Good Cops, Bad Cops

Like the great majority of the people of Israel, I admit that the Or Commission report on shortcomings in the performance of the police during the events of October 2000 doesn't - as the Hebrew saying goes - even interest my grandmother.

Like the great majority of the people of Israel, I admit that the Or Commission report on shortcomings in the performance of the police during the events of October 2000 doesn't - as the Hebrew saying goes - even interest my grandmother. Actually, both my grandmothers used to threaten me that if I didn't finish the food on my plate, "the policeman will come at once and take you away." They weren't members of any investigative commission and they didn't have to write any 800-page report to know that a policeman is by nature a guy who comes and takes children to a place from which they sometimes do not return.

We have lost that simple grandmotherly wisdom, and it has been replaced by the contention that policeman love children and never do anything bad to them. Slowly but surely, this is what we are being fed. For example, the national police chief, Shlomo Aharonishki, appeared on television (Channel 1 News, Sunday, 9 P.M.) in the form of a model father accompanying his daughter, and bending down to kiss her on her first day in first grade.

I immediately understood that this was a ploy aimed at heading off the blow that was about to land on the police force two days later, with the publication of the Or Commission findings. But even without the report, a shiver went through me as I recalled that, as against this one happy girl whom Aharonishki was kissing as the cameras rolled, there are many children in this country - black and yellow and brown - who are hiding at home and are not going to school, for fear that they, along with their parents, will be taken away by police.

Aharonishki, who with one hand embraces his daughter, approved, with the other hand (if not directly, then indirectly) the satanic television spot that is sponsored by the "Immigration Police" and occasionally intrudes onto the screen between commercials. This announcement is intended to warn, using violent graphic effects, against the danger of the illegal foreign workers who are infesting our homes, in order to encourage all and sundry to turn them in: "It's not legal and it doesn't work." Out, damned spot!

The publication of the Or report was a propitious moment for Aharonishki - a pleasant-looking fellow, when all is said and done - to demonstrate his cultural level. Knowing (Channel 1 News, Monday, 9 P.M.) that the repetition of a particular word makes an impression on viewers, he chose the word "culture" for this purpose. Contrary to the commission's finding that the police are cultivating a culture of mendacious reports, he declared that "our culture is a culture of truth, a professional culture," and so forth.

At that instant, and as distinct from the wicked historical fellow who said that when he hears the word "culture," he reaches for his pistol, I reached for the remote control. That culture really doesn't interest either of my two grandmothers.

Scene I: A mythological image

On Monday, the television stations broadcast, over and over, some of the famous images from the sessions of the Or Commission that have been engraved on the collective memory. In the most dramatic of these, the bereaved father Abdel Muneim rushes out of nowhere at police officer Guy Reiff, who is giving testimony with Olympian detachment. It's a bestial moment, of body slamming into body - bordering on the erotic - and sums up in the blink of an eye more than 100 years of conflict with a mythological image.

There is Guy Reiff, a kind of modern Abel - who in any event had the law and God on his side - and suddenly bursting in from outside the frame is Cain, the person whose sacrifice was not accepted, who raises a hand against his brother. Immediately the security men intervene and again it becomes impossible to distinguish, in the melee of entangled bodies, who is doing the hitting and who is being hit.

Better than 1,000 history books, this violent instant shows that just because they are brothers and resemble each other so closely, the Guy Reiffs and Abdel Muneims will continue, through the generations, to deliver blows to each other and deliver bullets to each other's heads.

Scene II: Baron Munchausen

More sights and sounds from the Or Commission: Ehud Barak, who was prime minister at the time of the events, arrives to testify. He wears the usual overbearing look on his face, and on the way to the witness stand, escorted by a phalanx of bodyguards, his hands are in his pockets. Hands in pockets. Well, that's Baron Munchausen, the legendary, well-known teller of tall tales, who was capable of pulling himself up by the pockets of his trousers and taking off into the air. Not so Barak: His hands stuffed into his pockets express only nonchalance and only sink him deeper into the earth.

Barak will forever be recalled as the person with his hands in his pockets, both literally and metaphorically. On the day of the publication of the Or Commission report, which did not take him too much to task, he was caught by the camera in the corridor of a hotel on his way to the elevator, wearing white trousers and a sporty purple shirt. His hands weren't in his pockets, though metaphorically speaking, he never took them out of there. For example, when he said laconically that he would respond after he reads the entire report.

No. No tug on his own trousers will help him lift off again, and even if the report did not take him to task too harshly, his transgression is too great to bear: It pulls his belly down, and with it the hips, and the trousers, too.

Wallowing in past sins

The documentary film by Yoash Tatari, "My Father the Nazi, My Father the Murderer," (SAT 3, Sunday, 10:30 P.M.) tells about the efforts of a German woman, a resident of Berlin, to discover the truth about her father's past. He was a member of the Gestapo and was stationed in Belgrade, where he directed the mass murder of Jews, Gypsies and Serbs. They were herded into the sealed compartments of trucks and asphyxiated by carbon monoxide that was channeled into the compartments when the engines were turned on. He was caught, tried and convicted in East Germany after the war, and died in prison. His daughter had only vague information about all this. She set out to discover the truth.

On the face of it, this is a completely banal - even fashionable, I would say - German story of self-laceration. What sets it apart from the many other books and films on the same subject is the totally kitsch-free regime the director imposed on himself. The nun-like face of his protagonist remains as petrified as a sculpture even in the face of the most horrific testimonies.

The staff of the various archives in Germany and Belgrade give her the material she requests in a politely businesslike way. Unintentionally, the archives and the commemorative institutions - they appear so sterile and orderly, and are open to every applicant - look like cemeteries of history. What the visual language, which is appallingly ironic and horrifyingly sharp, seems to be saying implicitly is that under the guise of commemoration, the role played by the junior officials in the annihilation is systematically being consigned to oblivion. Thanks to which the majority of the population of Germany can sleep quietly and claim innocence.

The daughter, Beate Niemann, discovers, among other matters, that the Berlin house in which she was raised was taken from a Jewish family named Leon and that her father gave them the run-around and saw to it that they were transported to a death camp. The visit to the grave of the remnants of the family in the Jewish cemetery of Berlin is a devastating moment in the film.

At first I thought, mistakenly, that the director, Yoash Tatari, must be a former Israeli who is now living in Berlin. It turns out, though, that he was born in Tehran to Christian-Assyrians, a minority that has been much persecuted, which is perhaps the source of his ability to descend to the roots of sadness. This is a film that has to be brought to Israel both as a lesson in documentary filmmaking and a lesson in the possibility of self-purgation, even if only in small part, by bravely wallowing in the sins of the past.

Next week

For fans of French literature, on France 5 (Sunday, 12:05 P.M.), there is an excellent literary program, set on a cruise boat that is anchored beneath the Mirabeau Bridge in Paris. An equally serious literary program is "Campus," broadcast on France 2, the successor of Bernard Pivot's legendary "Bouillon de culture."

Not to be missed on Arte is "The Big One," (Monday, 11:20 P.M.) a 1997 work by the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore ("Bowling for Columbine"). A journey in the wake of a company manager who is sent to give out certificates of excellence to the managers of the firm's branches across the United States becomes an allegory of the insanity of American capitalism.

The German channel SAT 3 offers a musical program every Saturday evening at 9:15 P.M. This time it will be Bellini's opera "Beatrice di Tenda," performed by the Zurich Opera House.

September 11 is not only the day on which the Twin Towers fell. On this day 30 years ago, Chile fell into the hands of the dictator Augusto Pinochet - with the generous help of the U.S., as everyone knows. To mark this September 11 event, SAT 3 will broadcast the film "Pinochet's Children" (Sunday, 10:15 P.M.), followed an hour later by the film "Scenes from a Dictatorship." The German channel takes another dig at America with a film about "artists against Bush" (Wednesday 11:15 P.M.)