Friedman debuts film on Israeli fence

Not even Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Thomas Friedman had seen the final cut of his film documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before he viewed it with approximately 100 Yale students and Davenport College fellows Tuesday night.

Friedman, who writes a foreign affairs column for The New York Times, screened his new hour-long Discovery Channel documentary, “Straddling the Fence,” which examines the security fence Israel is building in the West Bank. Friedman also answered questions from the audience pertaining primarily to the fence and the Israeli-Palestinian issue in general.

The documentary provided background on the conflict and followed Friedman as he traveled across Israel in an attempt to better understand the feelings and politics surrounding the fence. Most of the film pursued the question of what impact the fence will have on both sides and whether it will bring a solution to what many believe to be an intractable conflict.

In the film, Friedman voiced his doubts about the fence.

“I began to get a sinking feeling that now more than ever, the situation was utterly broke,” he said.

In his answers to questions following the screening, Friedman stressed the necessity of even imagining alternate solutions to what he said he believes is dramatically important.

“This issue is at the emotional heart of the region,” Friedman said. “[The wall] is a metaphor for a much larger wall between civilizations.”

The film featured interviews with people on each side of the issue.

One Israeli settler called the fence a waste of time and money.

“[The fence is] one of the biggest mistakes the Israeli government ever made,” the settler said in the film. “Our will is the real security — We will be here, and whether our neighbors accept us is a matter of time.”

On the opposite side, a self-described “martyr in waiting” called the cycle of violence “unending” and expressed a willingness to attack Israel because he felt deeply frustrated and humiliated.

The film did not shy away from revealing the violence of cultural conflict. In a graphic reminder of the costs of the strife, Friedman and his companions arrived at the scene of a suicide bombing, and the camera showed body parts strewn about the street.

After the film, Friedman addressed the movie’s bleakness, emphasizing the importance of realistically portraying the conflict. Friedman said he believes the wall in its current form will fail.

“There’s no sugar coating here,” he said. “I want people to be shocked and devastated. I believe the Jewish state I grew up with and deeply believe in is in real peril.”

Students in attendance said they were eager to hear from the well-known columnist.

“I really like how he’s not partisan,” Aryeh Cohen-Wade ’05 said. “His opinions are very logical.”

Matt Gabbard ’07 praised the documentary and the talk.

“I think it was really an amazing experience on a lot of different levels,” Gabbard said. “Having a cold, sober look at the wall and both sides of the wall is in some ways the best thing for an optimist to do.”

New York Times columnist and Middle East expert Thomas Friedman speaks with audience members after the first-ever screening of his Discovery Channel documentary
Timothy Polmateer
New York Times columnist and Middle East expert Thomas Friedman speaks with audience members after the first-ever screening of his Discovery Channel documentary "Straddling the Fence" Tuesday night in the Davenport College Common Room.

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