Louis Theroux: Ultra-Zionists
“It would be hilarious if the situation wasn’t so grave.” ALASDAIR PAL on Louis Theroux’s latest offering.
There are good neighbours, and then there are bad neighbours. Good neighbours are great: they sign for parcels when you’re out, and invite you over for coffee and the odd barbeque. Bad neighbours, on the other hand, scratch your car when they’re reversing and steal your milk, or throw rocks and Molotov cocktails over the fence.
It may seem facetious to compare the Israel-Palestine conflict to a trivial dispute with next door. But in Louis Theroux: Ultra-Zionists (iPlayer), that’s exactly what it feels like.
We read news of great barbed wire fences, armoured checkpoints and stand-offs. And while all of that is true, the reality of everyday life in the West Bank is slightly more complicated.
Facilitated by Orthodox housing groups, Jews from Israel and elsewhere have begun moving into settlements on Palestinian land – illegally, in the eyes of the rest of the world. But not to those like Daniel, originally from Australia and now committed to buying out Arab areas.
He thinks it’s going well: in Silwan, an Arab town in East Jerusalem, there is now a community of 60 Jewish settlers, Theroux tells us. Problem is, there are also a thousand disgruntled Palestinians, and so the settlers spend most of their time scurrying from armoured car to armoured compound, avoiding the flying concrete.
“We’re so close to them,” says Daniel. “It’s easy for them to throw a Molotov cocktail over the wall.”
“That’s nothing,” shouts The Fat Palestinian from the upstairs flat. “You throw five-ton bombs at kids.”
The way Theroux explores this futile cycle is utterly compelling. In Hebron, kids meet up after every Friday prayers to throw rocks at the Israeli military. The soldiers tolerate it up to a point, then cart off the belligerents in a van, back to the town where next Friday, they will march up to the soldiers, rock in hand.
There are even Arab labourers in Daniel’s house. “They’re building themselves out of existence, aren’t they?” says Louis, no stranger to a great one-liner.
Theroux made his name exploring off-beat subcultures, and even more off-beat celebrities. This is the man, after all, who caught Max Clifford brazenly lying in aisle four of an Asda hypermarket, got locked in an excruciating gangsta-rap battle on live American radio, and underwent liposuction in the name of journalism.
His latest work, however, has been on paedophiles, crystal meth and Nigerian corruption. Yet he still uses the same tactics that have made him one of the most watchable people on TV: a friendly grimace, an open mind, and the trademark long pause that led Jimmy Saville to disclose he used to tie people up in the basement of his nightclub.
He saves the best set piece for last. Daniel is planning a Jewish get-together in a Silwan courtyard. But The Fat Palestinian – who comes out of the whole affair pretty well – starts screaming that Daniel has stolen his table and chairs.
“Don’t you feel a bit bad for the guy?” asks Theroux.
“No,” he replies.
Silence. Daniel cracks first.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing,” he says, without a hint of irony. It would be hilarious if the situation wasn’t so grave.