Israel's 'Waltz with Bashir' misses an Oscar, but scores in Lebanon
The animated antiwar movie struck a chord in Lebanon and many are finding ways to see it despite the ban on Israeli films.
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Last month, Monika Borgmann, a German journalist, and her Lebanese husband, Lokman Slim, defied Lebanon's censorship laws and held a private screening of "Waltz with Bashir." Such was the interest in the movie, the turnout for the screening was three times larger than expected. "The Israelis and the Lebanese share a painful history," Ms. Borgmann says. "There is a mutual fascination because of these shared chapters [in history] and also because direct contact is forbidden."Skip to next paragraph
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The Lebanese government turned a blind eye to the screening. Tareq Mitri, the information minister, conceded that while it was illegal to import and show the movie in Lebanon, the current censorship law "was absurd."
"We need to abolish that law so that we can see films like this and any other films and then, if you abolish the censorship law we have, then whoever is harmed can take the matter to court," he says.
Although Lebanon has one of the most open societies in the Arab world, relations with Israel, in any form, remain sensitive, due to the legacy of war and occupation. But some Lebanese say the censorship laws lack common sense.
"You can read Israeli newspapers on the Web, see Israeli politicians interviewed on Al Arabiya, and buy [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon's autobiography in Beirut bookshops. But you can't show a film like 'Waltz with Bashir,' " says Mr. Slim.
Since the end of Lebanon's 16-year civil war in 1990, there has been little collective effort to come to terms with a conflict in which some 120,000 people perished and another 17,000 are still unaccounted for. In the early 1990s, the Lebanese government effectively shut the door on the preceding two decades by declaring immunity for all crimes committed during the war. That ruling permitted former warlords and militia bosses to freely enter postwar politics, acquiring seats in government while public discussions of their war-time deeds were taboo.
"Lebanon fits the classic example where the one-time [criminal] perpetrators become the rulers of the country. They have no real interest in uncovering what happened in the war and investigating their own crimes," says Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies in Beirut.
Borgmann and Slim are the founders of Umam, an organization that seeks to encourage the Lebanese to confront and accept their violent past. "It is never too late, and each country has to find its own way to deal with the past. No country can escape this process," Borgmann says.