STIFF Film Review – Roadmap to Apartheid

Screened at Seattle’s True Independent Film Festival (STIFF), the engaging documentary Roadmap to Apartheid profiles the current struggles of life amongst Palestinians and Israelis in the current state of Israel. The film posits the premise that the situation in Israel now is analogous to that of apartheid in South Africa during the 20th century.

Using archival footage from South Africa, directors Eron Davidson and Ana Nogueira show how a minority White populace in control over a vastly outnumbering Black majority. Similarly in Israel, while Jews are smaller in numbers, using governmental and military might they control most of the country. Palestinians have a larger populace, but according to this film they have far less power. The film states that most of the blame belongs to the carving up of the area in 1948 when the UN established a Jewish state. The fallout of that accord is what the world has been dealing with ever since.

Roadmap to Apartheid Movie Poster

The most effective portions of Roadmap to Apartheid show the toll of the current situation on average Palestinian citizens. We see walls and checkpoints set up throughout the West Bank where Palestinians are required to show paperwork just to complete their daily commute. One harrowing example profiles a family that was seeking medical attention for their young son, who ended up dying because they had to wait at a checkpoint before getting to a hospital. These are also the most persuasive points of the film’s premise. Black citizens during apartheid were required to have their ID with them at all times. It became a burdensome ritual in their daily lives which would often lead to abuse and/or arrest. Showing similar instances in the current state of Israel it makes for a strong argument of the current unfairness in this region. Upscale Jewish neighborhoods are profiled, showing walled-off communities that drive right through poor Palestinian villages. The poor population is forced to trek by foot miles out of their way daily just to accommodate these areas.

Of course, there is also an inherent bias in this documentary. That’s not necessarily a criticism of the film, though. Most documentarians approach a subject with a point of view. In fact, that often makes for the best films of this type. However, just by making this apartheid comparison in the first place, I suspect Israelis who watch this movie will say it’s lopsided. History has already judged South Africa’s former government as cruel and unjust. The world community is pretty much agreed that apartheid was a fundamentally bad policy. Even the title of this film is stating that Israel is equally unfair. But hardly any mention is made of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The tragedy of suicide bombings is briefly shown, but only as a last-ditch reaction of a desperate populace. It would have been enlightening if a Jewish family whose lives had been impacted by some of those acts of violence had been interviewed as well. It’s not that the Palestinians don’t have a right to be angry. And most every point that’s made in the film about abuse of power by the Jewish police is valid. It just feels like there might be a bit more of the story to tell.

Roadmap to Apartheid 1

The narration by Alice Walker is informative. Useful graphics show the various Jewish communities peppered throughout the West Bank. Various experts discuss where the country has been and where it’s going. The film argues in the end that the two-state solution that the U.S. often posits will not work. Everyone presented here agrees that a one-state solution is the only answer. The debate on getting there is tough, though. They all say it’s the way it must be, but still there is a lack of answers on how to get there.

Roadmap to Apartheid is a moving and interesting documentary. It would be especially useful in college World Studies courses or the like. Interesting debate could be sparked by it. While not a complete picture of the current state of affairs, by using this powerful South African parallel, the plight of Palestinians really does resonate.

Final Grade: B


I'm a family man who got his Drama degree back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and now works at a desk. I love movies of all kinds, and I am still working my way through the list of 1001 movies you must see before you die.

Follow him on Twitter or email him.

View all posts by this author