My new article about the superb new Israeli film Ajami (and the silliness of the protests against the Toronto Film Festival) is up at the American Prospect:
The advance publicity accurately predicted that this week’s U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian summit would fall short of great historical drama. Despite Barack Obama’s efforts, his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas would not be the denouement of successful diplomacy. Emotionally as well as physically, the get-together in New York on Tuesday would be half a world away from the unsolved conflict. Following updates on news sites would be an exercise in escapism, I concluded.
Instead, to stay real, I went to the movies. More specifically, I went to see Ajami. Like last year’s Waltz With Bashir, it’s an example of Israeli cinema’s maturation as engaged art, harsh and sympathetic. Ajami focuses on Israel’s Palestinian citizens, who are fated to live on both sides of the conflict. In the process, the film’s Palestinian and Jewish co-directors blur the boundary between fiction and documentary.
The film is named for a neighborhood in the coastal city of Jaffa. Until 1948, Jaffa was the cultural center of Arab Palestine. When it was conquered by Jewish forces that year, all but a few thousand of the Arab residents fled. Jewish immigrants moved into abandoned houses, and Jaffa was annexed by the neighboring Jewish city of Tel Aviv. The remaining Palestinians became Israeli citizens and outsiders. Ajami, a mostly Arab neighborhood, has stayed poor and crime-ridden.
In the movie, most of the dialogue is in an Israeli dialect of Arabic, punctuated with Hebrew. Meanwhile, Jewish cops speak street Hebrew, with its admixture of Arabic. Ajami’s alienated Palestinians refer to the police as “the government.” The police cannot understand why the residents side with the criminals against them. For Palestinians from the occupied West Bank, however, Jaffa’s Arabs are far too Israeli — “worse than collaborators,” as a character from Nablus says. The admixture of language reveals the entanglement of Palestinians and Israelis, and the divisions between Palestinians themselves. …
Read the rest here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.