By Angela Winter
Christians concerned about the world-wide explosion of anti-Zionist hate who also care about the lives of Palestinians have a valuable new resource: The award-winning documentary Hope in the Holy Land. The film is narrated by a red-headed Christian surfer from California, perhaps not the first person you would think of as a tour guide to the painful complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But freckle-faced Todd Moorhead brings an open-hearted sincerity and willingness to learn about the struggles of Jews, Muslims, and Christians on both sides of the conflict. The documentary follows Todd, an evangelical with a deep love for Israel, as he journeys across the Holy Land to confront his indifference toward the Palestinians and to search for truths behind the conflict. Moorhead travels to Israel and the West Bank to sample a broad section of public opinion about the future prospects for peace.
At the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the fact that two peoples, the Jews and the Palestinians, often have two competing narratives, two contrasting histories. This contributes to a zero-sum mindset in which voices on each side view the other groups’ perspective as a fundamental threat. The international community often takes advantage of both parties’ distress by sharing incomplete or inaccurate information on this conflict which only accentuates the divide between Palestinians and Jews. The new film encourages Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, to move past this divide by finding common ground between their narratives. Justin Kron, one of the film’s creators, hopes to address the polarization that comes with the subject. “Christians on both sides of the issue need to be challenged to see what life is really like for those on the ground,” he says.
What makes the film essential viewing is its even-handedness. The film does not demonize one side or the other, although it retains the belief that the Jews are God’s chosen people and Moorhead identifies as a Christian Zionist. But the documentary does not attempt to reduce the complexities of millennia into a tidy political or theological narrative. The film remains remarkably multi-sided as it tries to discover different perspectives, and the filmmakers display awareness of the relentless complications of the issues involved as the protagonist attempts to listen and learn from the people he encounters. Moorhead expands his understanding of the layers of history behind the conflict; this history adds critical knowledge to the discussion. At the same time, the broader historical picture does not obscure the heart of the film, which is the everyday reality of the people involved.
Many Christians have been sucked into an inflexibly anti-Israel narrative. Hope in the Holy Land offers a more balanced perspective, highlighting problems on both sides. Moorehead interviews individuals from a variety of religions. He speaks to Palestinian Christians and Jewish settlers, to activists, professors, refugees, journalists and theologians. Their voices are captivating. Hope in the Holy Land pushes the viewer to move out of cliché-driven comfort zones, including the belief that the BDS movement truly seeks the well-being of Palestinians. As Palestinian Christians themselves observe in the film, BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) ignores Palestinians’ human rights by overlooking violations by anyone other than Israel.
What makes the film essential viewing is its even-handedness. The film does not demonize one side or the other, although it retains the belief that the Jews are God’s chosen people.
Although the film explores an ongoing, bitter conflict, it also gives us positive glimpses of Israelis and Palestinians. Notably, it highlights Palestinians and Israelis working together. As one of the film’s taglines proclaims, “There is hope if you know where to look for it.” For Moorehead, as a believing Christian, genuine transformation and real peace come ultimately only from God. This belief underlies the documentary. The film makes a good start at expanding discussion about a conflict which increasingly has become one-sided and anti-Israel into real dialogue that respects both Israelis and Palestinians. As Israeli author and peace activist Yossi Klein Halevi writes, “One of the main obstacles to peace is the inability to hear the other side’s story.” Hope in the Holy Land allows us to hear multiple stories and to see glimpses of hope.
Note for parents: The film includes photos that show dead bodies and the aftermath of terror attacks. Some of the footage which depicts the effects of terrorism is quite graphic and distressing.
Angela Winter, CMJ USA board member, is a former features reporter with The Baltimore Sun who teaches classes in churches about the history of Christian antisemitism. She writes about Jewish-Christian relations, Protestant Christian theology, and the Holocaust.