By Eric A. Gordon
You have to hand it to people like Eran Kolirin. He’s the film director who in 2007 gave us The Band’s Visit, about an Egyptian military band that by some fluke managed to find itself in a sad, godforsaken Jewish desert town in Israel, whose residents unexpectedly were able to find some tentative connections with their guests that defied the reigning narrative of Arab-Jewish antipathy. Against all probability, the film was turned into a hope-filled Broadway musical.
“People like” this film director include that slim margin of the cosmopolitan, secular, tolerant, educated Israeli élite whose minds have not been totally occupied by conceits of Jewish superiority and their conviction that despite all, Israel is, at least, the only democratic country in its very tough neighbourhood. Those illusions have kept this intelligentsia loyal to Israel as a nation-concept even as the reality on the ground gives daily evidence of what has become, over the 75 years since Israel’s establishment, an increasingly apartheid regime.
These intellectuals soldier on, in the universities, in a few internationally recognized NGOs, a smattering in the press, and in the arts. But their influence has gradually receded. As of the most recent national elections, which catapulted Benjamin Netanyahu back into power, there is barely anything left in the Knesset of the strong Labour Party that once governed Israel unchallenged, or of the small left parties that tried to put an honest, though in the final analysis purely cosmetic face on what remained of Israeli democracy. Now open, convicted fascists head key ministries in the farthest-right government the country has ever had. The Israeli resistance will have to be rebuilt from the ground up, as signs indicate has already started happening.
Maintaining their smug, above-the fray academic independence from the tawdriness of their society, the elect wring their hands at what Israel has become—and what, to many in the Arab and Palestinian world, it always has been. Israel now has more out-migrants than immigrants. Cities across Europe and North America are bursting with Israeli immigrants who for political or economic reasons no longer envision a future in their once promised land.
So, all kudos to folks like Eran Kolirin, who are sticking it out in Israel trying—hoping against hope—to make a difference. Interestingly, they actually have some official support. His latest film, Let It Be Morning (2021), is Israel’s official submission to the Academy Awards, and has swept the Israeli equivalent of the film awards, also accruing much acclaim in Cannes and other film festivals. It even boasts financial backing from the Israel Film Fund, which no doubt opened many doors for filming any number of controversial scenes. You see? official Israel seems to proclaim. We have complete freedom of expression in Israel and celebrate our multinational identity! It’s a critical element securing the loyalty of American Jews toward the self-nominated Jewish State.
It’s just that sense of complacent self-congratulation that dominates the personality of Sami (Alex Bakri), a Palestinian who has left his hometown for the big city (Jerusalem). He works for a tech company as one of the few Palestinians in its employ, and suffers the illusion that he’s friends with his coworkers, enjoys their trust, is a valued team member. Married to Mira (Juna Suleiman) with a young son Adam (Maruan Hamdan), he is progressive and sophisticated enough to have taken up with a Jewish mistress, and has all but severed contact with his hometown family and friends.
Sami and family are invited to his brother Aziz’s (Samer Bisharat) wedding in the Arabic village where he grew up. It bears underlining that this hometown is not in the so-called Occupied Territories, but within the borders of Israel Proper, so most of the Palestinians of this town hold Israeli citizenship. His parents urge him to come back, and they are building a home for him. The construction workers are the “daffawis,” undocumented West Bank Palestinians who are believed to use the village for getting into Israel where they can work illegally. These men are a source of irritation to the local armed strongmen of the town, who themselves are smug, self-important and violent as the Palestinian enforcers within the informal Israeli state apparatus of the compliant, sellout town council.
After the wedding, as Sami hurries back to Jerusalem (for an assignation with his girlfriend among other reasons), their car is stopped by Israeli soldiers at a late-night roadblock with no explanation, and over the the next few days the village is subjected to a total lockdown. An unnamed “operation” is being undertaken and as further punishment to the residents, a virtual siege begins, with no phone service, and water, sewer lines and electricity cut off.
Just to remind you, this is a town within internationally recognized Israel, not within the disputed territories. It soon becomes clear that the “operation” is a new extension of the gray concrete fortified border wall, but now meant to encircle and strangle one Israeli Palestinian village. The “daffawis” are duly rounded up by the Palestinian collaborators. This ever more absurdist, Kafkaesque story delineates a neat hierarchy of divide and rule, but with deeper subdivisions and antipathies that make Palestinian solidarity in the face of such a communal assault all but impossible to achieve. Collective helplessness is practically guaranteed as the Israeli forces visit indignity upon indignity to this already beaten population. The one thing they can be sure of, as they listen to international news reports and rumors of U.S. moves against Iran, is that the Palestinians will be caught in the middle.
Kolirin makes use of a telling symbol, the white pigeons (“doves,” poetically) released at the wedding. But these birds won’t even strut out of their cage. They have to be shooed out, and even at that, they hang around the family manse without ever flying away. They reman a constant presence, having settled in feeling quite at home in a prison of their own making. Even when Mira finally gets one of them airborne, it flutters fecklessly back to the ground, where a hungry cat intends to make her next meal of it. Starting with Adam, the rest of the family fling pebbles at the cat to frighten it off. It’s a rich metaphor.
The 101-minute film is based on a 2006 novel by the Arab-Israeli satirist and journalist Sayed Kashua. For years his Jewish readers had regarded him as “our Arab”—he wrote in Hebrew, and his humour pointed up the foibles of the human condition in piquantly charming turns of phrase. Eventually Kashua tired of playing the Israeli court jester, and left the country. He now is based at Washington University where—as if to poke his Israeli critics in the nose—he teaches Hebrew!
One of the most ingratiating supporting characters is Abed (Ehab Salami), a classic sad sack—his beloved wife left him, he’s in debt to the Palestinian gangsters for his newly tricked out taxicab, and he’s a hopeless naïf. Yet the viewer comes to empathize with him over the course the film, and it seems like the author (and filmmaker) have bigger plans for him than we might have imagined.
The story ends somewhat ambiguously, but we see how a community, with its individual flawed characters, has grown in self-confidence. The film all but shouts out to any sentient viewer that oppression, in its elegant detail and massive impact, calculated to induce a response, and with all tools of legal, legitimate resistance closed off, will only spark reactions that have no other option but to be violent. Which instigates a new round of lockups, lockdowns, walls, regulations. Life is to be made so impossible for the Palestinians both inside and outside the recognized state borders, that they will willingly self-deport—or they will be expelled like some cancer from the Israeli body. There are now political parties represented in Netanyahu’s government that espouse exactly such policies.
Let Let It Be Morning serve as yet another warning, a lovingly crafted, humanly noble alarum, of the Armageddon to come. Needless to say, U.S. enablement of Israel’s drift toward authoritarianism has been critical to its progression. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: People’s World