Ask an Israeli Arab, considered a minority with equal rights in the Jewish State, if she or he would prefer to live in Israel or in any Arab state, and the overwhelming answer be a resounding YES, Israel. Any non-Israeli Arab would always prefer to be treated in Israel if ill or injured. Occupation or not, propaganda aside, the truth is quite telling.
As bad or as challenging as life may be in Israel, Arabs still prefer to live there. Christians come to escape persecution under Muslim rule and Muslims because they know what is good for them, not what the Arab American “anti-defamation league” or the “Council on American-Islamic Relations” decides from afar.
Life in the Middle East is challenging. The area, mostly a desert, still resembles a nomadic society of the seventh century dressed up with multi-billion dollar Dubai-like construction projects. Outwardly modern, yet rotten and medieval inside.
Honor killings, murder of those with whom one disagrees, subjugation of women, deprivation of liberty and freedom, torture, beheadings, and the list goes on and on. Most of us realize we live in the 21st Century AD and would not want to move backwards to a primitive, nomadic society. We prefer life as it is, with all the faults and ills of modern-day society.
A new movie depicts Arab (Muslim) society in Israel. As we review the movie in the context of today’s Middle East, let us keep in mind the Israeli Police Commissioner’s statement today: “The increasing involvement of Israeli Arabs in violent crimes in proportions and scope which are beyond their representation in society is becoming increasingly more alarming. … The criminals have no localities or boundaries, little concern to human life, they take over legal markets and national infrastructure, they join forces with and infiltrate into government systems, threaten judges, police officers, lawyers, municipal workers and heads of municipalities ….”
Let us visit the system of Israeli Arab expansion into the criminal world from the viewpoint of Arab society itself. Laemmle, a theater chain in Los Angeles that brings foreign films to a wide, eclectic audience, cosponsored the screening. The invitation was innocent enough. It read in part:
Lost in the international debate on the Israeli-Palestinian question is the fact that Israel has become a complex multicultural society. No film makes that more evident than the gritty crime drama Ajami – Israel’s strong entry into this season’s Oscar race.
Shot with mostly non-professional actors by [a Christian] Arab and Jewish co-directors Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani, the film is almost entirely in Arabic and is a harsh reality-check on the country’s healthcare system, relations between police and the citizenry, inter-Arab gang rivalries, and the rift that separates Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Ajami is Israel’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in the upcoming Academy Awards in Los Angeles. While Israel is yet to win an Oscar in this category, she was previously nominated, including last year for the animated film Waltz with Bashir and a year earlier for Beaufort.
Ajami is an eye-opener. It exposes us to the New Israeli Arab and to Arab society where there is little, if any, meaning for human life. A young man enters a cafe and starts shooting in the air, a normal manner of expression among Palestinians, sometimes used to vent anger, sadness or a cause for celebration. We are told the reason for this particular shooting was to extract protection money from the owner.
The owner of the cafe takes out a gun and shoots the shooter. It was done in self-defense, but ignited a “cycle of violence,” a favorite term by terrorists and their cohorts. Apparently it was the perpetrator’s “RIGHT” to do as he pleases, to threaten and endanger other people’s lives, and now it is his and his family’s “RIGHT” to demand justice, the Arab way.
The cafe and adjoining home are set afire and the owner is shot. A 15-year-old boy is shot to death in broad day light, mistaken for the brother of the Cafe owner. He was just an innocent neighbor, his life wasted in a short moment. The family itself lives in fear for there are still other members that can be executed until the primal urge of revenge is satisfied.
Life has no meaning; the animalistic urge to kill rules. We are exposed to a “Sulcha,” a gathering in front of an elder (in this instance a clergy person) during which negotiations take place. The loss of ability to bear children, paralysis, loss of future income etc. are taken into account, and when the final tally is taken, a certain discount is extended “in honor of god.” I did not quite understand if this is the take of the clergyperson or if indeed it is for Allah. Either way, an utterly and completely convoluted world is depicted.
In the movie, multiple interlinked stories are told in chapters. They are intertwined, disjoint parts are repeated from different angles and yet move us forward. There is actual friendship (in which the hatred of the Jews is the greatest uniting factor), constant references to a god (devoid, apparently, of any connection to good and benevolent behavior of the “believers”) and a human touch – a son who will do anything to save his dying mother and a family which takes (physical) care of a paralyzed grandfather.
But most importantly, we are exposed to a culture we do not know, a culture that exists within Israeli society (Israeli Arabs and Bedouin) and throughout the Muslim countries. There is a Christian minority among them, but recent history has shown that Christianity is not tolerated under Muslim rule, and most Christians fled from Lebanon – where once they constituted a majority – and even from their holiest city – Bethlehem, birthplace of Christ. In the movie, a young Christian Arab woman can never marry the Muslim youth she loves, because her father will beat her to death.
The movie itself is powerful, raw and bloody. It depicts segments of Israeli society living in a modern, law-abiding country, yet completely detached. Hebrew words intermingled in their spoken Arabic, yet the predominant culture is that of the slums. It shows elements of terror, criminals and those who have no concern or regard for law and order. A judge unto their own, as the Hebrew saying goes: “every violent person, a man.”
To an Israeli, the movie was a surprise. It portrays life as it is, highlighting the police struggle against a community that prefers to protect itself rather than vomit from within its midst narcotic dealers; terrorism and its aftermath; kidnapping an Israeli soldier and the devastation to his family; the craving for separation from Israel by creating a Palestinian state on its ruins yet the ongoing, imperative need to be in Israel, to work and earn a living there and to utilize the medical and other services she has to offer.
Since the parts are seemingly disjointed, at moments we are left with our imagination running wild, high on adrenaline. In one scene, we are led to believe a brutal police officer shoots an Arab youth at close range, and we are ready to blame police brutality, the Israeli atrocities, the Zionist Occupation and on. In the next chapter, as we look at the scene from a different camera and a wider angle the identity of the true shooter is revealed: an Arab boy, emotionally unstable or easily influenced and frightened. The viewer who built up anger is thus disillusioned, left without Israel to blame. Without an outlet, the active participant’s anger is reignited and Israel is once again to blame.
Nothing in this movie is anti Israel. On the contrary, she is forced to deal with Arab culture from the Arabs’ own perspective, portrayed as the worst of American gangs where drugs are a means of income, violence begets violence, one’s honor is paramount and there is a total disrespect of all that we call “normal.” Modern Western culture clashes with a pseudo barbaric lifestyle brought to a screen near you, compliments of an Israeli Oscar contender.
It is for this reason the movie will not be shown or have wide release or distribution in Arab states. First, it does not attack Israel (although this can be easily fixed by twisting facts and transposing reality, blaming Israel for all of society’s ills). Second, it shows things as they truly are, and the Muslims will do everything possible to prevent the truth from being shown. They live in their make-believe world and speak differently in English and in Arabic. For Western ears they deplore murder, yet clergymen readily justify it in sermons in Arabic, particularly murder against Pigs and Apes (a.k.a. Jews and other non-believers).
Ajami will expose viewers to a facet of life we normally try to avoid. Egregious realities like a neighbor that asks you repeatedly to keep quiet. Eventually he warns he will call the authorities. How do you respond? Take a knife and stab him once, twice, three times in the chest and abdomen until he falls dead? His daughter is about your age. You have lived together for years.
It is a pity that a film that goes beyond the so-called “Conflict” (existence of the Jewish State) is degraded by many to a propaganda piece it was never meant to be. If the movie were not eye-opener enough, then its usage against Israel reinforces that we live in dangerous times. Times when people skew and manipulate, portray facts to fit their agenda, lie and deceive or do anything necessary to destroy a way of life, the Western way of life, our way of life.