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The Hilltops

Filmmakers look closely at Israel’s hilltop settlements and the people who occupy them

By Jim Cairney

The Hilltops
Directed by Igal Hecht
Chutzpa Productions

The Hilltops appears to make the case for Israeli settlers to occupy every hilltop possible in the West Bank, presenting the settlers as misunderstood, persecuted and maligned by those who view these settlements as one of the key obstacles on the road to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Scenes of various hilltop outposts and the well-meaning people who occupy them are placed in contrast with statements made by U.S. President Barack Obama in June 2010. It is “undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland,” he said. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. . . . It is time for these settlements to stop.”

In the documentary, one woman seemingly replies to Obama, saying, “We will never stop!” This appears to typify the zealous nature of the settlers.

The settlers are portrayed as hippies and back-to-the-earth types who deeply love the land and who seek to live out an interpretation of the Bible that holds that the Holy Land belongs exclusively to Jewish people. This portrayal is contrary to the witness of United Church of Canada partners in Palestine, who report the settlers are militant, law-breaking and often armed.

In the latter half of the documentary, there is an attempt at conversation with neighbouring Arabs about the settlements. But the conversation goes nowhere, as each party believes it has the rightful claim to the land.

The value in this documentary is that it offers a clear window into the mindset and the militancy of the settlers. While appearing to defend the settlers, it offers some explanation as to why the settlements endanger the peace process, render the division of the West Bank highly problematic, and lead some United Church partners to compare the settlements to apartheid.

Rev. Jim Cairney is a minister in Mississauga, Ont. He recently travelled to Israel and the Occupied Territories.

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