The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT & ANALYSIS -

BBC4, Thurs­day, May 15

BBC4’S STO­RYVILLE strand cel­e­brated Is­rael’ s 60th birth­day with a sea­son of films analysing dif­fer­ent as­pects of Is­raeli life.

My Is­rael was Yulie Co­hen’s in­tensely per­sonal ac­count of her coun­try, her hopes and her fears. For the past 30 years, Co­hen has been at­tempt­ing to come to terms with a ter­ror­ist at­tack which in­jured her and killed a col­league. Co­hen was on a bus tak­ing her El Al flight crew from Heathrow Air­port to Lon­don’s Europa ho­tel. As she stepped off the bus, Co­hen saw a man star­ing at her “hate­fully”. She told a su­per­vi­sor: “I think he’s go­ing to start shoot­ing at us.”

That man was Fa­had Mi­hyi, who was lat­er­jailed­for­life­for­mur­deringay­oung air host­ess, Irit Gidron, in the at­tack.

Twenty-two years later, Co­hen, who suf­fered a shrap­nel wound in the at­tack as well as a thy­roid dis­or­der trig­gered by post-trau­matic stress, sought to find her at­tacker. She de­cided that by meet­ing him and seek­ing to for­give him she could fi­nally draw a line un­der the ter­ri­fy­ing events. She wrote to Mi­hyi, who was still in­car­cer­ated in Dart­moor Prison. In his re­ply, he wrote that he had long since re­nounced vi­o­lence and now wished for peace — which, as a man des­per­ate to be re­leased af­ter 22 years in prison, he would do, wouldn’t he?

Co­hen, how­ever, was suf­fi­ciently moved to fly to Bri­tain to meet him. This time, she said, the hate was gone from his eyes. It was, she re­counted, a claus­tro­pho­bic en­counter. “I looked at the win­dow try­ing to get oxy­gen,” said Co­hen as Mi­hyi apol­o­gised pro­fusely for his role in the at­tack.

Later, Co­hen was moved to write to the pa­role board to plead for his re­lease. Not ev­ery­one saw her for­give­ness as laud­able. We saw her de­bat­ing with a set­tler, Ruthie Gil­lis, whose daugh­ter had been killed in a ter­ror­ist at­tack. De­spite the fact that both had been the vic­tims of Arab ter­ror, the gulf be­tween the for­giv­ing Co­hen and the venge­ful Gil­lis could not have been more stark.

How­ever, this was about more than pol­i­tics, it was an in­ti­mate film about how events in the Mid­dle East had shaped and af­fected Co­hen’s at­ti­tude to her par­ents and to her chil­dren. Some may say that there are bet­ter causes than cam­paign­ing for the re­lease of a ter­ror­ist but one can only ad­mire her sin­cer­ity and courage.

In a sense, Flip­ping Out: Is­rael’s Drug Gen­er­a­tion was also about how Is­raelis deal with trauma — in this case by re­course to ne­far­i­ous sub­stances while up a moun­tain in the Hi­malayas.

The Is­raelis in ques­tions had just fin­ished their stint of Na­tional Ser­vice. Thou­sands take their de­mob al­lowance and head for In­dia, where their con­va­les­cence con­sists of class A drugs on a scenic hill­side. This, it had it to be said, was a far less in­ter­est­ing film than My Is­rael, un­less of course you hap­pened to be the par­ent of one of the twen­tysome­things at­tempt­ing to make sense of the pre­ced­ing three years by suck­ing hard on a wa­ter pipe. (The shaky na­ture of the pho­tog­ra­phy work in Yoav Shamir’s film also raised doubts about the so­bri­ety of the cam­era­man.)

Such was the in­flux of Is­raelis (who were not liked by other na­tion­al­i­ties, said an In­dian land­lady, be­cause they made too much noise) that there was a Chabad House, an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment­funded refuge and fe­lafel wher­ever you looked. Thou­sands of ex-ser­vice­men suc­cumb to psy­chosis on th­ese trips — al­though it is hard to know whether this was the re­sult of de­layed stress brought on by com­bat in Le­banon or merely a dodgy batch of acid.

The lo­cal Chabad rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Danny Win­der­baum, cer­tainly had his hands full look­ing af­ter those who had freaked out. We fol­lowed him as he col­lected a ca­su­alty from a re­mote vil­lage and trans­ported him back to Chabad HQ. The jour­ney took them along pre­cip­i­tous moun­tain roads at fright­en­ing speeds while all the while, Danny and a col­league sung a full-throated ver­sion of Am Yis­rael Chai.

And they won­dered why the poor guy was hav­ing a bad trip.

Yulie Co­hen af­ter the at­tack on the El Al crew in Lon­don in 1978

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