Israel’s nuclear energy program and to the creation of its high-tech “Start-up Nation” revolution. His refusal to surrender to conventional wisdom and political norms helped to save the Israeli economy and prompted some of the most daring military operations in history, among them the legendary Operation Entebbe. As important as his role was in creating and deploying Israel’s armed forces was, he transitioned from hawk to dove and held an unwavering commitment to peace.

Peres finished writing this book only a few weeks before his death and in it he examines the crucial turning points in Israeli history through the eyes of having been a decision maker and eyewitness. Much of his book is about what happened and why it happened. He explores what makes for a great leader, how to make hard choices in a climate of uncertainty and distress. He shares the challenges of balancing principles with policies, and the freeing nature of imagination and unpredicted innovation. By doing so, he charts a better path forward for his Israel and gives deep and universal wisdom for younger generations who seek to lead in any area. Amos Oz has said that he was one of the great leaders of Israel for more than half a century, was an unusual statesman: a dreamer and a pragmatist, a thinker and a doer, a fearless campaigner for peace and compromise and a tireless builder of Israel’s armed forces” and this is what makes this book so special. His voice and vision are not only still with us, and just as forceful and relevant as ever.