The Insult/Ziad Doueiri

When a Palestinian refugee insults a Lebanese Christian in Beirut, the Palestinian’s refusal to apologize sparks a national crisis. With director Ziad Doueiri’s ubiquitous honesty and intelligence, this Academy Award hopeful examines the excesses of hate, the Middle East’s addiction to words, and paths to reconciliation. Availability: Opens New York City, January 12, Lincoln Plaza Cinema, with national rollout to follow. Thanks to Aimee Morris, Sophie Gluck & Associates, for arranging this interview.

DT: Ziad, in your last film, The Attack, Israelis and Palestinians are each other’s enemies.  When I interviewed you for that film, you said, “I went to Israel and met these Israeli actors and they’re fantastic. The whole image of the ultimate enemy became demystified. I’m facing the enemy and I’m liking him.” Is it the same with the characters in The Insult?

ZD: It’s the same. The Insult is my reexamination of the Christian  narrative, which I grew up hating all my life. I guess I spent all my life hating people and then saying, Let me think about it. We grew up thinking that the Christian political thinking was associated with a betrayal of the country. We thought that the Christians in Lebanon—and I’m talking about the Christians not in terms of religion but in terms of political parties: Bashir Gemayel, the Lebanese forces, the Christian parties—were betraying Lebanon. Those people were associating themselves with the enemies of Lebanon, etc., etc., so their narrative for me as a child did not exist.

As time passes, you sit down and say, Let’s see, did they really not suffer as much? We always believed that the Muslims and the left wing are the people who suffered and the Christians did not suffer, they did not go through dilemmas. And then you start understanding their point of view, and you slowly demystify this thing. This film is about demystifying things, actually. I made a film because I had to go through my own thinking.


DT: Making a film is a huge project. It takes a lot of money and time and effort. People make them for different reasons. Guillermo Del Toro made Shape of Water for one reason, Quentin Tarantino made Pulp Fiction for another reason. Considering your background and the family you grew up in—very intellectual, very political, very left wing—I feel like your reason for making films is catharsis.

ZD: It’s telling the truth. I want to tell the truth. It’s so important that I don’t give the impression that I’m an idealist and want a larger-than-life figure. I hate those things. I want to tell you something: after The Insult came out in Lebanon and all these festivals, Venice, Valladolid, Telluride, a lot of journalists started asking me questions. At the beginning I did not know how to answer that fundamental question, Why are you making this movie? What inspired this movie? It’s not that I didn’t know the answer, I just had to figure it out, because it was so subconscious. And I started thinking in very practical terms in order to answer the journalists and give them the answers they were looking for, which consequently made me think about what voice was behind the writing of the film. It’s not insignificant. It’s significant, it’s just so buried in me.

It’s about being fair. Let me elaborate—what I’m telling you is very real. It’s not at all intellectual, and it’s not at all analytical. It’s very real. When I grew up in 1975, the war started, and all I can remember—I was twelve years old—is a lot of things that were happening in my daily life that were not fair. For example—it’s so banal—we got stopped at checkpoints day in, day out.

DT: That’s not banal.

ZD: No, but at that time it looked like just another event. Then Lebanon was invaded by armies. That’s a big theory, but Ziad growing up saw those invasions, because I had to run with my family into the shelters. I played with a rock band as a teenager. One day the left-wing militia came inside the basement and took all of my instruments, my bass guitar and everything. My dad came down and we tried to argue with them, but they were stronger than us because they had weapons. I looked at my dad and said, as I’d said all throughout my years, “This is unfair.” When you’re young, you don’t react intellectually—you say, “Why are they taking my instruments?” In 1977 I wanted to go visit my cousins who lived in Holland. We went to the Dutch embassy, and they did not give us a visa because there were restrictions on Lebanese citizens back then. I thought it was unfair. I thought it was unfair that I could not go on vacation. So many of these events happened day in, day out, not just one every six months. It was all the time, so you grow up and you say, “It’s not fair.”

The word fairness is something I hold onto. I’m still in the process of analyzing why I did The Insult, of understanding the woodpecker behind my brain. It’s fairness. I fucked up a lot in my life, I have a lot of immoral stuff in my life, but fairness is something I hold onto. I am so fair. The idea of The Insult is about a man to whom injustice was done, and he believes that he has to get it back. That’s what Toni Hanna’s character is. I don’t want to give an intellectual feeling to my explanation, because I’m really trying to answer from my gut. Being arrested, and being stopped, and being insulted and all these things have been buried since my childhood.

DT: That’s why I say it’s cathartic.

ZD: Yes. Yes.


DT: The film is very multilayered, but the particular juxtaposition between the private apology and the public insult was especially meaningful.

ZD: We did that on purpose, after having thought a lot about it. When Toni tells Yasser, “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out,” there was a very big reason we made it on a Sunday. In the preceding scene, the boss tells the Palestinian [Yasser], “I want you to apologize.” The Palestinian is trying to avoid it, and he says, “He’s closed on Sunday,” to which the boss replies, “He’s open seven days a week.” It was not accidental that we picked Sunday, because we wanted the insult to be in private. On Sunday nobody goes to work—it’s only Toni and the mechanic. When he insulted him—it’s true, he insulted him during the day, but there were no workers, no Syrians around, no construction workers—we wanted to make it just in a private way in order to balance it in the end, when the Palestinian comes at night and the apology has to be private. It was not actually public. That’s what we wanted. We thought about all these things.


DT: Early in the film, I had a rather banal, but total, revelation. Because I wasn’t attuned to all of the social and cultural nuances, I only had a general understanding of the nature of Yasser’s insult. And I’m watching Toni and  wondering, Why is Toni so full of hate? All he has to do to rid himself of this situation is get rid of his hate. Then I remembered how I—a Jew—felt watching The Attack, and I realized there’s a complete difference when you’re looking at hate—

ZD: —from the outside. That’s right.

DT: It’s not going to get solved until we get rid of the hate.

ZD: It’s not going to be solved until you meet your enemy face-to-face. I’m saying this on a very personal level: When you don’t know your enemy, your hiding in fear becomes multiplied. If you think he’s scary and you don’t see him, you think he’s ten times more scary. When you meet him, it becomes demystified. I’m telling you, I sat down with Israelis just as much as I sat down with Christians from the right-wing party, and during the first interaction, something that holds you breaks down. And suddenly you start reaching behind him, and you start finding more similarity than difference.

But that doesn’t apply to everyone. I am like this. There are people who live through their hate no matter what you do. You put them in therapy for ten years and they can’t get over it. I’m the kind who has a tendency to be curious about the other side. In The Attack, I’ve been curious about understanding the Israeli perspective, and in The Insult and West Beirut I’ve been curious about understanding the Christian perspective. I’m curious, that’s it. It’s not more than that. For me there are no taboos that are not to be broken. I’m willing to go wherever…it’s the idea of fairness.


DT: You wrote the script with Joelle Touma, who’s Christian.

ZD: My ex-wife. She’s not a believer. We’re both very secular, but she grew up in a family that had sympathy for right-wing politics. They had their reasons, of course, but right wing, left wing doesn’t mean anything today. It’s all over the place.


DT: In a way the story is absurd, with a simple insult escalating into this national crisis. But you shot it in a hyperreal manner, so real that I wondered whether the film was based on an actual incident. Is it absurd? Is it real? Or is it both?

ZD: It’s not absurd. It happens. The whole screenwriting process started because of a very similar incident that actually happened to me. I was living in Beirut a few years ago, and I was watering my plants, when the water fell on one of the workers. We had an exchange; we insulted each other. He said, “You motherfucker,” and I said, “No, you’re the motherfucker.” We started yelling at each other, and I noticed that he had a Palestinian accent, and I just said that phrase: “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out.” This is how it started. So it is not unreal. This is how it happened.

The question to ask is, In Lebanon, in the Arab world, could a simple insult develop into a national crisis? It can. It did happen. Several times. In writing the script, I took it to where it could have happened, but it didn’t happen with me because the Palestinian didn’t make a big deal of it. He was hurt and that was it. But in Lebanon words weigh heavy. They’re loaded. I could insult your mom, your dad, I could say, Screw your mom, and it wouldn’t matter. But there are certain subjects, like religion, that are loaded. If I say, I’m going to screw your religion, this is likely to create a huge problem. This is how it is in the Middle East. It’s very, very sensitive. People give too much attention to words. They don’t take it in a slight manner. It’s very, very heavy.


DT:  I’ve never been to Lebanon, but my impression is that it’s a very cosmopolitan, very secular country. Perhaps it’s not that way anymore.

ZD: It’s very secular and it’s very cosmopolitan and it’s very religious and it’s very chauvinistic, and it’s very provincial. It has everything. This is what is so interesting about Lebanon. It’s why I keep going back there in writing my stories, because it’s a melting pot of not just all cultures but all religions, all classes, all political affiliations. It has everything within a very confined space. Lebanon is the country of paradox. Such paradox. And it’s so dynamic. This is what I like about it, while sometimes I hate it.

The Insult created a lot of problems. The Attack created a lot of problems—that’s why it was banned. I want to say, Guys, get over yourselves, we’re just making movies. But the Arab population has not reconciled with itself yet, and as long as you don’t reconcile, you’re going to jump on that caravan, jump against that camp. I’m being very pragmatic. I’m not being analytical here; this is how it is. When Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, there was a price on his head that lasted twenty years. The queen of England literally put him under protection for twenty years. People take these things very, very seriously, so when we wrote The Insult, we did not walk a tightrope. We did not censor ourselves. We said things very bluntly, the way it is. But we knew it was going to touch on certain sensibilities. We knew it, even though that was not the purpose. Our purpose in writing this film, Joelle and I, was not to provoke, or accuse, or demonize. Not at all—otherwise you will screw up your film. We just wanted to tell a story about a man who has something very deeply buried in him and how he seeks to resolve it at the end. This is the Middle East; what can you do?


DT: At this point, your films are shown not just in the Middle East—they’re shown all over the world. While you’re writing or filming, do you make concessions to Western audiences?

ZD: Not at all. I can assure you we did not make any concessions. Look, I lived in the States for eighteen years. I worked in America [e.g., as Quentin Tarantino’s camera assistant on Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction,  From Dusk Til Dawn, Jackie Brown]. I worked with the people. I didn’t come here as a tourist. The best way to learn about a culture is to work with its people. For eighteen years I learned Americanisms, the way of working on a film set, this society. It’s not insignificant.

Therefore when you learn the language and you learn the mentality and you learn what’s behind the psychology—there’s my rapport with you, and there’s my rapport with our subconscious—it’s going to affect the way you write. There are certain phrases I use when I write. I wrote this film in English, through the final draft, and then I translated it to Arabic.

So to answer your question, Did I make any concessions? Not at all. I managed—not because I’m smart, but because I lived in America as long as I lived in Lebanon—to find the phrases, how to build dialogue, and how to build story in a way that both cultures could understand, without confusing one or the other. Where I sometimes missed the point is some of the humorous phrases. There are certain phrases that made the Americans laugh when the Lebanese didn’t. For example, when the president says, “If I want to choose between stability and integrity, I’ll choose stability.” This is an American way of being humorous. In Lebanon, they didn’t get it. They don’t think that way. It’s not part of our colloquial language to say “If I want to choose between stability and integrity, I’ll choose stability.” This is an American idiom. An American way of thinking. Another example: When Tony takes the disc and says, “BOC, it’s missing the S” [i.e., to indicate that the disc brake in question was a Chinese knock-off rather than a German original].  The Americans smiled at this, but the Lebanese didn’t get it. When Tony says, “If I have to choose between secondhand German or brand-new Chinese, I choose secondhand German,” this is an American form of humor that the Lebanese didn’t understand. The Americans laughed even though it’s in Arabic.

This is the way your brain gets wired; sometime you blend what works for two cultures and sometimes you miss the point, especially with comedy or humorous lines. It’s very funny that the Lebanese didn’t get it. But to tell you the truth, in all modesty I felt myself well placed to be able to tell a completely Lebanese story and still have Americans relate to it. By the way, my film gets the most understood and appreciated in America and Lebanon and much less in France, because where is the French part of this psychology? Had I lived half my life in France, I would be doing a hybrid product, but my hybrid product as it is, is Lebanese American. The French financed the film, but Americans get it.


DT: Let me ask you one more question. You’re working on a project about the Camp David accords.

ZD: I don’t want to talk about it. It’s too early. I have to take a little break for just a couple of weeks.



Copyright © Director Talk 2018

The Attack/Ziad Doueiri

Amin Jaafari, a highly assimilated Palestinian surgeon living in Tel Aviv, is horrified by a suicide bombing that brings mangled children to his hospital.  His horror skyrockets, however, when he discovers that the suicide bomber was his wife—a  discovery that launches Amin on a painful reconsideration of his own life. Director Talk would like to salute Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri for his honesty in light of the fact that The Attack was recently banned by the Arab League and Doueiri faces prosecution if he returns to his homeland. •Availability: On DVD and Blu-ray, Cohen Media Group, starting Nov. 12.  Also available on Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, and retailers. Thanks to Aimee Morris and Sophie Gluck, Sophie Gluck & Associates, for arranging this interview.


DT: Let’s begin by talking about secrecy and isolation. Amin, a Palestinian Israel, was isolated from his surroundings and the people around him, while his wife obviously had her own secret.  The Shin Bet conducts secret surveillance, while Nablus is isolated from Tel Aviv. Do you think that secrecy and isolation go hand in hand in maintaining  the conflict?


ZD: I don’t know if they do in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but between Amin and his wife we wanted to show it like this.  The whole film was based on this idea that you build a perfect marriage, but do you really know the person you think you know?  We also wanted to show that someone’s perspective on happiness is not necessarily shared by the other person. These are the themes; we didn’t intellectually sit down and say we’re going to deal with this, but instinctually this is how they progressed during the writing of the script. We wanted to get away as much as possible from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Eventually it’s there, but we did not want to make the whole story about Israelis and Palestinians.  We’ve seen that.  You know how many films have been made? A lot. And a lot of the films are a little bit didactic and a little bit about slogans, especially from the Arab filmmaking process, always repeating the bad Israelis and the nice poor Palestinians. I’ve seen that. I didn’t want to get bogged down in this. So when I sat down with Joelle to write, we wanted to take it in a different direction, into more of an emotional reaction, more of a psychological love story.

It’s about this man who absolutely loves this woman but he doesn’t see everything that she needs.  He learns to see it, and then he pays a very big price for it at the end. Those were our motives. But did we really set out to make a message?  No, I don’t think so.


DT: So why set it in  such a maelstrom? Why set it there?


ZD: Because it’s based on a book.


DT: Right, but as a filmmaker, you could write whatever you wanted to.


ZD: But it worked!  I mean, we felt that setting it in Israel and Palestine works as long as we didn’t make the Israel/Palestine issue the central story line. The central story line is a doctor looking to understand his wife. It’s a love story, a complex story. Why not the Middle East?  Plus I am aware of this conflict. I grew up in it, I breathed it.  My mom milked me with it, you understand? So it’s very familiar territory. Plus I’m reading this book and some of the passages express what I feel in the right words, because the book is very ambivalent and I’m very ambivalent too. I was much more militant when I was young. I hated the Jews, I hated the Israelis.  Flat out. For me, a good Jew was a dead Jew.  How could a Jew even have his own narrative? We didn’t cause the Holocaust, so why are you making us pay for it: I grew up all my life believing this. Then suddenly, I go to Israel, I’m meeting these Israeli actors, and they are fantastic. And this whole image of this ultimate enemy becomes demystified. Suddenly I’m facing the enemy and I’m liking him; he’s kind,  he’s caring about the film. He’s professional. I’m speaking very personally right now; I’m not getting into the conflict. For me, this ambivalence that I had has evolved. I have evolved. You give me this film twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to make it. Today, my narrative has changed.  Now I’m saying, Wait a second. It’s true that they occupy the Palestinian land blah blah blah, it’s true blah blah blah, we know that. But they have their point of view. They have their fears, their insecurities. I didn’t meet a single Israeli among the people that I worked with who does not want to end this thing. Disarmed.  Ziad Doueiri has been disarmed by my trip. It doesn’t mean that I don’t see the reality anymore—it’s there. There is an occupation, I’m crossing every day back and forth and see the checkpoint and the assholes at the checkpoint. The biggest assholes. But at the same time, I managed to find Israeli actors and actresses who were so dedicated to this film that they came and told me, Ziad, if you do not have money, pay us whatever you want, we’ll make the movie for you.  What does it tell you? It left me hanging.


DT: It tells me that secrecy and isolation perpetuate the conflict.


ZD: When you don’t know your enemy, you fear him, you hate him. But the minute you have this face-to-face contact . . .  It starts with such a simple thing as “Let’s have a coffee.” Some people are going to accuse me of being banal:  This is a much bigger conflict, don’t reduce it to coffee.  The global issue is beyond me. I can’t resolve it.  The global conflict cannot be resolved  with a coffee. I’m talking now about the personal. I’ve developed an incredible relationship with those Israelis that I hated. Who I hated in principle turned out to be friends. Somebody who tells you, We’ll do anything.  Somebody who doesn’t rip you off. At a certain point I needed to reshoot a scene, and Evgenya, this Israeli actress, said she wanted to reshoot it too.  When I told her we had to fly to Basil to reshoot it, she said, “Don’t worry if you don’t have the money, I just want to do it.” She flew in and she did it for free. She’s a Jew,  an Israeli Jew. Does this make you not question.  Does it?


DT: It doesn’t make me question.  I’m an American Jew, so I don’t question it.


ZD: But imagine how  much I had to go through this transformation, which took years for me to overcome the hatred that I had. I don’t want to give a false impression, and I don’t want to sound politically correct. The hatred that I had was justified at that time. I was a child.  I grew up under the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, Ariel Sharon invading Lebanon in 1982. The Sabra-Shatila massacre, no, no, no, no. What do you expect—an Arab Lebanese kid to come out and say  “I love the Israelis”? No! Fuck the Israelis at that time. It’s normal! You wake up, you’re under the bombs!  F-16’s are bombing, and I’m going to throw them rice and flowers?  It did not work that way. But then time goes by, I travel, I settle down in Los Angeles. I start working with Jews.  I met Jews (gasps, feigning horror) . . . and then your prejudice starts to break apart. And you start seeing that they are like you. They are kind. You break matzah balls with them, you date them. You understand? I’m serious. It’s the truth, this is what happened.


DT: Of course it’s what happened!


ZD: It’s an incredible experience for me. It’s not the film itself, which I’m very happy was made and happy it’s getting what it is. It’s just the experience of having filmed with the worst nightmare. At the beginning, you guys were Darth Vaders. This image of a Darth Vader didn’t come out of nothing. It came out of reality also! Let’s not forget. But I’m talking about the global.  You know that bumper sticker that says “Think Globally and Act Locally”? I thought globally, and I couldn’t resolve it. I acted locally, on an individual  basis, and my relationship with that crew was amazing. I would work with them again . . . I would go back and shoot in Israel even though I might go to jail for it in Lebanon, because they’ve issued my warrant of arrest. But it’s okay! My trip as a filmmaker to this part of the land was an incredible experience. I still think about it now. It broke a lot of prejudices. Which tells me that face-to-face contact just drops the secrecy thing. Not knowing your enemy. The only thing I knew about the enemy when I was a child was the war and the battles and everything. And now I have to say, “Roll, camera, action,” and I have to come close and say, “We need makeup here,” and the Israelis are running around doing everything. It’s not battles anymore. When we fought on the set, we would get into arguments that had nothing to do with the political. It was healthy. I was fighting and arguing and screaming at the associate producer or the actors, and everything for filmmaking reasons, not for political reasons. Which is healthy, because people fight on set. But we weren’t fighting because of politics. We were fighting because of craftsmanship. This whole process put me in a different mode, which I’m still trying to absorb. I’m still trying to analyze where I’ve been without being overly analytical.  You know, I’m being read for this opinion I’m sharing on the media.  In Toronto I said it, and in Telluride I said it, and in Qatar I said it. I’m talking about my experience. In every festival or interview, I’m talking about my experience with the Israelis and I’m being scrutinized for it because they’re saying, Ziad has reached over to the enemy. I’m in cahoots with you right now. This is what they’re saying. Well, it’s not true.  All I’m talking about is my experience. It’s true, it’s valid!


DT: Why is Lebanon so negative about it when Qatar and Egypt supported the film?


ZD: Because the Lebanese have a particular relationship to the Palestinian cause. Lebanon has half a million Palestinians as refugees, and Lebanon paid a very, very big price for the struggle. We still keep on bombarding. I mean, Lebanon is the country that fought the Israelis the most. Don’t forget that. Egypt signed for peace in ’79, Jordan in ’93, Qatar is not in a state of war but they have a business relationship with the Israelis. But Lebanon is still  in a state of war. Syria is in a state of war, but Syria and Israel have not thrown one single bullet since the armistice in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War. Lebanon is the only country that’s still in a state of war, fighting real battles. Plus, the mentality in the Lebanese is so pro-Palestinian, what else do you expect? The Lebanese are not going to be pro-Israelis. Lebanon has a lot more taboo than the Palestinians!  A lot of the Palestinians I meet deal with the Israelis on a daily basis. They go, they shop, they exchange, they talk, they  sit down around the table. The Lebanese don’t  have that. We are more royalist than the king. The Lebanese have a lot of heavy baggage vis-a-vis the Israelis. For good reasons also, and I never forget that. The Lebanese are not born out of their mothers’ wombs just burning the Israeli flag for nothing. Some of the Lebanese reaction is stupid, but a lot of it is justified also.  Lebanon was destroyed a lot by the Israelis over the years. Lebanon was also more destroyed by the Syrian occupation, though nobody wants to talk about that. The Syrians fucked with us a million times more than the Israelis! A million  times, much more subversive. Because the Israelis occupied land. The Syrians occupied land, the court system, the legal system, the sociological system. They penetrated every aspect of life. Plus the Syrian does not declare himself as an enemy. The Israeli says, “You’re my enemy, I’m going to kill you.” The Israeli says this out loud. There’s no ambivalence to it. The Syrian says, “We are brothers, we are the same people.”  But you never hear the Lebanese protesting about the Syrian occupation. I am the perfect Israeli candidate today, I think Netanyahu would  listen to Ziad, and say, “Oh! You’re the perfect candidate.”


DT: Let’s talk about the sequence where Amin is being driven home from the hospital after being interrogated by the police. There’s a sequence of shots of buildings.  One shot  just has a fragment of a round building in the lower right-hand corner, giving this incredible  feeling of isolation.  What was your intention as a filmmaker? That was a phenomenally moving sequence.


ZD: My approach was to show that suddenly he is not part of the city, the way he was so integrated when he gave the thank-you speech to the Israelis at the beginning of the film. Now he is aware that the building are looking at him too. Suddenly there is a rupture. That’s why he’s looking and he sees the building that you mention, the stoplight, a woman drinking coffee. Suddenly those people that he thought were part of the same society—he’s a citizen of Israel—but suddenly, the bombing is the prelude to everything that follows in the film. He’s started to think,  “Am I really now part of this city? Proud to be a Tel Avivian? Or now, the buildings are looking at me. I’m a suspect. And I’m looking at them.” This is the idea that I wanted to evoke.


DT: In Nablus, one of the Palestinians says to Amin, “Anyone can become a terrorist. It can fall on you like a tile or grow inside you like a worm.”

ZD: No, no, that’s in Israel. It’s his Israeli detective friend who tells him this while they’re having a beer on the beach. Amin is sitting with his friend and says, “Tell me, you’ve met a lot of psychopaths. What happened, what happened to those terrorists?”  His Israeli friend answers,  “It can fall on you like a tile, it can grow on you like a worm.” It’s an Israeli interpretation, not Palestinian. A Palestinian would never say it like this. A Palestinian would say, “We became kamikaze because we’re fighting for the cause, because we’re under oppression, because we’re trying to live in dignity.” That’s the Palestinian discourse. The Israeli discourse is it happens to you without knowing why. And both are valid. So ask your question now, but you have to put it in the Israeli context.


DT: I don’t know if I can ask the question. I think it’s fascinating I thought he was talking to a Palestinian.  Okay. You grew up in Beirut during the Civil War. Given your firsthand experience, do you believe that anyone can become a terrorist?


ZD: No, not everyone can become a terrorist.  I would have—but not a suicide bomber—because I was capable of hating so much.  Not just the Israelis; I hated the Christians. I hated. I’m an extremist, even today. I’m not capable, ever, of committing a terrorist attack, but it’s easy to become an extremist. It really is easy to become an extremist, and people in the West do not understand that. A big part of that extremism is the way you were raised.  I lived it. I swear to you, it is so difficult. Some people say there is no excuse for terrorism, and I believe there is no excuse for terrorism. And in the film I’m not giving an excuse for terrorism, I’m just saying it does not take much for a human being to become very extremist.  To become very radicalized. In my experience, when you feel hopeless and somebody comes to you and offers you a chance for salvation, you’re probably going to adopt it. I’m glad that I was raised in a fantastic family, and I’m glad I was raised in a very liberal family.


DT: And intellectual.


ZD: Very left wing, liberal. My parents are very, very left wing.  Antireligious.  Life—this is not philosophical, I swear it’s not philosophical even though it sounds it—life is an insecure thing. We go through breakups. Some of the breakups devastate us. And when you’re so devastated, sometimes it doesn’t take more than that to trip and start making the wrong decisions and becoming a big extremist. I’m talking about something as simple and naïve as  a breakup, how much it can affect you. You become suicidal.  Have you ever been suicidal? I have been suicidal. And then you survive it because there is the will to live because you have parents who love you, or whatever. But we all go through very, very dark moments, and I went through it. When you take a population and you tell the population, be it Palestinian, be it Israeli, be it whatever  you want: when you say, you can’t cross, you can’t have a future, you have to live in misery, you have to live in poverty. You’ve lost your virginity—in an Arab culture that’s a huge taboo. Whatever you take, you add layer after layer after layer. Misery, poverty, no perspective. Feeling shame, feeling embarrassed. You could become a suicide bomber.


DT: But you know, there’s the nonviolent movement in Bil’in, there are these Palestinians—and I think this is brilliant—adopting the Jewish settlers’ tactics of building huts on hilltops. I mean, do you think that nonviolent resistance—


ZD:Does not work.


DT: It’s worked in other parts of the world. It worked in East Timor—


ZD: Exactly, in India, in South Africa. Not in the same way. I’ll give you an answer right away: In my opinion, it’s religion. The Middle East is very religious. Think about it.  Not like South Africa. The Middle East is where the three monotheistic religions came from, and that’s very, very rare. In Islam you can do this kind of thing. You can do a jihad and kill yourself. In Christianity, you are not allowed to do it. Christianity goes against that. In Islam, religion plays a big role in shaping their minds.  Why don’t you have suicide bombers in other countries? I mean, there are, but very few.  Why is it so systematic in the Muslim world? Because in a way, the Qur’an, in a convoluted way, lets you do it. It’s divine intervention, not a man; it’s not Karl Marx who tells you, Go do it. Cause Karl Marx is a human being; he’s a homo sapien. It’s divine. How can you contest divine call for jihad? That’s why it’s so fucked up, you understand. Did I give you your answer?


DT: Yes, but I feel like you’re putting yourself  in danger with it.


ZD:Why? Why am I putting myself in danger? Going to Lebanon?  You think? Why?


DT: You’re saying some very radical things.


ZD: I am not radical. I am not radical at all. I’m talking about why it’s so easy for those people to commit suicide bombings. I give you a list: because they feel oppressed, they might feel no hope for the future, they might feel there’s no perspective, they’re sexually frustrated. Plus you add the religious aspect to it, you should do the jihad. You add all these things, you’re putting more chemistry for this to work.  To have a nice cocktail, you’ve got to have several elements to become a suicide bomber. Islam is the last cherry on the pie inside this cocktail. It’s giving it a divine okay to do it. This is why the discourse should change within the Muslims and they should stop.  Assholes should stop carrying on in the street, and say “Islam should condemn this; you should not be able to do this. It’s against God’s will.” Some people are trying to say it, but the Qur’an is so convoluted—it’s written in a way where you don’t know whether it encourages jihad or not. But again we’re getting into a very philosophical conversation that I don’t want to have. We should talk about simpler things in life. About a nice bagel.


DT: I’m sorry, my last question is pretty philosophical. In an interview with Elliott Kotech at TIFF, you said that it’s naïve to say “Let’s extend hands and say, ‘Peace.’” Don’t you think it’s a moral imperative to do so?


ZD: To extend hands?  I think it’s naïve because it cannot be solved that way. It happens that for me, I reconciled with Israelis on a film set. But that’s the Ziad way. I’m not representative of my whole community. To be able to all of us sit down and quickly cure things with a handshake, it’s naïve. I wish it would work. But again, I don’t know what works. Do you believe it would work with just shaking hands after all these bloody years? I don’t know, maybe it works.


DT: I think it’s the only thing that would work. If  everyone just says, “I can’t take it anymore. Let’s just have peace.”


ZD: Okay, but why is nobody saying it? Why are only some people saying it? A very small minority in Israel is calling for it, and an even smaller minority in the Arab world is saying it. Why are the rest not saying it?  I mean, I have my ways of solving the thing, but my ways are so different.


DT: Tell me.


ZD: Make them fornicate with each other.   All of them.


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