Algerian threats led Pierre into filmmaking

PIERRE Rehov will never forget one particular night in Algeria during his childhood.

He was a young boy in Algiers, the country’s capital, when a client of his dentist father came to the family’s home.

“It was 10 in the evening when this Arab guy came to our apartment,” Pierre told me from his home in Tel Aviv.

“My father, because he was a good man, asked what he could do to help and wondered if his client was in pain.

“The man told my father that he was doing him a favour by telling him that he had to sell our home to this guy’s cousin or someone would rape my mother and take the apartment.”

This was in the early-1960s, during the eight-year Algerian War of Independence.

The conflict saw the remaining Jews in the country — many had left when Israel was created in 1948 — flee to France.

That incident stayed with the journalist and filmmaker, leading him to make Silent Exodus, a film about the Jewish exodus from Arab lands, as well as a slew of documentaries concerning the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and terrorism.

“My family had been in Algiers since the Spanish Inquisition,” Pierre said.

“Until the French colonisation in the 19th century, the Jews lived there as dhimmi (non-Muslims living in an Islamic state with legal protection).

“My three-times great-grandmother was about to be sold in a market outside Algiers when the French invaded and they put an end to the rapes and slavery which were common during Muslim rule.”

During the Second World War, the Nazi-aligned Vichy regime kicked the Jews out of schools.

“The Arabs were happy because they disliked the Jews,” Pierre explained. “They knocked on my grandparents’ door to tell them that the Germans were going to come and kill them.”

At school in Algeria, Pierre’s classmates called him a “dirty Jew” and he witnessed terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists rebelling against French rule.

In one such attack, at his school, he saw flames everywhere and pupils dead on the floor, “with their guts hanging out”.

Pierre’s father left for Paris and Pierre and the rest of the family later joined him in the French capital.

But, even there, Pierre experienced hostility, due to many French communists’ stance against France when it came to Algeria

“I was called a coloniser and my family, thieves,” he recalled.

Many Algerian Muslims arrived in France, too, in the 1960s and 1970s, but Pierre and his family did not experience any antisemitism from them.

“These were the Arabs who missed the French and they weren’t religious or extremists,” he said. “My best friend during national service was an Arab.

“Things changed when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (France’s president from 1974 to 1981) declared that every Abdallah and Mohammed working in France had the right to import their families.

“Their number went from 500,000 to two million in a few weeks.

“Those who came over at that time were not raised with any French culture, so this is where the problems we see today in France started.”

Despite wanting to be a journalist, Pierre read international law at Panthéon-Assas University, a degree which stood him in good stead in his future career.

He went on to work for film magazines and also ran a satirical magazine, which rivalled Charlie Hebdo.

But Pierre’s Damascene moment came when he made his first trip to Israel.

He had ghostwritten a book, For Sasha, which was turned into a 1991 film of the same name and filmed in Israel.

“I spent seven weeks there and fell in love with the place,” Pierre said

Another pivotal moment was in September, 2000, when, during the Second Intifada, Israel was accused of targeting and killing a young Palestinian called Mohammed al-Durrah.

The graphic images of him dying in his father’s arms was broadcast around the world.

Pierre remembered: “I came home one day and although I don’t usually watch French TV, because I don’t want to be brainwashed, I switched on the news and saw those images.

“I know cinema and journalism and know how these things work.

“It was impossible that the Israeli soldiers killed this kid the way it was described.

“There were then demonstrations on the streets of Paris, with people shouting ‘Death to the Jews’ and, a month later, two Israeli soldiers were lynched in the West Bank.”

Interestingly, the al-Durrah video had been videotaped by a Palestinian freelance photographer working for France 2 television.

Determined to make his own investigation, Pierre went to Israel and he also convinced Bnai Brith in France to join him in a lawsuit against the French government for its defamation of Israel.

But, when he returned to France six weeks later, he discovered that the case had been dismissed.

His investigations into al-Durrah led to him making his first documentary, War of Images.

But, because French TV refused to show it, he created a political magazine called Contre Champs and attached a video of it — and sold 50,000 copies with the first two issues.

“That really launched my career — everyone was talking about it in France,” Pierre added.

Since then, he has made numerous films, including The Trojan Horse, which showed Palestinian leaders advocating the eradication of Israel and the extermination of the Jews, and The Holy Land: Christians in Peril, which revealed the dangers for Christians living under Islamic rule.

He also made The Road to Jenin, a response to Mohammed Bakri’s Jenin, Jenin film. Pierre countered the Palestinian narrative in relation to the Battle of Jenin between Israel and Palestinian terrorists in April, 2002, where the Palestinians convinced the world it was a massacre.

But why does the world fall for the constant Palestinian propaganda?

“I discovered it when I first went to Jenin,” said Pierre, who regularly travelled to Palestinian areas using his French passport.

“The main doctor at the hospital there had studied in France and told me that Israeli tanks had shot shells at the hospital, so could I look at the damage?

“He took me outside his office and all I saw was a little hole, that was it. I said, ‘I am sorry, but this is not the result of shells from 11 tanks’.

“Then I realised that because I am French and because he thought I was working for French television, he could tell me that the sky is pink and that there are flying elephants, but the editor would say to go with what the doctor said, as that how it works.

“It happens because a lot of foreign journalists who work in Israel and in Palestinian areas have absolutely no historical knowledge.

“They think that the Jews arrived on boats in 1948 and machine-gunned Palestinians.

“A lot of them are afraid to go into the field, too, so they go to hotels in east Jerusalem and wait for a Palestinian fixer to come and offer them ready-made images.

“They can freely interview Netanyahu, for example, and make him look like a complete a******e, but they cannot do that in the Palestinian territories because they would either be killed or beaten up and afraid to go back.”

His latest film, Behind the Smoke Screen — The Great Deception, was shot in the Palestinian territories by two Palestinian cameramen Pierre works with on a regular basis.

He arguably faced greater danger in Iraq, where he was embedded in the 4/1 American army calvary in Baghdad, as he was making his documentary, The Path to Darkness.

“We were travelling in a convoy of humvees towards the base when an RPG was fired and it went through one of the vehicles,” Pierre said. “Thankfully, it didn’t explode.

“Another time, we were in a helicopter which was targeted by an RPG, but the pilot was very good and we didn’t know anything about it until we were told when we landed.”

Pierre moved to Israel in 2011, having spent a few years working in America.

But, because he has become more well known, he cannot go to Gaza any more.

“I could show them my French passport, but their system is now more sophisticated, so I can’t cross the border at Erez,” he explained.

“I don’t want to be kidnapped and held and then maybe exchanged for 1,000 terrorists — I would feel terrible about it.”

The father-of-two, who has a fiancée called Sharon, is happily settled in Israel.

“It is not an easy life here, but this is my country,” Pierre added.

“I am the Wandering Jew who has found his way home.

“I was born in Algeria and moved to France, but I didn’t feel that it was my country.

“I guess I missed the sea, sunshine and palm trees.”

© 2018 Jewish Telegraph