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Holy Blood

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Holy Blood

Holy Blood
When It's Holy for the Jews, When It's Holy for the Muslims, Even G-d Cannot Stop the Blood
Written & Directed by Itzik Lerner
Produced by Shemi Shoenfeld
Distributed by Ruth Diskin Films, Jerusalem: (2014)

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - January 28, 2015

Jews and Muslims share an overlapping religious narrative, in part because Abraham is the father of both religions, and his descendants are viewed as holy by both groups - as are their burial locations. In Israel, relations between Jews and Muslims are often contentious, a plight that is amply illustrated by the multitude of disagreements over who 'owns' various religious sites, and who should be allowed to pray at these sites. The documentary series, Holy Blood, which was written and directed by Itzik Lerner, and produced by Shemi Shoenfeld, provides views with an idea of what some of the disruptive issues surrounding four of these holy sites are, and why sectarian violence sometimes erupts over these sites.

There are four documentaries in Holy Blood, and each film focuses on a particular site. The holy sites examined in this formidable series are:
1. The Temple Mount (Har haBáyit)
2. The Tomb of the Patriarchs (The Cave of the Patriarchs or the Cave of Machpelah)
3. Joseph's Tomb (Kever Yosef)
4. Rachel's Tomb (Kever Rakhel)

Holy Blood is a very hard series to catagorize. In part this is because the series does not ask, or answer, any questions, nor does it try to. Rather it simply presents information from various sides, including Muslims, the police, politicians, fundamentalist Jews, secular Jews, Arab Christians, and other concerned individuals, and it leaves it to the viewer to decide what it all means.

In composing this series, the film makers followed various people, for two and half years, as they visited, talked about, and sometimes fought over these four iconic locations in Israel. The end result is that you get a decent feel for the strong emotions that these sites evoke. You also get a glimpse into the mind set of those who are unwilling to acknowledge that anyone else might have a connection to these sites.

I have to say that I found this series to be mesmerizing, and after watching it the first time I simply sat back and said, "Wow!" Yet, while I found the series to be thoroughly interesting, at the same time, I also found it to be heart-wrenchingly depressing. I say this because it is so awful to see 'cousins' fighting, and at times killing each other, simply to keep the 'other' from praying at sites that both claim as holy. Even more depressing are the scenes where you witness Jews fighting with other Jews over who has the right to this or that. If Jews cannot get along with each other, what hope is there of ever achieving any sort of concord with Muslims. Worse of all is to witness the steps that the police and the IDF have to take to try and protect worshipers, both Jews and Muslims, who sometimes risk violence simply by entering one of these sites. It was also awful to see Kever Rakhel imprisoned behind high walls topped with barbed wire and patrolled by soldiers with guns. I remember when you could simply take a Dan bus to the site and walk in, and then come out and walk into Bethlehem unmolested - times have surely changed!

When interviewing people in this film, the film makers not only spoke with those who deem these sites holy, but also with those whose duty it is to keep visitors safe. As such, they interviewed police officers, soldiers, and those in charge of the sites. It quickly becomes clear from these interviews just how hard these individuals have to work in order to minimize the risk of potential conflicts. The series also illustrates why conditions 'on-the-ground' sometimes necessitates that would-be visitors be denied access to a site, or that they must be stopped from visibly praying. It also shows the steps these defenders take to safeguard visitors, sometimes putting there own lives at risk, as well as occasionally taking physical and verbal abuse from the very people they are trying to protect.

Throughout this series, the film makers are careful not to take sides. They simply illustrate the religious and political realities that exist, and by extension show why these four sites are such contested locations. They also illustrate just how easy it is for people to take offense or to react violently when they think that they have been offended or marginalized.

The series defiantly presents a great deal of material that can be used as a foundation for countless discussions, on subjects as diverse as how Jews can work to get along better with their fellow Jews and what steps that can be taken to help Jews and Muslims to learn to trust each other and to work together to protect these sites that are holy to both. As such, this series is ideal for viewing in religion and history classes at the high school level, on up, as well as by any group concerned about the ongoing conflict in Israel and how it affects the nation's holy sites.

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