At a time when peace or at least co-existence near our neighbors seems as remote as ever and when the level of confidence in the political class seems to be at a historical low, it’s quite comforting for us, Israelis, to remember the times when the Prime Minister was a national hero, a man of vision, a person of unprecedented modesty who chose to quit politics and spend the last decade of his life as a member of a kibbutz, living a simple life, engaging in manual labor, working and living together with his neighbors and comrades. True, he had his political enemies also, and he was not exempt of controversies, but controversy is a way of life for Jews in general and Israelis in particular. The opportunity for these thoughts was provided by the documentary film Ben-Gurion, Epilogue which was co-produced (among other) and broadcast by ARTE TV and the Israeli Channel 8 stations, and screened in Israel and at festivals around the world. The film is based on the editing of about one hour worth out of several hours of a filmed interview given by the former Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion in the spring of 1968, several years after retiring from politics.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5934542

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5934542

 

It is interesting to judge the portrait that is convened by this film from two points of view. One is the persona. While Ben-Gurion was a very visible public figure and a popular one in the decades before and after the making of Israel, there are less and less people alive who knew him. We are now left with written testimonies and with this kind of films. From this interview he appears as an individual of great intelligence and modesty at the same time, a man who was both aware and proud of his role in history and at the same time humbled to have been instrumental in the important events he was part of.  Then it’s the political dimension. The Ben-Gurion who talks to us from the recovered filmed interviews was not only a man of vision but also a pragmatic moderate in policies. He provides his views on controversial issues related to the attitude of the allies to the Holocaust that was happening during WWII and the reconciliation with Germany that had happened after the war, about the victory in the Six Days War and the consequences of Israel having won the war and occupied so many territories. For the Israeli audiences there are no astonishing news, the fact that Ben-Gurion would have preferred to negotiate the majority of territories for peace is known for decades, but this position is very well articulated in the film and so actual in the present we live in today.

 

(video source Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia)

 

There are no very tough questions asked, and there is an attitude of deep respect from the young journalist to the old statesman which is never left during the discussion. We still learn a lot about the man, his life, his passions, his positions on important issues, and much of these still resonate. The discovery of the film (with no sound) and of the tapes of the interview (with no image) and the way they were brought together are an interesting story by itself, and the ‘the making of …’ documentary is worth watching as well. More film material taken from newsreels and other interviews were added in order to put the exact moment the interview was given (less than one year after the 1967 victory of Israel in the Six Days War) and the personality of David Ben-Gurion in its historical context. The title of the film is a little misleading, as Ben-Gurion does not take a ‘testamentary’ approach at any point, seems to be in good physical form and had a lot of plans among which writing his memoirs. He unfortunately did not complete these and I wonder if notes of fragments are available. He lived for another five years and even gave more interviews later. This film is an important testimony of his personality and positions after retiring, but the epilogue may still wait to be written.