The Bedouin and the Land: Leeor Kaufman’s “Destiny Hills”

Haim Watzman

Leeor Kaufman’s Destiny Hills, screened at the Jerusalem film festival this week, documents the struggle of Mohammad of the al-Talalqa Bedouin tribe of the Negev to assert his right to live on his tribe’s ancestral land.

In cinematic terms the film is impressively accomplished, and Mohammad, his wife, his four sons, and the rest of their family are so winning, pleasant, and determined that I walked out of the film wishing they were my neighbors. The family, which lives in poverty, endures the repeated destruction by Israeli authorities of the jerry-built shacks and cinder-block structures they erect and re-erect on the Destiny (Goral) Hills, land that once belonged to the tribe and which they still claim. They resist the government’s policy of resettling the Negev towns and claim that the state has not lived up to agreements it signed years ago with the tribe’s leaders.

While Kaufman’s film portrays life rather than makes political statements, I’m sure that most viewers’ immediate reaction is to sympathize with the Bedouin and their wish to maintain (a modern version of) their traditional lifestyle on the lands their forefathers roamed. I’m not expert in the details of their dispute with the government or the terms under which their land was, with the consent of their leaders, taken from them. But as a minority population with little representation facing a strong state, it’s not surprising that they’ve gotten a raw deal.

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The Scene at Cinema South II: Jewish-Arab Dialogue on Film

Haim Watzman

Can Jewish and Arab Israeli film students understand each other better if they watch a 50-year old French film about race relations in the Ivory Coast? Filipa César, a Portuguese artist, had the idea of showing a multi-cultural collection of film students in this country Jean Rouch’s Cinéma-vérité work The Human Pyramid and filming a subsequent discussion. The result is The Four Chambered Heart, screened at the Cinema South festival in Sderot.

Rouch’s film teeters on the fence between documentary and fiction. At the end of the 1950s, just before Côte d’Ivoire achieved independence, he took a group of black and white high school seniors in Abijan and asked them to improvise a story about race relations in their class. The film shows the students acting out the story, interspersed with voice-overs by the director and occasional interspliced scenes in which the teenagers are themselves and not their characters. The story follows the initiative of a new white girl, Nadine, who convinces the whites and blacks to socialize, and the disaster that follows as a result of her own inability to distinguish between displays of friendly affection and of romantic love.

One subtext of the film is that integration equals socialization—that if people belonging to two different racial, national, or cultural groups go to parties and have picnics together, harmonious relations will prevail. Another is that France is more advanced in the field of race relations than the Anglo-Saxon world—the students frequently refer to South African Apartheid and occasionally to segregation in the U.S. And, indeed, in 1959 the French were doing what was unthinkable in the U.S.—they had black and white kids in the same classrooms. On the other hand, as the film shows, the race barrier, while invisible, was still high, both inside and outside the classroom.

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Gay, Orthodox, and in Love: Chaim Elbaum’s “And Thou Shalt Love”

Haim Watzman

When Chaim Elbaum stood up to field questions last night, he said that Kehilat Yedidya, is the first Israeli Orthodox community to ask him to come to screen and speak about his short film And Thou Shalt Love , and about his personal decision to accept his homosexuality while insisting on remaining an observant and believing Jew.

It would be all too easy to dismiss all the synagogues that have not invited him as benighted and homophobic—and those would certainly be correct adjectives to apply in many cases. But Orthodox Judaism’s legal structure requires that changes in attitudes and behavior be grounded in the halachic discourse. In the case of homosexuality, the prohibition in the Torah and in rabbinic writings is so severe that the halachic resolution is likely to require decades of discussion and argumentation. Even Elbaum acknowledged last night that he doesn’t yet know what the ultimate halachic resolution of the issue could or should be. Will the proscriptions against homosexuality eventually be completely overturned, placing same-sex relationships on a par with opposite-sex ones? Or will the solution involve a recognition that the heterosexual family is still an ideal to be aspired to—but that homosexuals who are unable to achieve that ideal may legitimately and openly have families of their own type? Or is some other, as yet unimaginable resolution in the offing?

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