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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Cinema of the South: Celebrating Sderot and Kerala

Haim Watzman

Sderot was celebrating yesterday–it’s been celebrating all week, in fact. Who cares about the missiles coming over from Gaza when you can catch a good flick–lots of them? The Cinema South Festival, held in Sderot each year under the sponsorship of the film school at adjacent Sapir College, is one of the most stimulating, and heart-warming cultural events on Israel’s calendar.

The day’s only Red Alert happened just as we emerged from our rental car next to the housing project where my daughter, Mizmor (finishing up her first year in the animation program) lives. We scurried to safety–well, it’s all relative–under one of the building’s outdoor stairwells until, seconds later, we heard a distant boom.

After dropping off some home-cooked food in her apartment, we drove over to the Sderot Cinematecque. The festival was in full swing. “South” here doesn’t mean Alabama and Georgia-it means Israel’s poor, forgotten, and bombarded Negev region. Sapir students were quaffing beers and muching on sandwiches and sticky sweets while a Kerala band played songs that sent my wife Ilana-whose late father grew up in Bombay, after his family moved there from Baghdad-into dreamy nostalgia.

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