A review of notes to eternity in University of Otago's Critic Magazine [Critic Issue 13, 2016] - during the recent limited theatrical release in New Zealand - gave the film an ‘A’ rating and while it's gratifying to get critical affirmation, the reviewer made this statement which demands response:
“… It [the film] tackles all of the difficult issues headfirst, with the thesis that the Holocaust is now being repeated against Palestinian civilians …”
The film in fact does not present nor set out to present such a thesis: a literal equivalence between the Nazi Holocaust and the treatment of the Palestinians. Nor is this something the four characters in the film articulate.
Undoubtedly, visual parallels can be drawn from the containment mechanisms used by the Israeli occupation: the Wall, the electrified fences, the ubiquitous watch towers, checkpoints and barriers, and the corralling of the Palestinian population into designated areas, regulated by forms of identification, subject to random arrest and incarceration. There are also parallels to be found in what José Saramago once called “the spirit of the occupation”, manifest in the institutionalized dehumanization of a people.
These are things Sara Roy, a child of Holocaust survivors, once spoke about as she walked along part of the wall Israel has constructed in the West Bank [this scene is not in the final cut]:
“I can’t begin to tell you how painful and upsetting this is to me. These walls, the barbed wire… What would my mother say if she saw this, yet again? I mean the Holocaust imagery is very powerful, at least for me, the watchtowers and the barbed wire and the sense of containment and violence… I can’t help but wonder is this why my grandparents and my aunts and uncles and all the many people in my family and so many millions of Jews were murdered. Absolutely not. In fact their deaths are often used to justify and legitimise Israeli occupation and the oppression of Palestinians and that is something I have fought my entire academic life against and many Jews, an increasing number of Jews also because they recognize that it is not only an obscenity, it is so damaging to us as a people.”
“ … the Holocaust imagery in the West Bank is extraordinary, and for me as a child of survivors I look at it and that is what immediately comes to mind. You know, the parallels exist, the parallels exist in the sense that the dehumanisation, the denigration of the ‘Other’ is I think very, very similar…. Of course there are great distinctions in terms of scale, in terms of intent. I mean many people would disagree with me and say that the Israelis are bent on the genocide of the Palestinians. I don’t believe that.”
There is no doubt the Holocaust is an historical and cultural cairn that towers over this conflict. It looms large in the collective and individual psyche. notes to eternity references some of this influence, directly and indirectly, through the stories and reflections of the film’s characters. These threads are too numerous and complex to go into here, and they by no means constitute the sole focus of the film.
It is nevertheless worthwhile to contemplate the question Sara Roy relates near the start of the film, and which she has heard time and again, referencing the treatment of the Palestinians: “How can the children of the Holocaust do such things?” It's a framework for discussion that doesn’t require or imply literal equivalence.