A Tale of Love and Darkness, Natalie Portman’s directorial debut film, is based on a true and very personal story: the Amos Oz memoir of the same name. But it’s also set within a larger true story, the tale of life in the area that was not yet Israel.
When the film picks up in the mid-1940s, though World War II and the Holocaust were only just drawing to a close and thus drawing attention to the plight of the world’s Jewish population, the story had already been developing for decades. Since 1923, Palestine had fallen under the British mandate, in a system that gave the British the responsibility for creating a Jewish homeland in the region. Oz’s parents were among those Jews who came to Palestine between World Wars I and II, as a mass of Jewish immigration “flowed out on to the desert,” as TIME would later put it.
But the question of who controlled the land, and especially of the holy city of of Jerusalem, was immediately a bloody one. The film picks up in 1945, and the “electric tension” that “gripped” Jerusalem at that time was the subject of a lengthy TIME cover story almost exactly 70 years ago, on Aug. 26, 1946:
Many years later, writing for TIME in 1993, Amos Oz would describe the way in which that conflict had remained ever-present in the decades that followed: “The case between Israelis and Palestinians is a tragedy precisely because it is a clash between one very powerful claim and another,” he wrote. “Israelis are in the land of Israel because there is not and cannot be a national homeland for the Jews anywhere else. The Palestinians are in Palestine because their ancestors have been here for more than a thousand years. Where one powerful claim clashes with another, there can be either an endless cycle of bloodshed or a somewhat inconsistent compromise.”