From 'Ajami' to 'Beaufort'

Israel Harel
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Israel Harel

Just hours before Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, Scandar Copti, one of the co-directors of "Ajami," announced that the film does not represent Israel. At around the same time, MK Jamal Zahalka was taking part in an Israeli Apartheid Week event at McGill University in Montreal, pouring oil on the flames of the Arab-Jewish rift. At a special Knesset session to honor the 12 members of the pre-state Jewish underground militias who were hanged by the British during the Mandate era (known as the olei hagardom in Hebrew), MKs Ahmed Tibi and Talab al-Sana called these men terrorists.

As a movie, "Ajami" is no better or worse than others of its ilk created around the world that tell nearly the same story. In every part of the world in which national minorities fight the majority (especially when the fight regularly erupts into verbal and physical violence), the reality is even worse than in Israel.

It's reasonable to assume that had the film not been set in Jaffa, where, it is implied, the sad state of the Arabs is the consequence of the Jewish sin of "the occupation of 1948," it would likely not have been nominated for best foreign film. Similarly, "Beaufort" and "Waltz with Bashir" were nominated for Oscars because they were critical of Israel.

The political statement made by Copti turned "Ajami" from a movie into another link in the fight waged by the Palestinians in Israel against the state of which they are citizens. That makes it just like disrespecting the memory of the olei hagardom or accusing Israel of being an apartheid state even though the Israeli Palestinians' rights as citizens here exceed those of any Arab country (and include supernumerary rights, such as exemption from mandatory military service).

It can be assumed that the Israeli Arabs would present their position more moderately (and thus more effectively) were it not for the encouragement they receive from Jewish entities in the areas of art, culture, academia, philanthropy and the media. A large proportion of Israeli films, both features and documentaries, focus on and promote the Palestinian narrative, whether directly or indirectly. This narrative blames the Jews for all the ills of the Arab community - the result of the mother of all occupations, that of 1948.

All Israelis seeking public funding for a movie are aware that aid from international foundations, and even Israeli ones, depends on the submission of a screenplay that is critical of Israel. No filmmaker could obtain funding from a European or even an Israeli foundation (including governmental ones) for a movie that presents a balanced view of Israel, much less a positive one.

The result: Dozens of "checkpoint films" telling the story of Arab suffering. None of the films in this genre delves into the reasons behind the checkpoints or asks about the mass killings that were prevented by the capture of terrorists or timely discovery of explosives at those very checkpoints. Many of these films show women weeping and crying out next to their demolished homes.

The movies - in Israel, too - evoke sympathy for the oppressed and that is their purpose.

But not a single movie has been made that shows the reasons leading up to the demolition of the homes, that tells the story of the hundreds of Jewish victims who were murdered by the terrorists whose homes were subsequently destroyed.

Had they not wallowed in the mire of "We have sinned, we have trespassed," it is doubtful that "Ajami," "Beaufort" or "Waltz with Bashir" would have gotten so close to the pinnacle of Hollywood recognition. It is fashionable today to criticize or even to hate Israel. Among those contributing to hatred of Israel are, in addition to filmmakers, Israeli intellectuals and artists from other disciplines - and for exactly the same reasons that the filmmakers are so eager to make their self-flagellating films.