Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky’s Colliding Dreams attempts to trace the history of Zionism from its roots in 19th-century European nationalism to the failure of the Oslo peace accords to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Due to the breadth of the subject, much has been omitted, and as such the documentary should be a viewed only as a basic introduction to a vast and complex topic. The film includes interviews with a wide array of Israeli and Palestinian commentators, including ultra-Orthodox settlers, peace activists, leftwing intellectuals, and centrist politicians, but the filmmakers’ perspective is firmly aligned with the views of liberal Zionism, as the leftist peace activists are given the most screen time. Thus, the work is really more of a primer on this particular strand of the Zionist movement, or at least that movement’s version of Zionism’s history.
The film frames the origins of Zionism as an attempt to bring normalcy to Jewish life in 19th-century Europe, where the advent of nationalism gave birth to a new post-Christian, secular anti-Semitism, which claimed that Jews didn’t belong in the continent’s modern nation-states because of their racial/ethnic alterity. After protracted internal debates, Zionist leaders settled on Ottoman Palestine as the projected site of a new Jewish homeland, where immigrants experienced escalating levels of Arab violence.
The documentary quickly skips through WWII and the Holocaust, reflecting Zionism’s ambivalent relationship with the Shoah and the Jews that stayed in Europe and died as a part of the Final Solution. The 1948 War of Independence between Israel and its Arab neighbors is characterized as one that involved the mutual expulsion of Arabs and Jews from one another’s territories, as delineated by the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Israel’s declaration of independence exacerbated the plight of Jews living in other parts of the Middle East, causing close to a million of them to immigrate to Israel after being expelled from their countries. The film shows, perhaps unintentionally, that these immigrants gave Israel its distinct character as a Middle Eastern nation, rather than a Western nation in the Middle East.
Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War brought the West Bank and Gaza, formerly under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, respectively, under its control, leading to rising concerns among liberal Zionists about the unfeasibility of ruling over the newly acquired Arab population. Ironically, the film shows that while Palestinian identity was suppressed under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, it was only spurred into existence by Israel’s takeover of these territories. The film also makes almost no mention of the terrorist activities within Israel and abroad against Jews and Israelis perpetrated by Palestinian militants and their fellow travelers during this period, highlighting instead only Hamas’s efforts to derail the implementation of the Oslo accords via suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilians. While the tragic failure of the Oslo accords to bring about peace is lamented by the commentators, even leftist peace activists acknowledge the necessity of Israel’s security fence, considering it a regrettable but justified response to Palestinian terrorism.
Given the degeneration of discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a zero-sum blame game between advocates of the two groups, it’s likely that viewers will take away from the film whatever suits their perspective, ignoring facts and arguments that aren’t amenable to their prejudices. One commentator calls nationalism a 19th-century myth, using Zionism as an example. Some may view the statement as a denunciation of Israel as the product of an illegitimate mythological construct, failing to see that the commentator is referring to all nations.
The film shows both Arab commentators admitting that Israel is a thriving, successful country and radical Israelis on both political extremes denouncing their country for having strayed from the original tenets of Zionism. While the filmmakers might not admit it, Colliding Dreams reveals that Zionism has always been a tangle of motley, sometimes contradictory, beliefs and policies. In ending on Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the failure of the Oslo peace process, which occurred two decades ago, the filmmakers essentially admit that they have nothing to say about the current situation in Israel and the territories. This in and of itself might be a tacit admission of liberal Zionism’s failure to deal effectively with its internal and surrounding Arab population, at least in the current political climate.