We all know about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the settlements and the long occupation. But do we understand the obstacles to peace? The documentary film, Shadows – when the past rules the present raises the controversial question: “Is the legacy of Holocaust the stumbling block of peace, and can the traumas of the past be broken?”

For two years the director has followed four leading members of the Israeli peace movement, while racism has grown, peace failed and the gap between us and them widened.

The documentary offers unexpected insight:  An influential rabbi  builds bridges to Muslims and Jihadists. A former prominent politician who turned his back to power is now, as a debater, working for peace. A historian who calls the government´s Holocaust teaching for “pure pornography” and a psychiatry professor reveals the abuse of the hidden and inherited traumas in society.

These positions, which we rarely hear about in the media, are gradually changed during the documentary, as peace again collapses. Shadows of the past and present are taking over, and step by step we see the four main characters facing a reality, they can’t control.

It is a close up view of people caught by fear and doubt.  A controversial and universal story about the stumbling blocks of the past and their influence in the present and the future.

The questions raised by the director are far from her own Scandinavian background both in the matter of conflicts, traumas and religion.

The four characters

Michael Melchior, rabbi and former Cabinet Minister, a leading negotiator in interfaith dialogue between Jews and Arabs, known for his open dialogue with Jihadists. Melchior is a leading advocate both for social justice in Israel and towards a more tolerant Judaism. He believes it is the plan of God, which has brought the Palestinians and the Jews to the same land, which they in his opinion are chosen to share. Now increased terror both in Israel and Europe seems to shake his very strong belief in peace. “People are afraid today, and fear is, you are afraid of different things. Part of this fear is created, because we don´t know each other”, stated a deeply moved and very concerned Rabbi. But he is never giving up, and hope is the weapon of Rabbi Melchior and his partners. 



Avraham Burg is born into politics as a son of one of Israel´s founding fathers and today a disputed political writer and social activist in the country. Burg had a very active political career and strong relations to Jewish values as both a former member and speaker of Knesset and appointed Chairman of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. He is now a strong critic of the Israeli occupation, the erosion of democracy and the role of fear in Jewish everyday life. The eternal abuse of victimhood throughout centuries and the often chosen correlation between anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. ”The humiliated nation has become the humiliating nation -a vicious pathological circle, which we can not apologize,” Burg emphasizes.

Yoram Barak
is a Professor of Psychiatry and specialist in the trauma of Holocaust. He has in-depth knowledge about the traumas and how they are inherited and transferred through out generations. A ”poisonous legacy” , abused by Israeli governments in order to keep the Jewish people in the traumatic past. A dark heritage, which in his opinion is difficult to break and escape. Barak´s ability to analyze the consequences in society is almost desperate clear, although with humor in the beginning. But after the Gaza war and an election even more hostile to peace than before, Barak sees no hope and no compassion in the Israeli society and in the end of the film Barak and his wife, leave Israel for a longer period of reflection.


Hanna Yablonka is a Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Ben-Gurion University. A controversial historian known for her outspoken criticism on Holocaust education which she calls ”pure Holocaust pornography”. Yablonka is deeply related to the heritage of the Holocaust through her parents both survivors from Auschwitz. She is the only of the four characters with this relation, a heritage which Yablonka has been struggling against both in her education and her outspoken criticism of the government´s abuse of Holocaust. Despite her rejection of victimh ood Yablonka was caught by the waves of anti-Semitism after the Gaza war. Suddenly the impact of a traumatic heritage was clear. In the end Hanna expressed a deep concern of the future of her adult children in Israel. She wished them to leave.


A period of change took place in Israel during the two years of  shooting the documentary. Hopes and moments of stability were replaced by the Gaza War, the peace process collapsed, and people of the Left Wing were marginalized and persecuted. Finally a new election highly stabilized the government in it´s nationalistic position.

Directors statement

My documentary offers an insight into people who dare to seek alternative ways to go against the fear and public opinion in society and fight the widening gap of “us and them”.

The films content is an examination of how the shadows of our past inflict our lives: Can we break them or do we let them take over and rule our existence and our future?  

I raised this question to myself in the middle of a serious accident, and I went to Israel – far away from my own Scandinavian background both in the matter of conflicts, traumas and religion.

 The shadows are there, the sadness
    is there, but it is not a compass
       by which you should measure
          your present and your future.

                          Hanna Yablonka

I knew the shadows of the past were tremendous: Holocaust is a taboo you can´t touch. However, I decided to examine if it’s possible for the people to free themselves from a painful past. Four prominent Israeli Jews, all “rule-breakers”, allowed me to confront them during times of  “war and peace”, thoughts and negotiations in both their private – as well as their professional life. During a period of two years, our relationship gradually grew in confidence, and they dared to question both the role of “the chosen people”, and not least; They strongly criticized the victim role, they believe Jews have assumed throughout history.

Holocaust now is being abused politically to keep the population in the role as victims, and the traumas justified the oppression of the Palestinian threat. But I too saw how the influential religious leader, the psychiatrist, the historian and a former prominent politician, step by step were facing a reality that is difficult to control. They had all believed and worked for a future with room for both Jews and Palestinians when we met… 

     In order to make peace,
         you have to withdraw
             and leave place for the other.
                           Michael Melchior 

But hope broke down, cancelled by “another war”, the mediation between Muslims and Jews grew even more difficult, anti-Semitism became a threat, and I followed a fundamental transformation of my four main characters, as the decrease of democracy and fear took over. Was the former politician right when he claimed that “trauma had become a national strategy, and people were led by fear and not by hope”?

The documentary Shadows is a profound universal story about the shadows of the past, how they inflict our lives, countries, continents and our whole future, if we don’t break or disperse them.

The documentary Shadows is a contribution to the debate of the need of dialogue and meetings despite differences of cultural and religious values. The need to face and break the shadows of one´s life and transform the pain into a dialogue with the other.

Anne Gyrithe Bonne (M.A.), 2017.