Filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana.
Filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana. Photo by Daniel Tchetchik
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Filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana's mother. Photo by Courtesy

“My mother, Hatam Mara’ana, is the most feminist a woman can be, but she isn’t entirely aware of this,” says film director Ibtisam Mara’ana. “Actually I think she does know, but sometimes she tries to hide it, because with us, in Muslim Arab village culture, a woman like my mother would be branded forever − not as a feminist, a word no one uses − but as ‘the man of the house.’”

Hatam Mara’ana was born in 1950 in Kafr Ara, in what is known as the Triangle of Arab villages in central Israel, and moved to Fureidis, across from the Dor Beach, upon her marriage. “She never went to school. She was illiterate,” her daughter says, “but at the age of 40 she decided to begin studying Arabic and Hebrew, reading and writing. She dragged a few other women from the village with her, her friends, and organized a study circle.

“In addition, she decided to get a driver’s license. Her husband, my father, never had one. My most formative memory as her daughter has to do with this. Over the years, when she drove the car with my father beside her, he always quarreled with her, ‘If you don’t go where I want, I’m getting out of the car.’ Once she couldn’t take it anymore. He made the same scene and then she simply stopped the car and told him, ‘You’re getting out here.’ And she made him get out of the car. He called me from the police station where he went to file a complaint against her. That was the moment she told herself she couldn’t take it anymore. And she made it clear to him: The car is mine, I’m behind the wheel and you will not tell me where to drive. I will drive the way I want.

“My mother raised her children, worked at home and also provided a living for the family. She fought the bureaucracy alone. At that moment she made clear that she was the strong person, not only outside the home but inside too. She laid out her boundaries and said, this is it, I’m no longer willing to be held cheap, I’m not prepared to accept masculine terror at home and I’m stopping it now.

“That moment was when I understood that feminism and power have to be enacted within the home, facing the man. My father was a fantastic person, and supported his daughters’ studies, but there was always a power struggle going on with my mother. That was when I understood what kind of mother I had, and it’s to her credit that I became the person I am. I have always returned to this strong figure at home, of whom I was once ashamed, because of her power.

Because a mother, after all, is supposed to be feminine, gentle, quiet and submissive. But at a certain stage I understood that this wasn’t so, and that I have a very strong mother. When I was exposed to the word ‘feminism’ I said, yes, my mother is a feminist.”

The star of her daughter’s films

Her mother’s image had a great influence on Ibtisam Mara’ana’s own womanhood, on her choices as a woman and a human being. “We are two individuals who were always fighting each other, because we are terribly alike,” she says. “She has traveled a long distance in her life as a woman, and survived despite everything, without removing herself from society. She has influenced me in many ways.”

The director’s parents were a couple, but did not live together. “My father left home and lived nearby. He wanted to live alone, and she lived with us. They adopted a model that didn’t exist,” she says. Mara’ana adds that her late father “had the spirit of an artist. He wanted quiet, and not to have to take on the great responsibility of family and children. My mother was a survivor, who got up each morning to go to work, bring money home, and cope with reality. She gave him his space and I think she also enjoyed it.

“My mother succeeded somehow, as a religious Arab woman, to bring attitudes that suited her into her life. She wasn’t interested in what society said. She is always torn between her individuality and a very conservative society, but I think she has managed very well to maintain her existence as a woman, and not to be swallowed up into the patriarchal world, and not to submit.

“And she also brought me [up]. I think I am the product of her feminist enterprise. After all, I bucked convention. And when I am asked where this comes from I say, my mother and my family. I didn’t stray far from them. They made these [behavioral] codes possible. I interpreted them, and developed, and continued onward.”

Mara’ana’s mother appears in many of the director’s highly personal films. “She’s a real star,” her daughter says. “She enjoys it. She says she has something to say. She’s strong.
“A few years after my mother married my father, she understood that he was not the best provider in the world and decided to set out into the job market as a housecleaner,” Mara’ana says. “Economic independence raised her up. She no longer needed a man’s permission in financial matters and to build, change and develop.

“And she has always said: Marry, don’t marry, with a husband or without, it doesn’t matter. It’s nice if you have a husband to protect you, but the most important thing is a profession. When you have a profession, you can decide where to be, you make your rightful place in society, you’re strong, you’re not dependent on anyone.”