In the opening of “The Attack,” Dr. Amin Jaafari, an esteemed Arab doctor living in Israel, embraces his wife Siham as she prepares to leave for a brief trip to her grandfather’s. “You’re silly,” he tells her as she expresses great remorse over having to leave him, “but don’t change. I don’t want anything to change.” 

The film cuts to an award ceremony where the doctor is to be recognized for his achievements in the medical field when his phone rings. “I can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later,” he tells Sahim before hanging up. The next day at work during lunch break, Amin hears an explosion go off somewhere in the city. The sound reaches to your core with its thunderous intensity, demanding your attention, yet it’s so distant there is no immediate sense of danger or trauma. And then the victims from the scene start rolling into the hospital and onto the doctor’s operating table. There are mangled bodies and screaming children, and after a long and gruesome day of work, Amin goes home, where Sahim has not yet returned. 

The doctor is later called back in to identify one of the corpses. During a moment of silent but absolute horror, Amin recognizes his wife lying out before him. It seems too painfully impossible to believe until an even darker and more implausible truth is revealed: Sahim was the suicide-bomber. 

In so brief a moment, the truths that serve as the foundation of our sense of trust in people and everything we know can be shaken and blown apart. And as Amin is forced to come to terms with, there is little else that can make us feel so alone or lost. It can’t have been Sahim, because he had known her and loved her, they had a history together. But Amin is slowly forced to accept the lack of any alternative explanation. 

“We don’t fully understand what happens to us,” his friend Raveed tells him. “Something snaps in their brain, and they’re off. It can happen to anyone. Then you don’t see the world the same way.” As Amin attempts to trace Sahim’s steps and make sense of what has happened, he begins to feel more and more estranged from the woman who was his wife—in Israel, the female terrorist and psychopath after media attention; among Arabs, a martyr immortalized as an icon on posters. But she continues to haunt his thoughts with all the conversations and interactions they had, the ones they did not, the ones he did not know they should have and the final phone call he did not realize would be their last.

It becomes clear how possible it is for everything we hold to be dear or true to not be as real or reliable as we believe, to deceive us even. We can develop entire histories with people or ideas and not know or understand them at all. The wife you shared your life and happiness with for fifteen years one day murders herself along with seventeen other people. The wealth and comfort of your home and friendships are easily dissolved. The prestige or righteousness with which you regard yourself could be dependent on a variety of things that have nothing to do with who you are as an individual. And as the trials and confusion of an intimate relationship are placed within a much larger social conflict, it becomes so unclear whether we are working within the framework of a personal, individual context or a context that is far larger than ourselves. 

“We’re not Islamists or Christian fanatics,” a priest tells Amin. “We’re just ravaged people fighting with whatever we can for our dignity.”

“The Attack” (2012) was written by its director Ziad Doueiri and Joelle Touma and stars Ali Suliman and Reymond Amsalem as Amin Jaafari and Siham Jaafari.