Israel's forgotten hostages


The Cutting Edge: Hostage of Time
SBS, Tuesday, June 20, 8.30pm (8 Adelaide)
Reviewed by Jennifer Thompson

This documentary, made in Lebanon in 1994, traces the experience of a young doctor, Leila, who returns with her eight-month-old son to her village in south Lebanon. Award-winning director Jean Khalil Chamoun made the film over 10 months of filming Leila's family, patients and friends, whose lives have been devastated by 17 years of Israeli assault.

Leila and her husband, who remains abroad to complete studies, have been away from her country for 10 years. She finds the land and the people enduring a continuing state of war, which flared up most recently with the 1993 Israeli attack. That episode razed 50 villages and made half a million civilians homeless, causing a refugee flood into Beirut.

Many of those people have not returned, choosing instead to live a scavenging existence in bombed-out buildings in the capital, out of the range of the Israeli-occupied "security zone" in the south.

Leila's family remain in the south, under the threatening gaze of Israeli army installations clearly visible on the hills opposite the village. The village is in the first line of attack for the occupying Israelis in their war with the Lebanese resistance.

Her family and patients speak of the effect this has had on their lives, with children who have known nothing else recounting the fear of Israeli bombardments. Leila's cousin has been sent away to a psychiatric hospital in Beirut to escape the bombing that sent him insane.

Leila describes her fear for her son, who is not allowed outside because the bombing can start at any time, without warning. Despite all this, she has chosen to come back, to do what she can as an obstetrician. She says that despite the war, people are still living, dying and giving birth and she needed to be part of that.

Most of all, Leila's family and associates are waiting. They are waiting for either peace or death, whichever comes first. Her oldest brother reassures Leila's father that there will be peace in five years, with the agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. Her father doesn't know if he can wait that long.

One thing is certain: Lebanon will never have a chance for peace until Israel leaves. The film highlights the plight of the Lebanese people, who remain hostage despite the much-vaunted peace process.