Israeli filmmaker tells the story of his family’s Zionist story

When aspiring filmmaker Michal Weits enrolled at the Sam Spiegel Film School in Jerusalem in 2007, she never dreamed of becoming a historian. He also did not expect that his freshman assignment to write a film proposal would result in a 14-year odyssey that culminated in him becoming a finalist for the 2021 Ophir Prize (Israel Academy Awards) for best long-length documentary.

That documentary, Blue Box, is titled in recognition of the ubiquitous blue and white metallic pushka from the Jewish National Fund found in nearly every home in the Diaspora for decades and dates back to pre-state Israel.

The proposal that began as a loving look at his great-grandfather’s pivotal role in the Zionist enterprise resulted in a film documenting both the acquisition of land for a Jewish state and activities that would ensure that displaced Arabs / Palestinians would have no homes to return to later. from the 1948 War of Independence.

Weits’s great-grandfather, Joseph Weitz, the family patriarch, was intimately involved in the JNF’s successful campaign to plant forests and acquire land for settlements to “reclaim the Land of Israel,” fulfilling the Zionist vision of establishing a Jewish state in the ancient homeland. of the Jewish people.

JNF’s forests were planned, planted and prospered where Palestinian villages once stood, by design of “Grandpa Weitz,” according to Weits’ research featured in the Blue Box.

THE FAMOUS KKL-JNF blue box is promoted by a rather tall and lanky David Ben-Gurion impersonator on Independence Day in Tel Aviv in 2009 (credit: RONI SCHUTZER / FLASH90).

As Weits recounts at the beginning of the film, he took great pride in being a descendant of the man whose accomplishments were marked and celebrated throughout Israel, especially on Tu B’Shvat.

Through his research, Weits found original JNF marketing films aimed at international Jewish audiences to motivate them to take an emotional interest in the success of the new Jewish state. The film features speeches from JNF fundraisers using the concrete uplifting natural symbol of the new forests for taxpayers who, while not planning to move to Israel, felt they had to make a special effort to ensure its success as a place where refugees of the Holocaust would be felt. at home.

In crafting his freshman film school proposal, Weits knew that Grandpa Joseph had also left several handwritten journals, diaries of his activities, and thoughts written along with his job and responsibilities as director of the Forestry and Acquisition Department. of Lands of JNF. Although she had never read the newspapers, Weits assumed that it would be a great source of material for a documentary on the historical role that Joseph Weitz played in the creation of the State of Israel. But it was the discovery of an Internet publication that really piqued his interest. He found a photo of his great-grandfather with founding father David Ben-Gurion, and in the article Weitz was identified as “the father of the transfer” and a “war criminal.”

“I had to check it out, there was no way I could stay calm, I was angry and I must find out why the expert historians called my great-grandfather ‘the architect of the transfer,'” referring to the uprooting of the pre-existing Arab-Palestinian inhabitants of the villages of Israel before the state, which later became refugees now numbering in the millions, forming the nucleus of the aggrieved Palestinian population of the refugee camps and the Gaza Strip.

“It was the first time I heard this term, I had no idea, I had to go to his diaries, they were kept in my house,” Weits said recently. Beginning with the 1948 entries, “I began to see the word ‘transfer’ repeating itself in the newspaper” and thus the passion required for a 14-year journey to make an award-winning documentary had its beginning.

DURING THE investigative process, Weits uncovered the truth that “was never discussed with my family.” Deploying the funds raised internationally by JNF “to plant trees” was the responsibility of his great-grandfather. The young government of Israel tasked him with not only acquiring land, but also planting forests where thriving Arab / Palestinian villages were located before the War of Independence. For Arab / Palestinian refugees who found themselves in refugee camps, these JNF activities became known as the “transfer”, making Weits’s great-grandfather Joseph Weitz “the father of the transfer.”

As Weits documents in the film, Ben-Gurion led an effort to transfer land from the state to the JNF, ensuring that it became private land outside the authority of international law or United Nations resolutions on refugee resettlement. Within Israel, this became known as the “million dunam deal”, putting these lands under the authority of the JNF and Weitz to determine their future.

By 2017, Michal Weits had a tight 15-page script and script outline to present when he recruited a team to help turn his project into a documentary. Seasoned producer Assaf Amir came on board and eventually added editors Erez Laufer and Doron Djerassi to the team. Amir became a valued friend and collaborator who played a pivotal role in encouraging Weits to bring his voice to the film.

Over the next two years, Weits’ team spent many hours in the editing room, turning their work, archival images, research materials, and words from Grandpa Weitz’s diary into a coherent story. But Amir felt something was missing, an emotional core.

“Shepherding is what I do,” Amir said in a recent interview. “Michal and I discussed everything, all the elements that would appear on the screen, but one of the most important things that I thought was the dialogue between Michal and his great-grandfather, we needed Michal to appear in the movie and we also needed someone. to express the words of Grandpa Weitz’s diary. “

After numerous auditions, they decided on the experienced stage actor Dror Keren to bring Weitz’s diaries to life. Viewers of the film can hear Weitz’s mixed feelings and deep concern regarding the work that JNF and Israel’s leadership commissioned him to perform, including his predictions of the price Israel would eventually pay for displacing the population to fulfill the dream. Zionist.

Amir also encouraged Weits to include his family in the film, which meant on-camera interviews with his uncles, cousins, and eventually with his father, Rami Weits, a well-known sports TV host. With no preparatory meetings or briefings, Weits invited his family members for one-on-one interviews to capture their genuine knee-jerk responses to penetrating questions about the family’s heroic patriarch, Grandpa Joseph.

“I kept my research to myself,” Weits said. “Maybe I was a little afraid of what my father might say. I really had to research and understand everything before I started talking to my family. ”

Despite his misgivings on camera about his daughter’s involvement in the project, Rami Weits now says the film is “solid proof that my daughter Michal did the right thing, in the right way,” he said recently.

“My daughter’s story was well done, but she put her hand close to the fire,” says Rami Weits. “I’m proud of her, I’m proud of my grandfather, and I’m proud of myself for my role in raising such a wonderful daughter.”

Michal Weits said that “when I read the newspaper I felt that I was reading something very special written by a very special man, Grandpa Joseph, the pride of the family.”

Weits dedicated Blue Box to his one-year-old daughter Lily, recognizing that a new generation has a responsibility to understand the past.

“We don’t have the luxury of not asking questions, especially for the next generation.”

“I hope the film starts a discussion and debate among the Jewish people everywhere,” says Weits, summarizing his creation.

Blue Box made its Israeli debut at this summer’s DocAviv festival, winning the award for best editing. It made its New York debut on Sunday at the Other Israel Film Festival – Films Archive.

It has also been recognized at the Vancouver Film Festival, winning the Impact Award. It continues to be shown throughout Israel, on the YES documentary broadcast channel, and at Jewish film festivals around the world.

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