Modern Highway 60 is a 146-mile south–north highway in Israel that stretches from Beersheba to Nazareth. A new, soon-to-be-released movie, titled Route 60: The Biblical Highway, that was filmed over a four-day period features former US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, and former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, a devout Christian.
As Friedman says in the film’s opening: “Route 60 connects many holy sites and biblical events in what could be called the original Bible Belt. It has mile markers, human and divine, to memorialize the acts of celebration, suffering, and salvation that are woven into Israel’s history.”
Last week, Rabbi Tuly Weisz, the head of Israel365, interviewed Friedman, about his new cinematic venture.
RABBI WEISZ: Where did the idea of making a film about the biblical heartland even come from?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: I think the idea really started when I took my post in Israel as the US ambassador. One of the first things I wanted to do was to go to Judea and Samaria. Not for religious reasons but as a diplomat representing the United States. Judea and Samaria is the most sensitive diplomatic part of Israel. I wanted to go there and speak to people. There are 500,000 Israelis who live there.
I wanted to get a real firsthand sense of the conflict and the issues and then be able to suggest solutions or at least report back to my government. I was told by the State Department that just as an American diplomat, I may not cross the Green Line. As I delved deeper into this issue, what I found was that the United States government was engaging in a self-imposed commitment to be ignorant. As I got deeper into the job, I realized it wasn’t just America. It was almost the entire world that views the place they call the West Bank as the subject of a fight between peoples for the last 100 years without any real understanding of what this means; that this is actually the land of the Bible. When it comes to biblical stories and biblical events, the vast majority of those stories and events took place inside Judea and Samaria. This entire narrative, which is entirely true, is entirely hidden from the world.
“When we left the office, I went to my friend Mike Pompeo. He saw the world the way I did and had done great things while in office to reverse State Department policy.”
“I suggested to him that maybe we’ll make a movie for the public so that we can change people’s perspective and get them to care about this land in a different way. We wanted people to stop thinking about it as some magical strip of land that you can divide up, and suddenly have peace. That is a pipe dream, in any case. We wanted people to understand what it means to the Jewish people and what it means to the people in the Christian faith. This is where the Jewish faith was born. This is where the Christian faith was born. This is where the heroes walked.”
“Pompeo was very excited about it. We got our friends at TBN to provide the resources, and we went ahead and made this film. We don’t propose a solution to the conflict. We don’t get into politics. We just want people to care about the land, to understand what it means, and what it should mean to people of faith, and what it means to people who have a deep historical appreciation for this holy territory.”
RABBI WEISZ: We can see in the film that you and Sec. Pompeo care very much about the biblical heartland. You went to so many locations, but is there any location in particular that is your favorite one?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: One place stood out as I had never been there: the Altar of Joshua. It’s really just kind of on the side of the road, very nondescript, and very hard to get to. I doubt tourists go there. I’ve toured the country 100 times or more and never been there. But it is where Joshua brings the Jewish nation across the Jordan River. I think this is where Joshua really became the leader of the Jewish people. This is where we realize that he’s not just a general commanded to engage in battle. But he’s there to fulfill the will of God. I thought that was an extraordinary place.”
For most tourists, many of the locations Friedman and Pompeo traveled to are either rarely visited or off-limits. A trip to the original and intact altar of Joshua required military clearance. Rabbi Weisz noted that the Altar of Joseph has been in the news lately, targeted for destruction by the Palestinian Authority.
RABBI WEISZ: The PA had heavy equipment ready to destroy Joshua’s altar. They could literally destroy the entire thing in 15 minutes. What is the problem? Why would one of Israel’s greatest biblical heritage sites not be secured by Israel, and what can we do to secure our connection to these important sites?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: I think this is a huge problem. You mentioned this to me a couple of days ago, and I immediately put out a tweet. I don’t usually call upon the Israeli government to do things. I respect the rights of the government to run their affairs as they choose./ But here I called up the Israeli government to protect the Altar of Joshua because if they don’t, no one else will. And this is an extraordinarily important site.”
“This illustrates a very important lesson that I made in the film: what will happen if we don’t maintain control and sovereignty over our biblical Holy sites? We must remember we are the custodians of these sites, not just for the Jewish people. Over a billion Christians also care about these sites because they look at the Bible that we do. Also, for their sake, Israel has a responsibility to preserve these sites. They’re extraordinary places, and they don’t get the attention they deserve. This shouldn’t be an issue. Part of the problem is that the entire world sees this area as illegally occupied territory.
“And they’re wrong.”
“But because these places are so sensitive and so politically charged, every time Israel does anything to assert its sovereignty over any of these places, it becomes a battle of the UN Security Council and it becomes front page news at the New York Times. And it was condemned by the European Union. The rest of the world wants to keep it from us.
RABBI WEISZ: That’s happening within Jericho this week, that UNESCO is discussing Jericho as a Palestinian Heritage Site. What are they trying to achieve by continuing to disconnect the Jewish connection to the land and invent Palestinian heritage?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: The Palestinians have been at war with history since the Holocaust. I just heard a couple of days ago that President Abbas gave a speech saying that Hitler wasn’t anti-semitic, that Hitler was just acting out against Jews because he disapproved of their financial practices. The US gives $500 million a year to this guy who doesn’t think that Hitler was anti-semitic. The Palestinians’ problem is they want to insert themselves on land that was given to God by the Jewish people. So they have to fight not just with the Jewish people but also with the Bible. They’ve been trying for years to discredit any connection of the Jewish people to our holy sites.”
“The claim that the Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount while also claiming that Christians do. But how can that be? The only connection that Christians have is through Jesus, who prayed at the Jewish Temple. The Palestinians are not even trying to be intellectually honest or consistent. They’re succeeding because there are countries and people that are willing to accept this false narrative.”
“And we have to fight against that, which is one of the things this film does. It lays to rest any doubt as to the history of this holy land. We don’t make things up. We quote from the Bible as to what happened in these places. Everything is supported with biblical texts and references, making it very hard to dispute.”
RABBI WEISZ: Where can people watch the download? Where’s it going to be shown, and how can people see it?
DAVID FRIEDMAN: It is being released into theaters on September 18 for the American audience. We have a limited run on September 18th and 19th. And the way to see the film on one of those two days is to go to the Route 60 movie website. When you go on the site, you click on Buy tickets, and then you will type in your zip code. Once you type in your zip code, you will be directed to the number of the theaters that are closest to you. You can buy tickets at that theater, select your seats at that theater, and enjoy the film.
Friedman suggested that the family-friendly film would especially appeal to “people who haven’t yet had the privilege of visiting these places”.
“I think it will provoke very interesting discussions,” he said. “It will cause people to recall the Bible stories that they learned when they were younger. I would think it will bring the Bible back to life for people and make it real.”