Dark Secrets

An attempt to understand a suicide bombing is at the heart of The Attack

From the outside, half a world away from the bombings and the fighting in the streets, it seems as though the conflict between Israel and the Muslim world is destined to rage forever. For most of us, it's never closer than the second segment of the national news. But to Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), a Palestinian surgeon working in Tel Aviv, that conflict is both endless and deeply personal. He recalls not being accepted in Israel at first, not being trusted, patients refusing his treatment.

That was then. Now, Amin is at the top of his profession, a recipient of a prominent award from his peers, and he and his wife, Siham (Reymond Amsalem), have never been happier. But a movie called The Attack all but promises a tear in this fabric, and one beautiful day, as Amin and his colleagues eat lunch on the rooftop of their hospital, they hear the unmistakable sound of innocence lost.

A bomb blast rips through a restaurant killing 17, including 11 children. After Amin treats the wounded, he is shocked to find himself at the center of the police investigation. Shin Bet, the Israeli FBI, believes the doctor's wife was the suicide bomber. Amin is strongly interrogated by Capt. Moshi (Uri Gavriel); it's a performance—all too brief in the grand scheme of things—that confirms all those things you hear about Israeli intelligence.

The Attack uses these circumstances to go in two simultaneous directions. The first is the procedural investigation. Amin traces his wife's steps, tries to get into her head, and begins doing the work Shin Bet won't. If she was the bomber, what drove her to such a deplorable act? If she was his wife for so many years, how could he not see this brewing?

The second direction is more internal. Amin tries to find both perspective and closure. His wife is dead, which is shocking enough, but that she could have been a terrorist is doubly heartbreaking. His career is in shambles; he could never work in Israel again. And yet, as he travels to the Palestinian town of Nablus, less than an hour away from Tel Aviv, his wife is seen as a hero. Her face is plastered on posters and Amin's own family expresses pride in what she has done.

This is complicated stuff, and as you might expect if you have any geopolitical sense of the region, the answers aren't concrete. Director Ziad Doueiri (who apprenticed with Quentin Tarantino on both Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs) has chosen a sensitive subject and deftly balances traditional fundamentalism with modernity. Everywhere you look, there are Western cultural influences, a subtle sign that progress can only progress so much when ancient warring religions are involved.

The closure Amin gets is hard-earned and uniquely his own. It's not the sort of thing that's easy for him to explain, which could make the conclusions of this film harder for some to swallow. The more the weary doctor learns about his wife and her recent conversion from a professed Christian to a radicalized Muslim, the less any of it makes sense to him. And of course, that's one of the truths about 2,000 years of rival religions laying claim to the same spot on the map: When you count all the bodies and everything else, what possible sense could you make of any of it?

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