Avenge But One of My Two Eyes trades in irony with a capital I, juxtaposing Israel’s celebrated myths of rebellious suicide—primarily Samson’s sacrificial destruction of the Philistines, as well as the 1st-century story of 900 “Zealots” who killed themselves at mount Massada to escape capture from the occupying Roman forces—with the country’s current hard-line military tactics toward suspected terrorist Palestinians. Israeli documentarian Avi Mograbi presents his homeland’s treatment of its Muslim neighbors at border checkpoints as oppressive acts of humiliating subjugation comparable to the Romans’ strategy to enclose the Jews within a 2.5-meter high wall on the Massada hilltop, just as he depicts their exaltation of Samson’s martyrdom as similar to Palestinians’ belief in suicide bombing as a reasonable means of revolt. Instances of army hostility in and around the security fence are continually contrasted with snippets of devout Jewish teachers and tour guides reciting the country’s bloody legends about national freedom, a repetitive and quickly wearying structural device that purports to show how the past continues to fuel the region’s chronic cycle of violence, as well as to highlight supposed Israeli hypocrisy regarding those who’d willingly destroy themselves in order to annihilate their enemies. Yet it’s a specious parallel upon which Mograbi bases his film, considering that Israel’s stories of self-destruction—unlike the actions taken by Palestinian bombers on buses and in discothèques—don’t involve the taking of innocent civilian lives.
Scenes of Israeli soldiers preventing Palestinian passage to Jerusalem are intended to illustrate the callous viciousness of Sharon’s aggressive policies, but by providing no context for the military’s confrontational behavior in situations involving an injured woman refused access to a hospital or a group of young students denied migration through a border gate, the film asks us to accept, no questions asked, its black-and-white vision of Israeli villainy and Palestinian blamelessness. What Avenge mainly proves, however, is simply that some Jewish soldiers are nasty brutes, and that some Israeli citizens possess fanatical views on the heroism of suicide. Occasionally striking on-the-ground footage (including a dialogue between a tower-encased guard with a deliveryman that visualizes the physical and social barriers to constructive communication) is interspersed by telephone conversations in which Mograbi’s despondent West Bank-residing Palestinian friend confesses his conflicted feelings about life and death. Yet this dialogue—filmed with a static camera trained on Mograbi with a handset to his ear—doesn’t illuminate the causes and effects of the Israel-Palestine divide (or the origins of the suicide bombing cult of death) as much as it exposes the director’s narcissistic desire to make himself the star of his story. When, in the revelatory climax, Mograbi provokes a group of Israeli soldiers by screaming at them to “grow up,” one wishes the self-righteous filmmaker would follow his own advice.