Left to right: Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres after the three received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in 1994. (photo by Saar Yaacov via VIFF)
It’s almost painful to be reminded of how close Israelis and Palestinians were to achieving peace 25 years ago with the Oslo Accords. Yet, Mor Loushy, co-director of The Oslo Diaries with partner Daniel Sivan, hopes that the documentary inspires audiences to believe that peace is possible. After all, the impossible almost happened in the 1990s, so why not in the future?
The Oslo Diaries screens as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 12. The film is based on the personal diaries of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the initially secret peace talks that unofficially began in 1992 in Oslo, Norway, after the late-1991 Madrid Conference – at that time, it was illegal for the two sides to communicate. Those meetings, which eventually became public and official, led to the signing of the Oslo Accords in Washington, D.C., in 1993.
The narrative of The Oslo Diaries comprises archival footage, reenactments and interviews, including the last interview former prime minister and president of Israel, Shimon Peres – who was foreign minister during Oslo and a signatory of the accords – gave in his life. It takes viewers through an abridged version of the negotiations and offers insight into the leadership and compromise that was needed to reach an agreement.
That leadership and the prospects for peace took a literally fatal blow when Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on Nov. 4, 1995. Binyamin Netanyahu, who, the documentary shows, was fierce in his opposition to the peace accords – passionately addressing rallies at which supporters held signs calling for Rabin’s death – was elected prime minister in 1996. The documentary ends with the start of his victory speech: “Dear supporters, friends, the state of Israel is embarking on a new path today.”
The Oslo Diaries is the third film Loushy and Sivan have worked on together; Censored Voices and Israel Ltd. being the other two. The couple is based in Santa Monica, Calif., for a year, after which they and their two children, ages 3 and 6, will return to Tel Aviv. Loushy was born and raised in Tel Aviv and Sivan, born in Haifa, moved to Tel Aviv when he was 18. The Jewish Independent spoke to Loushy by phone recently, in advance of her arrival in Vancouver to participate in VIFF.
While The Oslo Diaries does an admirable job of attempting to present the material without commentary, the filmmakers’ political perspective does come through, in particular with Netanyahu being depicted as the bad guy, so to speak.
“First of all, we never hide our opinion,” said Loushy. “We’re from the left-wing, or part of it. We stand behind our views and, if someone from the right-wing would have made that specific film, it would have been a completely different one. But, what ‘film’ is about, I don’t think that there is an objective film. Every cut that I make in the film, it’s a decision. But, I think that it’s really more important for us to keep it balanced, and we fought a lot about it, we had a lot of discussions about it.”
Given the reactions she has received, Loushy said, “I think that this film is completely not right- and left-wing – this is a film about peace. And I do feel, from the screenings around the world, that it’s past this boundary of camps, on the one hand. On the other hand, in Israel, the situation is difficult: we are divided, there are camps … and our government is the most right-wing government that we ever knew. Every day, there is a new anti-democratic law that passes, and it’s frightening.”
About making the documentary, she said, “We’ve hit such a rock bottom that someone needs to stop for a moment, and it’s part of my duty as a civilian and as a filmmaker to say, OK, let’s talk…. We’ve forgotten about Oslo, and most of the people don’t even know the story behind the code name ‘Oslo.’ Let’s talk for a moment, let’s really see what happened there and what really was there – not from the news or from secondary sources, but from the first sources, the people that were there. Listen for a moment. What exactly happened there? What went wrong?”
She said people have forgotten about the negotiations and that reminding people about them will help. “It gives hope for the future,” she said. “We were that close, we can do it again, it’s not impossible. You just have to stop for a moment and think, what kind of future do we want to leave our children? Do we want the same, as in the present, a future of wars … so many people that are being killed every day, that’s what we want for ourselves? Or do we need a reminder for a second of the place we could have gone to, for the places we can get to? We just need a strong leader that’s going to take us there. And I think that this film does an incredible job of putting this discourse again on the table because, in the past three or four rounds of elections, the word ‘peace’ … [and the prospect of] ‘negotiation’ is no longer on the table, and this is such a crazy thing.”
When asked how much blame she attributes to Netanyahu for the breakdown of the peace process, Loushy said, “It’s a very complex answer because it’s not one answer. I think that he had a lot to do with the peace breakdown but he was not the only one. The people voted for him and, when people voted for him, they knew what they were voting for – it was obvious he was not going to continue with the peace process. So, I think it was the people and I think that, yes, he had an essential part, saying, ‘I believe in the holy grail,’ [in Greater Israel]. This is his belief, and I think he succeeded in that,” she said, citing figures indicating that the number of settlers has quadrupled since 1993.
Loushy said Netanyahu has claimed that “the West Bank is just a part of Israel, and [he] wants more and more settlements, [so] that also the left-wing people right now are saying, OK, how can we resolve it? That there is an unresolved situation because of the settlers.”
Both fanaticism and fear are contributing to the situation, she said, “although I do believe that most of the people want peace, believe in peace, [and] are just too scared to give it a chance.
“And that’s where this film comes in, saying, listen: first of all, the whole Palestinian leadership was interviewed for this film. I was a guest in Ramallah in all of the high places in the Palestinian leadership – there is a partner. He [Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who was also one of the signatories of the Oslo Accords, for the Palestinian Liberation Organization] wants to talk to us. He wants a solution. I believe it in all of my heart that the Abu Mazen government wants peace.
“So, there is the Palestinian leadership that was interviewed for this film, and I do believe there is a chance, but that people are just too scared and [the film’s purpose is to help people] to remember exactly what happened.”
While the filmmakers interviewed several Israelis who were involved, they could not get access to Netanyahu. “We wanted to [interview him],” said Loushy, “but Netanyahu doesn’t give any interviews to the press…. You see Yitzhak Rabin – in all of the archives, Yitzhak Rabin is giving interviews every other day… [Netanyahu] is connecting through Twitter, and that’s it. He doesn’t give interviews to the press.”
The Oslo Diaries premièred at the Jerusalem Film Festival and there have been screenings all over Israel, said Loushy, who noted the diversity of audiences, which have included secular and observant Jews. “This is amazing,” she said, to have people from both sides sitting together in the theatre. “People want the discourse, want to talk about it again. Of course, every screening, [when there’s] someone shouting at me, I know I did my job…. I made somebody think about something he hasn’t thought [about] before.”
The Jewish Independent is VIFF’s media partner for the Vancouver screenings of The Oslo Diaries, which take place Sept. 28 and 29, and Oct. 12. The documentary is a Canadian co-production, co-produced by Ina Fichman (Intuitive Pictures); Radio-Canada is also listed as one of the film’s sponsors. All of the post-production was done in Montreal, said Loushy, “and we loved it.”
For the full VIFF schedule and tickets, visit viff.org.