O Jerusalem (2006)




Director:     Elie Chouraqui. 

Starring:     JJ Feild (Bobby Goldman),  Sad Taghmaoui (Sad Chahine),  Maria Papas (Hadassah),  Patrick Bruel (David Levin),  Ian Holm (Ben Gurion),  Tovah Feldshuh (Golda Meir),  Mel Raido (Jacob),  Ccile Cassel (Jane),  Mhairi Steenbock (Cathy),  Tom Conti (Sir Cunningham),  Shirel (Yal),  Peter Polycarpou (Abdel Khader),  Daniel Lundh (Roni),  Anatol Yusef (Major Tell),  Jamie Harding (Amin Chahine).  

a Jewish-American is friends with an Arab-Muslim but when British controlled Palestine erupts in war, the two friends find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

VE day.  Newsreel footage is shown of celebrations taking place around the world in honor of the Victory in Europe.

New York, July 22, 1946.   A soldier named Bobby Goldman in military uniform tells his friend Jacob to get his car started.  It takes awhile, but Jacob does get it started and now he hops into the driver's seat next to his girlfriend Cathy.  The soldier ask for the radio to be turned on.  They hear the report:  "A huge explosion rocked Jerusalem today.  Eyewitnesses report Jewish extremists responsible for this attack.  Arabs, Jews and British soldiers were killed.  Further reports reveal the targeted site as being the landmark King David . . ."  The car suddenly stalls and Jacob can't get it re-started right away.

So Bobby says he's taking off  --  going over to Finelli's.  He is hurrying because he wants to hear more about what happened in Jerusalem.  Crossing a street he runs into a car.  The driver and Bobby exchange accusations and then Bobby hops into the car looking for the radio station with the report.  The driver tells him that it happened at the King David Hotel, British headquarters.  The Irgun claim they did it. (The Irgun was a Zionist paramilitary group operating in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948; it was an offshoot of the Jewish paramilitary organization haHaganah).  There are 90 dead. 

The driver asks Bobby if he is Jewish?  Yes.  The driver says he is an Arab from Jerusalem.  His name is Sad Chahine.  Sad gives Bobby a ride.

Bobby and Sad are waiting in a night club for Bobby's friends to show up.  Jane is the first to arrive.  Bobby introduces Jane to Sad, who is studying history at Columbia University.  Jane is interested in archaeology.  She asks what were they talking about?  Palestine.  Sad comes from Sheikh Jarrah.  Jane asks Sad to dance and she almost drags him away from the table.  Another of Bobby's female friends arrives. 

Both Bobby and Sad use the night club as a kind of home base.  Sometimes they are with Sad's Arab friends and sometimes with Bobby's friends.  They even celebrate together for the New Year 1947.  There is a lot of political discussion in the group, but it is good-natured usually.  They decide to leave the night club and go over to Finelli's.  Jacob is driving and tells the group that he has a new car.  The new car, however, has its own problems.  Jacob says he is going to leave the car to Sad because he is heading for Palestine tomorrow. He goes on to say that in two months there is going to be a vote on the partition of Palestine.  And that will then be followed by a war with the Arabs. 

Sad gets upset and exits the car.  Bobby is going him.  Jacob stops him to say that Sad is an Arab and they are Jewish.  Bobby just tells Jacob to shut up.  Bobby catches up with Sad, but the Arab says that Jacob is actually right.  He says that his Uncle wrote him a letter and wants him to come to Jerusalem for the same reason, but for the Arabs.  Bobby says that both Jacob and Sad are crazy.  And he says that they both can't just leave like that.  He tries to bring Sad and Jacob together, but the differences are too great.

Palestine, November 17, 1947.  Sad and Bobby, fresh off the boat from New York, go through British customs.  Jacob is already there and he greets both Bobby and Sad very warmly.  Jacob has another car, but this one also breaks down on him in an isolated area.  While looking at the engine, the damn thing falls on the ground.  Jacob says he has to start all over again fixing the car.

The three friends are on a bus on the Bab El Oued Road heading for Jerusalem.  There is an armed Jewish man serving as a guard on the bus.  He tells everyone they are going through a dangerous area.  They will be at the bottom of a gorge, an area very suited for an ambush.  Jacob tells Bobby that this is the only road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  The British have a check point and the bus has to stop.  British soldiers get on board the bus to check papers and bags.  The British find a pistol and asks whose pistol is this?  A young woman named Hadassah says it's hers.  So they take her.  An old Jewish woman says it's not right to take her to the nearest village, because the nearest village is Arab and the young girl could be raped or her throat could be split.  She asks to be taken with the young Jewish woman.  (The old woman is the to be famous Golda Meir.)

The British take both Jewish women off the bus.  Jacob tells Bobby that he is going with them also.  He jumps off the bus.  Sad arrives at home and is enthusiastically welcomed.  Bobby is with Sad. 

At an outside table they sit and discuss political matters. Sad's mother doesn't understand the political meaning of partition.  She says that in her village, they have always gotten along with the Jews.  But now everything is changing and she is starting to believe that every Jew is an enemy.  In Arabic, Sad's brother Amin says that every Jew is an enemy.  This makes Sad angry and he tells his brother to apologize to Bobby.  The brother does apologize, but he also leaves the table.  Sad translates for Bobby what was said.  Bobby now wants to know how Sad feels toward the Jews.  Sad just laughs it off. 

Sad now shows Bobby a view of Jerusalem from a lookout point.  He shows the highlights of the skyline to Bobby.  Bobby is impressed.  They mention that Jerusalem literally means "City of Peace".  Sad tells Bobby he is scared of what is to come. 

United Nations, New York, USA, November 29, 1947.  A journalist announces that today will be a great day remembered in history forever.  "Today, after five centuries of Turkish dictatorship and 26 years of British protection, the meeting of the 56 countries of the United Nations will decide whether or not Palestine will be separated into two separate states."  The big fear is that there will be war upon the announcement of separation. 

A British officer wonders where the British went wrong?  "We're leaving chaos in our wake.  Thousands of people can't wait for us to leave so they can butcher each other."

Jacob takes Bobby into a cafe below ground to introduce the Haganah to the tenderfoot.  He says that the Haganah is their secret army. 

Amin watches as boxes of weapons are stored away.  He sees an older man coming to the house.  It's uncle Abdel Khader.  The talk of the moment is about the UN vote.  Amin says that the Americans are already pledged to the Zionists. But the Arabs are 14 million strong and they will drive the Jews into the sea.  Abdel warmly greets Sad.  He then tells Amin that he had to buy 50 rifles with his own money. 

Two British official,s Gordon and a military man known as Alan, talk about what the British will do.  If Palestine is split, the British are not to intervene if there is any fighting between the Jews and the Arabs. London feels the British have lost lots of soldiers already and they don't want any more casualties.  Gordon says that the British will be out of Palestine in six months.  Alan says that Britain should have tried to be the arbiter between the Jews and the Arabs rather then Britain just walking away from the situation. 

France, Guatemala, Ukraine, South Africa, the Soviet Union, USA, Uruguay, Venezuela vote yes for partition.  Britain abstains.  Amin starts crying, but Jacob and Bobby celebrate with the other Zionists.  The girl who was taken off the bus by the British, Hadassah, is there and she joins in the dancing.  Bobby and the young woman keep looking at each other.

Amin and Sad nearly come to blows over the UN decision and its aftermath.  Amin says that his brother better straighten up and realize what is going on.  He adds:  "This is the jihad, Sad.."  Brother tells Amin that God doesn't want war. 

Early the next morning, the Arabs decide that they are going to drive the Jews out of Jerusalem.  Sad talks with Bobby and Jacob.  He doesn't want the guys to be killed and tells them they should go home.  But that idea is not acceptable to Jacob.  Bobby tells them both to shut up.  Now they hear a lot of noise getting louder and louder.  It's the Arabs coming for the Jews.  The British soldiers try to hold them back, but after a bit, the British let the Arabs proceed on their way.  The Jews start running, but Jacob is determined to take a stand against them.  He pulls out his weapon and fires it into the air.  A British soldier then wounds Jacob with a rifle shot.  Bobby and Sad arrive to quickly pick Sad up and take him to a safer place to get medical attention.  The young woman from the bus takes Bobby's pistol to hold the Arabs back. 

They reach a safe house and Jacob is carried inside.  The door is closed.  Sad starts crying as he mixes in with the Arab mob. 

The Jewish quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem is in flames.  Cathy comes to see Bobby and learns that Bobby is going to fight on the side of the Jews. She starts sobbing. 

The Jewish leaders meet to decide what to do.  The leaders says the Arab headquarters is the Hotel Semiramis and they must blow it up. 

Semiramis Hotel, Arab Headquarters, January 17, 1948.  A big explosion goes off and machine gun fire is heard.  Amin is very close to the explosion, but he is alright.

Sad yells to Amu Abdel Khader that the Jews are attacking the Semiramis Hote.  Khader comes out to tell Sad to grab Sahmet and go to the hotel.  Sad is reluctant to do this, so the older man yells at him that his brother is at the Semiramis.  Sad goes.  Meanwhile, Amin leads the children into the basement of the hotel.  He suddenly sees gas cylinders tied together.  Before he can really react, the whole basement explodes with fury. 

Sad comes into the Semiramis and yells for Amin.  His brother is still alive, but his face is all bloody and lots of concrete blocks have fallen on him.  Sad tries to lift the blocks off his little brother, but he cannot budge them.  His brother gives Sad his pistol.  He says:  "Promise me."  Then he dies.  Sad knows what Amin was trying to say to him and he says:  "I swear to you, my little brother, on the Koran.  I swear to avenge your death before God."

The Jewish Agency, March 11, 1948.  A driver drives his car up to the main building.  He starts walking away from the car and then starts running.  Several Jewish men figure out that the car probably has a bomb inside, so they start to move the car away from the main building.  As they push the car, it explodes. 

The Arabs tell their people that they will starve the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. 

David Ben-Gurion.  Chairman of the Jewish Agency.  Ben-Gurion tells the small group with him that they can lose Tel Aviv and Haifa, but they just can't lose Jerusalem.  They must hold Jerusalem  - they must fight!  Isaac, the head of Haganah, tells the chairman that the Haganah is not a real army.  Most of the members are kids.  Ben-Gurion tells him firmly:  "Today the Haganah is an army."  Gold Meir tells "B.G." that they can negotiate with King Abdullah of Jordan.  BG tells her to go ahead and do it!

Dead Sea, the camp of King Abdullah of Transjordan, March 1948.  Golda Meir and an Jewish soldier see the King.  The King believes that Divine Providence brought the Jews back to Palestine.  But he is not really going to support the Jews militarily.  He says that Allah will protect them both.

BG says that they have to take Kastel (today's Al Qastal, Palestine).   Abdel Khader holds the town.  BG doesn't care about that.  He tells his leaders to go get enough Jews so they can take Kastel. 

Abdel Khader talks with representatives of the other Arab countries.   He wants them to give the Palestinians enough weapons to drive the Jewish people from the area.  They say he must be patient.  Khader wants them to cut off the sending of oil to the USA, who is helping the Jews.  They won't do that.  Khader tells the representatives that they are all traitors and that Palestinian spilled blood will be on their hands.  He leaves the room.  Sad is in the room for the discussion. 

A meeting takes place between the Haganah and the extremist group, the Irgun.  The Irgun goes to an Arab named Golan for some help in taking Kastel.  They want this man's little army to block the Bab El Oued Road when the Jewish attack Kastel.  What does he want for this assistance?  Golan says weapons. 

So arms are brought to Golan and his people. 

BG comes out to speak with the Irgun.  He says they have to rescue 150,000 Jewish people with the planned offensive.   He then says:  "Mazel tov, my children."  Bobby sees Cathy among the Irgun and he tells her that this is not her battle.  She says:  "Jerusalem's also the city of Christ." 

The battle for Kastel, April 2, 1948.  The guards to the city are killed quietly.  Bobby is in command of one group of Israelis.  He then radios Irgun commander David that they have control of the castle, so now the bulk of the army can move ahead.  And off the convoy goes. 

Bobby's position is now hit with mortar or artillery shells.  And the Arabs are running up the hill to try to take the castle back.  There are so many Arabs that Booby decides to retreat west.  He starts sending me down a part of the hill.  Meanwhile, Bobby is radioing Golan asking him, where is he?  Now Bobby radios David to tell them they are retreating for the castle.  On the way down the hill Bobby is wounded in the left arm.  They seek shelter in an abandoned building.  The Arabs now are going to surround the building.  But in front of the building is the dead body of their leader, Abu Musa.  So they retreat from battle. 

The Israelis now decide to go back up to the castle.  Bobby is the last one to leave the enclosure.  He stops and takes a good look at the dead man.  It is Sad's uncle.  Sad comes around the corner with a pistol on Bobby, but he doesn't shoot.  He takes a closer look at the dead man and screams at Bobby that he killed his uncle.  Other Arabs draw near and Sad tells Bobby to get out of here while he can. 

With his girlfriend, Hadassah, Bobby says that he killed Sad's uncle.  He says he came her to find peace, not fight in battles.  His girlfriend tells him that there will be peace.  Bobby says the eye for an eye endeavor is just making the Arabs hate the Jews more and more.  The girlfriend says:  "There's always an end."   Now Hadassah tells Bobby when she was in a concentration camp, she wanted to live, so she offered the sexual services to the SS men and she got a bit more food than the other prisoners.  Then they were freed by the Russians.  The other women told the Russians that she serviced the SS for bread. "And now I am here."

Bobby and Hadassah see their troops coming back.  Troops come back in trucks loaded with oranges.  The people are still hungry. 

Deir Yassin, Arab Village, April 9, 1948.  A man's voice comes over the loudspeakers and says:  "The Irgun and the Stern Group, Jewish extremist forces, attacked the Arab village of Deir Yassin."  Bobby, Hadassah and others reach the village by jeep.  They can't believe that someone has already killed most of the adult residents of the village.  Bobby sees Golan and asks him:  "This is why you needed our weapons?  Golan says:  "Deir Yassin is under the jurisdiction of the Irgun."  David grabs Golan by his clothes and yells:  "You were supposed to protect Deir Yassin."   The two sides are still pointing their weapons at each other.  David holds a gun to the head of Golan and tells him tell his men to put down their arms, or he will shoot Golan.  The Arab tells David to go ahead and shoot him.  David's men say to go ahead and shoot the man, but David says he cannot.  Instead he says to Golan:  "You've tarnished our people by killing Deir Yassin."  After the Israelis start leaving, the Arabs lay down their arms. 

Sad leads the funeral of his uncle.  He tells the people that after the funeral they will come together in greater numbers and will seek revenge for the death of his uncle.

Bobby tells Hadassah that he has got to speak with Sad.  Hadassah begs him not to go.  He says he has to.  They kiss.  He tells her that he loves her and then goes. 

Driving in a jeep Bobby reaches the Arab territory and is grabbed by many men.  They rough him up a bit.  Bobby says he's an American journalist here to interview Sad.  A man tells Sad, who comes out to see this journalist.  They have a bag over Bobby's head.  When Sad sees his face, he turns his back on Bobby.  He tells his right hand man that he is to take Bobby and give him back to the Jews.  But he warns his assistant not to hurt Bobby in any way.

Jerusalem, May 14, 1948.  The British troops leave Palestine.  While leaving, the military officer Alan, stops to give Rabbi Weingarten the key to the Gates of Zion.  Not since 70 AD had the key to Jerusalem been in the hands of the Jews.  The rabbi is stunned and doesn't say a word.

Dead Sea, the camp of King Abdullah of Transjordan, May 14, 1948.  The King tries to unify the command of the Arab armies, but it proves impossible.  He makes a sarcastic remark that they have agreed to fight together, separately. 

Tel Aviv, Dizengoff Museum, May 14, 1948.  BG addresses the Jewish people.  The name of the new nation is Israel. 

Latrun Monastery, 18 miles from Jerusalem.  The radio announcer says:  "The army of the five Arab states and the Palestinian irregular forces have declared war on the new Jewish state."  Major Abdullah Tell of the Legion of His Majesty King Abdullah of Transjordan asks the main head of the monastery if there are any Jewish soldiers here?  The answer in no.  He now tells the priests:  "I am requisitioning the monastery of Latrun."  The officer places his men in their positions.  Their orders are not to let anything through on the road below them so they can starve the Jewish people into submission. 

Two days later, Haganah base camp.  A ship lands.  There are a lot of passengers all over the boat.  Bobby is there to greet the newcomers who speak English.  Three ships will be brining in a total of 712 people from Czechoslovakia, Russia, Poland and Hungary. David tells BG that they can use these men to attack Latrun, because there the road is blocked by the Arabs.  The leader of the group asks that the men get some rest first.  BG sets him straight.  He says the spokesman does not consider the gravity of the situation.  He slams his hand on his desk and says he needs all his men and women right now!  After the spokesman leaves, BG tells David to feed the newcomers, make them feel at home, give each able-bodied person a rifle, give them two days of training and then on to Latrun. 

There are a lot of women in the small army.  At night they move on Latrun.  They come very close to the monastery, but a flare goes up that lights the ground on which the Israeli army is standing.  Then they are hit by machine gun fire.  They start putting the men and women on trucks and buses to get them out of Latrun. 

Bobby and a small group with a jeep slowly walk up a hill.  None of the group knows where they are.  Luckily for them,  David and some others from Jerusalem come upon them.  David has great news.  He has found a path that he is sure can be used as a supply route for the Israeli army.  The pass goes over and around the hills.

Back with BG, David tells him about the path.  BG says they have to make it into a road.  He gets a call from Isaac Roth.  He doesn't know that his daughter has been killed in the assault on Latrun.  Roth tells BG that they need supplies now.  BG says it will take a miracle.  But then he thinks of backpacks as a way to get supplies in.  David explains to the backpackers that 2,000 Israeli soldiers are trapped in Hurva, the synagogue.  Each backpack has enough food to keep 100 Jews going for one more day.  There had been some grumbling about the weight of the backpacks, but now, knowing how important the supplies are, the gripping stops and they put the backpacks on their backs. 

Sad goes to see King Abdullah.  He speaks to him against the cease-fire demanded by the USA and the USSR.  The King explains that they cannot go against their allies.  Sad says they have not suffered a single defeat as of yet and that they could drive the Israelis into the Mediterranean Sea.  Abdullah thinks about what Sad has told him.  He decides to go ahead with he offensive. The cease fire will become effective at 10:00 a.m. on the 11th of June.  Sad has this time to take Jerusalem.  At the cease fire time, all hostile activities will cease. 

During the night, backpackers bring up the supplies.  They get close but David says there are too many Arabs to try to make it to the synagogue.  David says they have to turn back.  Bobby tells him that a Jewish friend named Jacob, who has an interest in archaeology, told him about a hidden passage that  leads to the synagogue. 

Jerusalem, Ramparts of the Old City, June 11, 1948.  They find the hidden passage.  Bobby is welcomed in by a very grateful Cathy.  She hugs him.  One of the first things Isaac Roth asks is where is Yael?  When everyone won't look him in the eyes, he knows what's happened.  He almost faints. 

Sad says they have to take the synagogue before the cease fire arrives.  He builds a big bomb and it is pushed by men who stay behind the shield up to the wall.  Sad sends everyone back, then he starts running but is wounded by a shot.  Now the explosion goes off and knocks a big hole in the wall.  Now the Jordanian troops rush in through the hole.  The Israelis start killing the troops, but there too many of them to hold back.  So the Israelis start retreating back to the synagogue.  Hadassah is badly wounded in the retreat. 

Bobby is the last one to evacuate the street and head for the synagogue.  All of a sudden he sees Sad again.  Sad puts his pistol down, but gets shot by another Israeli.  Bobby yells for no more shooting.  He picks up Sad and runs him back to the synagogue.  He puts him down by Hadassah and then checks on her.  She is in a lot of pain and Bobby yells for morphine.  Bobby tells her that he loves her and he wants her to marry him.  Bobby rushes over to grab a rabbi.  While he is away, Hadassah asks Sad to look after Bobby. 

Bobby returns with the rabbi.  They are married.  Then Hadassah dies.  After a little while all the firing stops.  It's the official time for the cease-fire.  The two sides come together in the middle of the street.  Major Abdullah Tell of Transjordan tells the Israelis that if he had known there were so few of the Israelis at the synagogue, he would have came at them with sticks only.  He sees that David is wounded and calls for the doctors to come and start patching up both the Arab and the Jewish wounded.  The two groups of soldiers mingle in with each other.

Bobby says:  "When hostilities resumed at the end of the six-day ceasefire, Israelis had reinforced their positions considerably, brought in men and arms and restocked Jerusalem, thanks to the route now opened through the hills  --  the Burma Road.  Thousands of lives were lost in these battles and subsequently an estimated 750,000 people were displaced.  Wars followed wars, creating a cycle of violence, mistrust and hatred.  Yet, on both sides, people like Bobby and Sad continued to nurture a seed of peace in their hearts.  In spite of all the suffering, one must hope that this seed of peace will grow and that someday, Jerusalem will live by the meaning of its name  --  'City of Peace.'" 



Good film.  There's a lot of history in the film, which is good.  There was quite a bit of war action going on too.  Moreover, there was a love affair between Bobby and Hadassah and a deep relationship between the Jewish Bobby and the Arab Sad.   That's quite a lot of story covering all of that.  The film doesn't demonize the Arabs.  And at the end of the film there is the hope for peace one day in the Middle East.  JJ Feild (as Bobby Goldman),  Sad Taghmaoui (as Sad Chahine) and Ian Holm (as Ben Gurion) were all very good in their parts.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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