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Ben-Gurion

David Ben-Gurion, the country’s revered founding prime minister, whose leadership shoes have never quite been filled ever since, not even by his notable protege Shimon Peres. Unfortunately, for extra-terrestrial guests and perplexed Israelis alike, Ben-Gurion passed away in  1973.

But wait a minute, what if it was possible to bring him back and hear what he has to say  about Israel’s current problems? About the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for instance?

Ben-Gurion, Epilogue, a new Israeli documentary  written and directed by Yariv Mozer, tries to a certain extent to do exactly that. The film  is  based on footage of an in-depth recently-discovered interview with Ben-Gurion  that has never been seen before.

The year is 1968. It is 20 years since Israel declared its independence, one year since the country captured territories  from Egypt, Jordan and Syria.  Ben-Gurion, 82, has resigned from the government and is living alone in his  desert kibbutz, uninhibited by political constraints, free to speak his mind.

Most of the film is comprised of Ben-Gurion’s uninterrupted answers to questions from ethnographer Clinton Bailey.  But occasionally the filmmakers offer subtle interpretations. For instance,  when Ben-Gurion talks about why, despite strong opposition from  Holocaust survivors,  he established  ties in the 1950s with  West Germany,  Ben-Gurion doesn’t mention one possible reason – assistance from German nuclear scientists in building Israel’s capability. That suggestion comes from a juxtaposed German tv news report.

When it comes to the territories captured in the 1967 war, Ben-Gurion  is quite straightforward. So much so, that it will be tempting for present-day  viewers,  to pluck out a line or two and use them to re-inforce their own political agenda.

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Ben-Gurion, Epilogue

When he says “If I would have a choice between peace and all the territories which we conquered last year (during the 1967 war) I would prefer peace,” it will be music to the ears of people on the left.

But when, in  the same breath, he qualifies that by saying that he would not withdraw from  certain territories – (East) Jerusalem and the (formerly Syrian) Golan Heights — the ears of those on the right will undoubtedly perk up.

It  would be unwise,  however, for anyone to suggest that  political decisions today can be based on the political realities of nearly 50 years ago.

And filmmaker Yariv Mozer has been wise enough to not overdo the political and instead use  the six hours of raw footage at his disposal, along with period newsreels,  to create a character study with uncanny contemporary resonance. From one utterance to another, we slowly get to know a leader who  placed a high value on setting a personal example, was intimately familiar with  other cultures, and offered his people a  moral vision.

These characteristics are particularly striking compared to  so many present day politicians, be they lawyers or real estate tycoons.

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