Tarzan, watch out behind you
The premiere of the documentary "Shkufim" ("transparent"), about the hardships of life in south Tel Aviv for both Israelis and Africans, highlights the depressing and frightening face of Israel in 2012.
It was a courageous evening, and it was a depressing and frightening evening. The occasion was the premiere of Galia Oz's documentary film "Shkufim" ("transparent") at the Dahl Auditorium in Tel Aviv's hardscrabble Hatikva neighborhood. It was a courageous evening because it could have been held at another venue with a homogeneous, sympathetic audience, like the Cinematheque, for example. It was a depressing and frightening evening because it revealed the moods here, at least on the margins.
Oz created a balanced film, almost too balanced, about life on the margins of the big city - residents of the poor neighborhoods on the one hand, and their uninvited neighbors, migrants from Africa, on the other. Paying close attention to the suffering of the Israelis, perhaps more than to the suffering of the migrants, Oz presented a classic tragedy with neither good guys nor bad guys, but everyone equally a victim.
The marginal Israeli figures in the film blame the migrants for everything wrong in their lives: rats, disease, peeling paint in the stairwells, falling plaster in the bedroom, fear of leaving the house and the murder of an old woman by a drunken migrant, which was perceived as genocide; all Africans are potential murderers. As if there were no rats before the Africans came and no home-grown murderers before this wave of migrants arrived.
A Sudanese man, Musa, educated and more impressive than any of the Israeli characters in the film, only wanted a roof over his head, work and a place to hide from the terrors of his country. He believed that the Jewish state of David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, about which he had heard, would be that place. He was wrong.
The audience that filled the hall was varied in a way we hardly see any more: dovish author Amos Oz and former Kach member MK Michael Ben Ari, novelist and translator Yehoshua Kenaz and Likud MK Yariv Levine, all within touching distance. Mini-Israel for one evening: neighborhood activists depicted in the film and the intellectual elite representing the director. No Africans attended.
This could have been a basis for unique dialogue. Instead it ended almost with a blow-up, just like those who planned that scenario had wanted. The screening went fine. It did recall movie theaters in India. People were shouting out approvingly whenever someone said something against Africans and cheering at every nationalist or racist remark. Amos Oz recalled the next day how we used to shout in the movie theater, "Tarzan, watch out behind you." But it was precisely this passionate, noisy involvement that turned the screening into 3-D - the creators of the film, its heroes and the audience in a spirited and authentic symposium. Then the lights came on in the hall, and darkness descended.
Ben Ari quickly began distributing his card, the gist of which reads "let the IDF smash them" (the migrants, too? ). Then he gave instructions to his activists. They began to shout, curse and incite the crowd. Hatred and racism never looked so bad. Galia Oz barely managed to finish her remarks. Sigal Rosen, of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, was not even able to start hers.
Catcalls including "Sudanese to Sudan" (and also, "Leftists to Sudan" ) was the chorus that swept up a good part of the audience. There's nothing simpler: Incite the helpless victims against even more helpless victims; the weak against the weaker. Blame those beneath you, not those above you, who are truly at fault. Ben Ari looked on satisfied, a constant hint of a grin on his face. He is campaigning to reach the minimum threshhold needed to get him into the Knesset and this is just what he had hoped to achieve. Quite a few young men came up to him and embraced him. This show was a success; see you at the next gathering in Levinsky Park (where the migrants hang out ) someone was quick to shout, announcing the venue of the next hate rally.
The problem with the migrants from Africa has disappeared from the public agenda recently, like every matter here does, making way for the next issue of survival (it's always a matter of survival ). But on the margins of the big city one can always gather a few votes and ignite a fire, by invoking the African migrants.
The catcalls heard Tuesday at the Dahl Auditorium would not have been out of place at a racist rally in Europe of bygone days. But here, almost no one cried out against them. The leftist intellectuals were ashamed and silent. And so one winter evening, once again the collective face of Israel 2012 was revealed, and it is a very depressing and frightening one, bereft of hope in the neighborhood whose name, Hatikva, means hope.