Skipping the Summit for the Movies

Gershom Gorenberg

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.

2 thoughts on “Skipping the Summit for the Movies”

  1. hi Mr. gorenberg,

    i really like reading your blog. And i appreciate your views and agree with most of your opinions.

    So i’d like to ask about the controversy at TIFF.

    I can appreciate the statement made by the J street or the co-director of TIFF. But when you hear some of the voices given from some of the signatories, such as John Greyson or Elle Flanders, there is some reasonableness in theur arguements. I thouht that i’d put one of them on here and anyone interested in watching may do so.

    Canadian-Jewish filmmaker slams TIFF’s spotlight on Tel Aviv–a4mlBQh8U

    Overall, the message there, other than not really celebrating diversity (which it claims it does), is that this particular City to City presenation would not have been protested had not it been part of a political agenda from the Israeli government. the arguement goes that after the PR debacle from the Operation Lead Cast, The government was seeking to divert attention of Israel in international community from the aftermath of the war and onto the culture and arts in the country. So it is this, not the films nor the filmmakers, that they protest against.

    This is similar to the position taken by the creators of “The Yes Men Fix the World” as they pulled out of the Jerusalem International Film Festival. Their letter can be seen at tikkun:

    For once, “The Yes men” say “No”

    I’d like to know what is your personal opinion on that matter, Mr. Gorenberg. As for me, i’m pretty torn on this. I support boycotting companies that support the occupation or seek to make a profit from it, but i’m not for protesting against Israeli films or other arts.

  2. Imad- that sounds right to me:protesting against those companies who support occupation, but not against the arts, or for that matter, universities that employ academics who hold views either for or against. Collective punishment is too crude an instrument when there are many on both sides who either are for peaceful coexistence or would soften to that view easily.

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