I already had a very strong connection to Nahariya before the [2006 Lebanon] war started,” Avi Naiman said in a recent interview with the Jewish Standard. “I knew what these people were going through, what the million and a half civilians were going through.”
What they were going through – constant bombardment by Hezbollah rockets -is the subject of two documentary films that Naiman, a resident of Tenafly, has just completed and hopes will be seen by Jews and non-Jews alike.
Naiman believes that 90 percent of media coverage of Israel’s 2006 war concentrated on Lebanon and the extensive destruction there. “What the world has seen about that war was basically the news reports that focused on Lebanon.”
To balance that coverage, he wants to educate the world about what the civilians in northern Israel experienced, both Jews and Muslims. “When the next conflict comes up,” Naiman said, “they’ll remember what happened to the grandmother and the father.”
The two films, “Under Fire” and “Scorched Summer,” focus on the civilians that suffered during the bombardment. “Under Fire,” 28-minutes long, features four families who lost members to the Hezbollah rockets. Two of the families are Jewish, two are Arab.
Naiman has posted the films on YouTube and on the Website www.underfiredocumentary.com. The film is subtitled in various languages. “The focus is worldwide. They can watch the film in any of nine languages online for free,” said Naiman, who is working with many different groups to distribute the films.
One of the first cohort of Berrie Fellows, Naiman and two other Berrie Fellows launched a nonprofit organization called IDEAS: Israel Documentaries for Education and Scholarship. Naiman has been to Israel numerous times, lived there for a while, and speaks Hebrew fluently. A professional volunteer, he organized a fundraising concert at BergenPAC right after the 2006 war, which featured David Broza and other Israeli stars. “We showed a film about Nahariya. I made that film on my computer,” he said. “That [film] encouraged a donor to make a half-million-dollar donation.”
Encouraged by that early success, he decided to try again with a more ambitious format. He approached many Israeli organizations and asked them to give him bits of film from firefighters, police, and witnesses to the rocket attacks. He reached out to a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization who had become an evangelical Christian to narrate the film.
A volunteer with The Israel Project, an advocacy group for Israel that focuses on public relations, Naiman acknowledges that his films are propaganda for Israel. “There’s no problem with doing propaganda,” he said, “but we have no talking heads from the government or the military. While it tells only one side of the story, it’s as apolitical as it can get.”
Naiman believes that Israel’s public relations efforts are three-pronged: They react to bad publicity, they try to encourage tourism, or they try to build economic development. “Israel needs help from all of us to show what a wonderful Western-style democracy it is,” he said. “People don’t get to see that.”
Naiman is hoping that the evangelical community will help win wide exposure for the documentaries. “They’re huge supporters of Israel and bring large groups of tourists,” he said. He’s talking to Pastor John Hagee, the founder and senior pastor of a mega-church in Texas and the CEO of Global Evangelism Television. Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, came under criticism during the presidential campaign for anti-Catholic views and for suggesting that the Holocaust was God’s plan to drive the Jews back to Israel. Naiman is working with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s group, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, as well, and with the Jewish Community Relations Council to get the films seen.
“Scorched Summer” will be shown February 24 at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck as part of the 2009 UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey Israel Film Festival. According to Naiman, other synagogues in the area will also be screening the film.