Review: The Human Factor
by Grace Han
- In his UK-Israeli documentary, Dror Moreh posits that the inability to make friends is the reason why Israelis and Palestinians are still fighting
In The Human Factor, which recently got an airing at the UK Jewish Film Festival’s Documentary Gala event, director Dror Moreh asks a key question upon opening the film: “Why are we still fighting two or three decades later?” Homing in on the Israel-Palestine conflict – and, indeed, Israel-Arab tensions in the region as a whole – Moreh's newest documentary comes as a stunning surprise. The British-Israeli production lifts the veil on behind-the-scenes diplomacy wars under President Clinton's administration, from the Oslo Accords to Camp David. Through interviews with a clutch of six key American negotiators from the 1990s, the documentary touches upon a little-discussed side to international affairs: the raw power of friendship.
Originally 36 hours long and now boiled down to two, The Human Factor is a documentary in the truest sense: it manipulates found footage and interview material to match its sugar-coated narrative. In a randomised game of roulette between six ex-Oval Office confidants, The Human Factor expertly edits glossy interviews into a feedback loop of six stories that meld into one: a tale of American innocence and American regret, but no American shame. The end product of the Israel-Palestine conflict of the late 20th century is simply the result of good intentions gone wrong, the film argues; for at least the American middlemen really tried.
This simplistic take on the American negotiators' role is frankly insulting, if not absolutely two-dimensional. Through the documentary's focus on the human relations behind the Israel-Palestine conflict, The Human Factor does itself a disservice. The real diplomatic failures were not so much down to economic incentives or national self-interest; no, the real failure and reason for disrupted peace in an entire region, The Human Factor argues, is the simple inability to make friends. The roadblock to peace lies not in the macro-interests of democracy, but rather the egos of a few.
More troublesome, perhaps, is the documentary's constant focus on the same period of time. The film's rotating cast of six ex-Oval Office confidants only echo each other, as they repeat – quite eloquently – their naiveté and regret over one decade, ignoring the past 20 years of post-Clinton American aggression. It's a shame, Moreh's cut seems to repeat, that this one decade of ineffective relationship-building had to have such disastrous consequences on the present day. It’s a pity that this one decade of indecision should be responsible for the Syrian Civil War, a shame that older men should rest on their laurels, cocooned in their living rooms, despite the rise of anti-immigrant populism worldwide. In Moreh's rose-tinted version of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Americans are the good guys who sincerely strove for peace, considering the circumstances.
And perhaps the most problematic element lies in the conception of the film itself: the suggestion that decades or even centuries of conflict could even be resolved within the space of one presidency. Inflamed tensions subside in favour of the focus on this particular period, sweeping the last 20 years under the rug. The film has no past or present; it is simply stuck, in a haze of twisted nostalgia, in the losses of the 1980s. While the movie's new perspectives on older conversations is ultimately valuable, The Human Factor's focus on just the human – and, indeed, on just this time period – perhaps limits its content more than it showcases it. But as producer Teddy Leifer noted during the Q&A, the documentary certainly provides a fresh, external perspective on the decades-long conflict.
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