NEW YORK — Twenty five years have passed since the historic handshake between the now dead Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on the south lawn of the White House, under the watchful eye of former United States president Bill Clinton.
Many remember September 13, 1993, as a day of hope, when for a while, peace seemed closer than ever. The series of negotiations that followed, the tensions and eventually the collapse of the peace process with Palestinian terrorism and Rabin’s assassination, have been documented and analyzed by many over the years. But Israeli documentary filmmakers Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan are now offering an unprecedented look at what went on behind closed doors of the Norwegian castle where the first talks secretly took place.
The Oslo Diaries, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, will debut Thursday, exclusively on HBO. The documentary chronicles the journey of the select group of Israelis and Palestinians who gathered for clandestine meetings, through their own eyes, using their private diary entries and never-before-seen archival footage shot from 1992 to 1995.
“In Israel, and I think all over, people have just had enough of talking about the peace process,” Daniel Sivan told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. “It just brings so much sorrow and agony and frustration.”
They crafted a plan for what seemed impossible.Watch The Oslo Diaries, an illuminating documentary about the secret talks that would change the political landscape of the Middle East, tomorrow at 8 on HBO.
Posted by HBO Documentary Films on Wednesday, September 12, 2018
“As filmmakers we’ve done all these films about the wars of Israel and suddenly we realized that there is actually no film done to date about the peace process,” Sivan said. “We really wanted to know not only why it failed, but how it worked backstage.”
The idea became a possibility when Sivan and Loushy came across the diary of Israeli historian and journalist Ron Pundak who was a key player in the negotiations.
“Before he passed away, he wrote a memoir that was published, but then we researched more and we got to his widow,” Mor Loushy said. “She gave us the real diary, handwritten, that was never published anywhere. We got all of his notes and his quotes and all of it was on papers from hotels, with the letterhead of the hotels.”
The discovery was immense: Pundak’s entries provided a personal, intimate and emotional account of the talks, recounting the fiery disagreements but also the unlikely friendships and desire for peace.
“When we found out that not only Ron had written one but that all of the main characters wrote one, we had a story from four or five different points of view, and for us that was fascinating,” Loushy said.
To illustrate this in a film, Loushy and Sivan had to find video material. They got in touch with Israeli journalist Yigal Goren, who had followed the negotiations in Oslo and Washington and had intended to make a film about the triumph of peace.
“Once Rabin was assassinated he became so depressed and took all of his tapes and shoved them in his attic,” Sivan told The Times of Israel.
The filmmakers used the footage along with other video material they found through individuals who had filmed behind the scenes at the time.
In order to make sense of it all, The Oslo Diaries also includes interviews with key players on both sides: Abu Ala, Uri Savir, Hanan Ashrawi, Yossi Beilin, Joel Singer, Daniel Kurtzer, Nabil Shaath, Dennis Ross and Saeb Erekat.
But by far the most stunning one is with late Israeli president Shimon Peres. It is in fact the very last interview Peres gave in his life.
“We did feel that he really gave a very honest interview,” Loushy said. “I think it was two days before he went to the hospital and I do feel it was really honest and yes, closing a circle in a way.”
Beyond attempting to shed light on a historical event, “The Oslo Diaries” also aims to humanize the players, the interactions between them and, perhaps, remind viewers that the conflict as a whole is about humans too.
Both Loushy and Sivan say they have learned a lot about this chapter of history as they created the film. It is a chapter they lived through themselves, although they were very young at the time.
“For us, every documentary, is like a PhD,” Loushy said. “You step into the film having little knowledge, or just the common knowledge of what the public knows, and when you dive in after three years and read every piece that was written about it and really research it in depth — of course you find out new things.”
“I learned that there were two leaders, Rabin and Arafat, who really wanted peace. You can write a lot of papers, but the willingness to go forward is a courage that few leaders have and I think that we can learn from it,” she added.
For Sivan, while the process was enriching, it also arose sadness. “I must say that it was really, really painful,” he told The Times of Israel. “It brought back my childhood.”
Sivan, 35, said the Oslo years were hopeful, that a lasting peace was just around the corner. “I remember that feeling of growing up in an Israel that’s going to a different future, but as the years go by people are not losing hope in Oslo, they are losing hope in any peaceful solution,” he said.
“People are saying that we are probably just going to stay in this situation or worse, this is as good as it gets,” he continued. “But I can’t look my son in the eyes and tell him, ‘You know, this is the most secure, peaceful life you are going to have because it’s probably going to get only worse.’ I must give him the same promise I got — that there is at least a chance of reaching a different future.”
Both Loushy and Sivan said they hope people who watch their documentary will understand that there is “no other alternative” but peace.
“We must not despair because we were almost there and we can be there again. We just need a window of opportunity to go in and make it happen, and I think that a lot of it is on our shoulders,” Loushy said. “We deserve a better future.”
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