The Attack

attackThere are no easy answers or comforting truths in The Attack, a film by Lebanese American director Ziad Doueiri. Filmed in Israel, and based on a novel by the Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, the story puts us right in the middle of one of the most contentious issues on the planet—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The results have made ideologues on both extremes angry, and that’s a sign that something different, something good, is at work here.

Ali Suliman plays Amin Jaafari, an Israeli Arab who has gained prominence as one of the country’s foremost surgeons. We see him graciously accepting Israel’s top medical award, the first Arab to ever receive it. He is obviously loved and respected by his colleagues, some of whom are close friends. Then a bomb goes off in a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing 17 people, many of them children. Amin is one of the doctors busy trying to save lives after the attack. Later comes a great shock—his wife, Siham, is among the dead, and he has to identify the body. Next he is brought in for interrogation by Shin Bet, the Israeli security forces. They are convinced he was involved in the attack, because all evidence points to his wife being the suicide bomber.

With this sensational beginning, one might expect some sort of a thriller that uses the issue of terrorism as a subtext, but the story here is about a man who must question his identity, and in the process try to understand the motivation for an act that seems beyond comprehension. How could someone that Amin thought he knew so well be concealing this other life, and do something so alien to his values? His Jewish friends are confused and upset by his attempts to explore the world of the enemy, while the Palestinians that he encounters on his search, some even from his own family, assume that he must be an Israeli agent. His elusive quest for answers leads to Nablus, on the West Bank, but what he gets is the sobering realization of his own insulation from political realities.

The Attack is daring because it explores the motivations of suicide bombers rather than just condemn them. Trying to understand such things is often mistaken for approval of them, and it is just this error that Doueiri, in his sensitive and understated film, deliberately avoids. We are left, of course, without a solution, but with a new and penetrating appreciation of the problem.