The Growing Pains of Arab Gen Zers in Israel

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Duna Sa’abna and her fiancé Umri Taha
Duna Sa’abna and her fiancé Umri Taha in the new series.Credit: Courtesy of Kan 33

It isn’t exceptional for young Israelis to move away from home as they reach adulthood. But for members of the Arab society in the country, the move from village to city isn’t necessarily an obvious choice. It can sometimes even threaten the essential family fabric.

A new documentary series follows seven young Israeli Arabs as they move away, physically and metaphorically, from where they grew up. As the issue of internal migration is studied, other dilemmas and challenges in their lives come to light.

The series, entitled 'Karov Rahok' (قربة غربة, a pun on “far and near” and “distant relative”), premiered this week on the state-owned Kan 11 TV channel. It was created by Ahlam Canaan, Nicholas Jacob and Ayelet Bachar, for Makan, the Israeli public broadcaster’s Arabic media division, with the support of the Makor Foundation, the New Film and Television Fund and the Intellectual Incubator for Documentary Filmmakers at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. It consists of six episodes for television, three shorter episodes to be broadcast online and three podcasts, all in various forms of colloquial Arabic. 

Foreigner from another village

There is Amal Saleh Dahamshe from the village of Kafr Kana, who is shown leaving home for the first time to study social work at Ben-Gurion University in the southern city of Be'er Sheva; George Nasser is studying fashion in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa and also performs as a drag artist; Subhi Samara and Mayis Gundiya, who are engaged, are planning to move to Tzur Yitzhak, a small Jewish community.

A scene from the new series 'Karov Rahok' (قربة غربة, a pun on “far and near” and “distant relative”).Credit: Courtesy of Kan 33

Duna Sa’abna from the Kafr Kara village is planning to move to the Arab city Kafr Qasem with her fiance Omri Taha, in an episode that raises the issue of marriage to “foreigners” from other villages; and Hanadi Sha’ar is debating whether to return to Yafi’a, a small Arab town, part of the metropolitan area of Nazareth.

Their stories, and the dialogues with their family members and friends, raise complex personal and communal questions about national identity, equality, tradition, gender, marriage, and nonconformity. These young folks are not just dealing with finding themselves within their family and community, but also in coping as a member of a minority that is subjected to racism and discrimination – a recurring motif in the series.

The question of leaving home is not unfamiliar to the series’ creators. Speaking with Haaretz, Ahlam Canaan, 29, says that ever since she was a little girl in Tamra, she awaited her chance to move to the city. Right after high school she did so, moving to Jerusalem to study at the Rubin Academy of Music.

Canaan acted in Maysaloun Hamoud’s film “In Between” and also in her series “Nafas” on Hot. Her production partner, Nicholas Jacob, 32, has also acted in films, including Michael Meir’s “Alata” (“Out of the Dark”). “It’s important to create content that will challenge the society, in order to begin a discourse that will help us develop and improve both as individuals and as a society,” he says.

Canaan and Jacob founded their production company, Qumra House, and were also involved in the production of Juna Suleiman’s movie “Mussolini’s Sister.” On the current project, the two were joined by documentary film director and journalist Ayelet Bachar, whose work includes the film “After the Wedding,” about Palestinian couples who are barred from living together in Israel due to the family unification law (which is presently making headlines again).

It took almost a year and a half to film the series, during which time the filmmakers accompanied the young people even in their most private moments. Canaan says, “It was a challenging experience. It’s not a simple thing to bring cameras and ‘strangers’ into your life for a long period, for them to be right there with you and accompany you during intimate moments.”

What causes these people to break out of the bounds of the village and the tradition? They say that it’s the desire to develop and progress. Canaan says she understands why Subhi and Mayis want to raise their children in Tzur Yitzhak: “In the Arab villages and towns, there is no orderly public transportation, there are no sidewalks.”

The process of going “outside” is empowering but also entails difficult adjustments and having to cope with things like racism, Canaan says. “You have nowhere to hide or no one to lean on, and that’s the point where you begin to find yourself,” she says.

Asked what home – the main theme of the series – means to them, Jacob says: “Home for me is not something physical or tangible, but the people around you.” Canaan adds: “Right now Haifa is home for me, just as Jerusalem was home for me before that, and I would like to try living abroad. Maybe I will feel nostalgia for Israel.”

For Bachar, home is “an expression of my self-definition, and when the children grow up, it definitely gets more complicated. A home defines identity, socially and class-wise and politically. It defines our affiliation. In this sense, I think that in whatever society we look at, decisions and uncertainty about where to live show us what this society is concerned with. I also think that the choice of home can define where we wish to be on the spectrum between individualism and affiliation with a society, a community, a tribe or a group.”

The violence in May also affected Canaan and Jacob, who witnessed protests in Haifa that were dispersed by police. “It was crazy scary,” says Canaan. “We’ve always identified and defined ourselves as Palestinians, that’s nothing new, it’s just that only now is there acceptance and readiness to hear that, and that’s why it seems [to Jews] like something new.” Jacob and Canaan both say there is a reason why they are both filmmakers and producers: “It matters to us to make our voice heard, and to also have a hand in the editing and the final product.”

“Karov Rahok” is groundbreaking in bringing a direct glimpse into the lives of young Arabs to the Hebrew television screen in Israel: they tell their stories in the first person, in their language, with the aid of Arab filmmakers. But at the end of the day, these are just seven stories. There are so many more stories out there that could be made known if more filmmakers and media channels will pick up the gauntlet.

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