Category Archives: Israel

“THE RING’S JOURNEY”— Happy Birthday, IUdi

 

“The Ring’s Journey”

Happy Birthday Udi

Amos Lassen

Matti Harari and  Arik Lubetzky co-directed “The Ring’s Journey” with a cast that includes Amit Farkash, Israel Atias, Tomer Shechori, Tamir Baider, Dov Glickman, Shmulik Levy and Esti Zakhem.

 

At his 18th birthday party, Udi experiences the trauma of his life when his childhood sweetheart, Raphaela, leaves him and kisses his younger brother Lior who plays basketball for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Udi takes to his room for three years and disconnects from any human contact. He puts on weight and dedicates his life to “The Lord of the Rings”.  

Then when Udi turns 21, Lior informs him that their grandmother has passed away and left a will stating that if Uri marries within a month he will receive five million dollars.  However, if he doesn’t get married the money will go to the Friends of the Earth charity in Jaffa. His grandmother also left a ring with a mysterious electrifying power: If a girls puts the ring on but doesn’t love the guy her finger will be electrified. Udi then decides to leave the room and search for a bride in the outside world.

Joining Udi on his search are three others: Raphaela, who is now an up-and-coming model, his brother Lior and Lior’s childhood friend, Bechor.  Lior and Bechor are both gay but still in the closet and terrified by it. Udi looks for a bride amongst various unusual people including a transvestite, a dwarf and a Bedouin and they all for one reason or another, remind him of characters from “Lord of the Rings”. We go on a journey that is not soon forgotten in this very clever and funny movie.

 

“THE LAST BAND IN LEBANON”— An Unlikely Comedy About War

“The Last Band in Lebanon”

An Unlikely Comedy about War

Amos Lassen

Itzik Kricheli and Ben Bachar’s “The Last Band in Lebanon stars Ofer Shechter, Ori Laizarouvich, Ofer Hayoun, Israel Katorza, Dana Frider, Salim Daw, Itzik Kricheli, Daniel Gal, Hisham Saliman, Ehab Elias Salami, George Iskandar, Jamil Khoury, Ami Anidjar and Rudi Saada) and is set in Lebanon in 2000 after Israel Defense Forces let the area after having been there for 18 years.

However left behind were Shlomi, Asaf and Kobi, three members of a military rock band who woke up the next morning and discovered they were the only ones there having been mixed up in a major drug smuggling scheme orchestrated by their corrupt commander.

They are stranded and clueless in a “no man’s land” between Israel and Lebanon with a gang of Hezbollah fighters on one side, disgruntled members of the South Lebanon Army on the other, and no combat experience. Now the three soldiers must find a way to return to Israel with a guitar as their only weapon.

“I’m Still Walking” by Yehoram Gaon— 50 Years in Show Business

Gaon, Yehoram. “I’m Still Walking”, IQ Publishing, 2017.

50 Years in Show Business

Amos Lassen

Yehoram Gaon’s autobiography, “I’m Still Walking” has just been published in Hebrew in Israel and I have not yet been told if there is to be an English publication. We learn here that from the moment he first appeared on the stage at the age of seven, as the high priest in the elementary school performance, Yehoram Gaon has felt the intense excitement and pleasure that accompanied the stage life and realized that he had found his destiny. Since then, for five decades, he has not stopped singing, playing funny and charming.

Gaon’s life and work are interwoven with the history of Israel. He was born into the days of the British Mandate, grew up with the establishment of the State and accompanied it with his art during Israel’s wars and victories.

He beautifully writes about the various stations of his life from his childhood in Jerusalem, his time in the Nahal group and the Yarkon Trio, the movies “Kazablan” and “Operation Jonathan” and the television series “Close Relatives” (“Krovim, Krovim”) as well as a host of part the inalienable assets of Israeli culture. Gaon says that he was lucky, since he was never required to look for stage lights. He was always called, and he merely responded to the wishes of the audience. “While I’m Walking” is a life story that unfolds alongside the history of Israel thus making it doubly interesting.

“Writing Palestine 1933-1950: Dorothy Kahn Bar-Adon” by Dorothy Kahn Bar-Adon— As It was

Bar-Adon, Dorothy Kahn, edited by Esther Carmel-Hakim and Nancy Rosenfeld. “Writing Palestine 1933-1950: Dorothy Kahn Bar-Adon”, Academic Studies Press, 2016.

As It Was

Amos Lassen

Dorothy Kahn Bar-Adon immigrated to Palestine from America, she was reported for “The Palestine Post” and later for “The Jerusalem Post”. She also freelanced for periodicals in Palestine and abroad writing about life in towns, on kibbutzim and in Arab communities of Mandatory Palestine during this period of World War and armed conflicts between Arabs and Jews. She also wrote about the immigration to Israel of Holocaust survivors. She has been dead for almost 60 years and now an edited collection of Bar-Adon’s writing gives us a look at daily life in the Jewish and Arab communities of pre-State Israel, and of the burning issues of the day.

We are taken back to seventeen (1933-1950) of the most eventful years in the history of the Middle East. Dorothy Kahn Bar-Adon takes the reader back to the seventeen most eventful years (1933 – 1950) in Mandatory Palestine and the beginning of the Jewish state. She wrote extensively about everyday life concerning all its aspects. Editors Esther Carmel–Hakim and Nancy Rosenfeld collected documents from Bar-Adon’s private unknown archive and from the papers she wrote for.

This is a new primary source in English and these articles that were thought to be lost form a memoir leading up to and including the birth of the State of Israel. They help us to understand why American Jews were drawn to Israel and Zionism.

 

“The Worlds We Think We Knew: Stories” by Dalia Rosenfeld— The Reaches of Hearts and Minds

Rosenfeld, Dalia. “The Worlds We Think We Know: Stories”, Milkweed Editions, 2017.

The Reaches of Hearts and Minds

Amos Lassen

“The Worlds We Think We Know: Stories” is a collection of very funny and original stories takes readers that move from the United States to Israel and back again as they examine “the mystifying reaches of our own minds and hearts”. We meet characters who are “animated by forces at once passionate and perplexing. At a city zoo, a mismatched couple unite by releasing rare birds. After being mugged in the streets of New York, a professor must repeat the crime to recover his memory and his lost love. In Tel Aviv, a sandstorm rages to expose old sorrows and fears as far away as Ohio. And from an unnamed Eastern European country, a woman haunts the husband who left her behind for a new life in America”. The stories can be puzzling and unsettling as they deal with living in today’s world.

The characters share a collective past, but find it hard to feel rooted in the present. In referencing the Jewish past there is a sense of comfort and continuity. That collective past is Holocaust related with haunted echoes in the texts. The stories often feature a sense of displacement that is sometimes geographic such as Americans in Israel, Russians in America and cosmopolitans in small towns. These are uprooted characters whose actions come about as a result of an inner logic that they themselves are not aware of and is guided by a state of displacement that is sometimes forced and sometimes self-imposed. Boundaries fall away to give the characters a chance to redefine themselves but they often waste that opportunity by engaging in a series of mistakes and/or self-sabotage. Rosenfeld uses humor of which she says she was unaware of and this humor brings vulnerability to the fore with the comedy of human inscrutability coming to the reader.

Rosenfeld’s stories are wonderfully balanced and thus, the characters are unforgettable. She examines Jewish, Israeli, and American experiences by examining their intersections and divergences allowing us to see that the self is separate from culture.

 

 

“SABENA HIJACKING: MY VERSION— A Terrorist Siege

“Sabena Hijacking: My Version”

A Terrorist Siege

Amos Lassen

On May 8, 1972, the Palestinian group, Black September, seized control of Sabena Flight 971 shortly after takeoff from Vienna en route to Tel Aviv. The next day, Israeli Special Forces began a daring operation to rescue the passengers and retake the plane. This film gives us a moment-by-moment restaging of that nerve-racking time. The captain was held at gunpoint and Jewish passengers were separated from the others and the hijackers threatened to blow up the plane unless Israel agreed to release Palestinian prisoners. In the film, we hear from passengers who recall the events and we listen to newly discovered audio recordings of British pilot Reginald Levy, and an interview with the sole surviving hijacker. Also featured are future Israeli leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, who both took part in the raid, as well as Transport Minister Shimon Peres. Through striking reenactments and harrowing testimonies, this is a riveting look at the true story of a terrorist siege that forever shaped the State of Israel. “Sabena Hijacking: My Version” is both captivating and filled with suspense even with us knowing in advance how it all ends. The film juxtaposes Israeli and Palestinian narratives to pose hard questions about the seeds and legacy of political terrorism.

While hijackings are rare, El Al is always a target. In the film we see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two former Prime Ministers, Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak, as young men experiencing one of the most dramatic and difficult events of their lives. “Sabena Hijacking – My Version,” is a documentary and moment-by-moment reenactment of the hijacking of a Sabena Flight 971 by four armed members of the Palestinian Black September terrorist organization on May 8, 1972, and the storming of the jet by the Israeli Special Forces unit Sayeret Matkal. The film includes a dramatic and precise reenactment of the events of that day interspersed with testimonial interviews from all sides – the passengers, the Israeli soldiers and even one of the hijackers, as well as archival footage from the time. Among those interviewed are Peres, who was Minister of Transportation and Communications, Barak, who commanded Sayeret Matkal, and Netanyahu, a member of Sayeret Matkal and a member of the team that stormed the plane. Netanyahu was shot in the arm when Marco Ashkenazi, a fellow soldier hit a female terrorist in the head with his gun and accidentally pulled the trigger. One especially dramatic moment in the film features Netanyahu describing a dispute he and his older brother Yoni (who was killed on the far more famous hijacked aircraft raid in Entebbe four years later). Yoni wanted to be on the team storming the Sabena plane together with his brother’s unit. The younger Netanyahu insisted that they couldn’t both risk their lives entering a plane filled with explosives. “What will we tell our parents?” Benjamin asked. But Yoni insisted, saying “My life belongs to me, and so does my death.” Reaching a stalemate, they referred the dispute to their commander Ehud Barak, who agreed with the younger brother and ordered Yoni, despite his protests, to step down.

Netanyahu tells us what took place after he was injured. As he lay on the asphalt, he saw someone run to him from far away and he recognized his brother Yoni. As he came closer, he saw his brother’s clothing was stained with blood. In a moment (after realizing his brother’s injury was minor) his face changed and he told you that he shouldn’t have gone.

In the 1970’s when terrorists were like animals of prey, grabbing planes, kidnapping passengers and threatening to kill them and sometimes succeeded in doing so. The lesson of this era, for Israel was that it was not merely sophisticated military expertise but determination and daring against those who threatened Israel with this kind us of terrorism. Today, terror has become more widespread and is the product of terrorist states and disintegrating state entities. It is important that Israel has the resolve and to defend itself and what is true of Sabena is still true today.

The Sabena aircraft was piloted by Reginald Levy, a British Jew, who died in 2010 and on whose memoirs much of the film’s drama was based. It was taken over en route from Vienna to Tel Aviv by armed hijackers with the demand that Israel release 300 political prisoners. If Israel did not comply, they threatened to blow up the plane. They separated the Israeli passengers from the others, and landed the plane in Israel, where a waiting game ensued. The plane was secretly sabotaged and negotiators directed by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan stalled for time, as they formulated a plan, which entailed the commandos dressing up as aircraft technicians, allowing them to approach the plane without arousing the suspicion of the hijackers.

Of all the interviewees, the most riveting testimony was from Acre-born Therese Halsa, one of the Palestinian hijackers, who was 18 at the time of the hijacking. She is the only surviving hijacker; the two male members were shot and killed. She and her female accomplice who were wearing explosive triggers, survived the storming of the plane and were sentenced to prison terms. Despite the fact that the two female hijackers were sentenced to life, one was released after serving only seven years and Halsa after serving thirteen and she now lives in Jordan.

The film shows Halsa and the other hijackers as human and complex. One moment she was devotedly tending to the hostages, even administering an insulin shot to a passenger with diabetes, while in the next, she shows her sincere regret that she was foiled in her mission to blow up the plane after it was invaded by the Israel Defense Force commandos and her comrades were shot. She says that she really wanted to blow up that plane.

The film was created and produced by Nati Dinnar, who after reading detailed accounts of the hostage rescue, realized that it was as compelling, if not more so, than any fictional drama. He felt that this is an important story to tell since there is much in it to learn about terror. Dinnar said that it had been crucial to him to tell the stories from the perspectives of all participants, which is why he included extensive interviews with Bassam Abu Sharif, a former senior adviser to Yasser Arafat and leading cadre of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine who personally knew the Black September member, who led the hijacking operation and served as his voice in the film. He, like Halsa, are portrayed sympathetically in the film, not as a cold killer but as a desperate and conflicted man trying to be a freedom fighter who was outwitted and outmatched by the Israelis. Today, with suicide bombers and video beheadings, the behavior of the Black September terrorists as they waited patiently for their demands to be met feels quite restrained. They may have been threatening to take the lives of the plane’s passengers, but showed little thirst for blood.

“IN BETWEEN”— Balancing Tradition and Modern Culture

“In Between” (“Bar Bahr”)

Balancing Tradition and Modern Culture

Amos Lassen

Arab-Israeli writer-director Maysaloun Hamoud’s feature debut “In Between” is the story of three Palestinian-Israeli women who live split lives. These strong, modern, sexually active women, live independently in the center of Tel Aviv, away from their families and the weight of tradition; they struggle to be true to themselves when confronting the expectations of others.

They women are fluent in Arabic and Hebrew and they dress in a way that makes them completely indistinguishable from their Israeli/Jewish contemporaries ultra-chic lawyer Layla (Mouna Hawa) is a very stylish and seductive lawyer and her flat-mate, Salma (Sana Jammelieh) is a lesbian disc-jockey, and part of a Palestinian cultural underground scene. They party until the wee hours at clubs, drink and do drugs with a set of bohemian friends. Salma adopts a more submissive persona when dutifully visiting her conservative Christian family, who believe that she is a music teacher and continue to invite potential suitors over for dinner. Layla, however, refuses to compromise her lifestyle and remains separate from her family. She ignores the romantic attentions of a Jewish attorney by telling him to “keep our flirtation fun.”

When Muslim graduate student, Nour (Shaden Kanboura) who wears a hijab comes to occupy the third bedroom in Layla and Salma’s apartment, the stage seems to be set for confrontation, but Hamoud instead shows the developing sisterhood between all the roommates. Not only do they share the uneasy status of being Arab-Israelis (and thus “other”) in a predominantly Jewish society, but they also share the problem of finding the right, supportive, understanding romantic partner.

Nour’s hypocritical fiancé, Wissam (Henry Andrawes), doesn’t understand why she wants to continue her studies and go on to work. He believes that eventually she will stay home, run their household, and mother their children. Nour’s perspectives on the world broaden due to her exposure to Layla, Salma, and their friends while Wissam’s continue to narrow. He accuses Nour of being a whore like her roommates, and treats her like one. While working as a bartender, Salma meets an attractive young doctor named Dunya (Ahlam Canaan) and they embark on an affair. Salma loves playing with fire and brings her new girlfriend to her parents’ place when she is supposed to meet yet another potential husband. Layla meets handsome filmmaker Ziad (Mahmoud Shalaby) and sparks fly but Ziad, despite having lived abroad and having a penchant for drink and drugs, can’t completely escape his conservative roots. He’s embarrassed to introduce Layla to his sister who still lives in a village and he criticizes her nonstop cigarette smoking.

Hamoud’s screenplay is a critique of traditional, patriarchal Palestinian society, threatened by modernity, feminine power, and the court of public opinion. We also see the racism of Israeli-Jewish society toward Arabs, from the people on the street who avoid a woman in a headscarf to the snarky manager at the restaurant where Salma works who yells at the kitchen staff for speaking to each other in Arabic.

The chemistry among the three women is excellent and they show the sense of living “in between” and the toll that it takes on their lives as “others”. Cinematographer Itay Gross shows the freedom and vibrancy of the women’s Tel Aviv life in contrast to the dull colors and claustrophobic spaces of village life. The viewers certainly get an update on their ideas about the lifestyle of Palestinian women in Israel. “In Between” focuses on daily life and is a portrait of social change. We see that alongside the traditional male-dominated Arab family structure that there exist independent females who are incredibly cool and part of an uninhibited underground scene. This is a light-hearted dramedy of girl power.

Certainly the women’s freedom comes at a price, but despite some dark and dramatic moments, none of the three young women looks likely to go back to a traditional life however uncomfortable it can be to live “in between” tradition and modernity. The opening disco sequence is a challenge to straight society.

Salma and Layla have minds of their own don’t bat an eye over the arrival of a fully covered Islamic Nour who has come to live with them. Despite the prejudice she might initially incite, she’s a woman in transition, just on the brink of liberating herself. In one of the film’s most shocking moments, her arrogant fiancé just can’t understand why she wants to study and work instead of keeping house for him and their future children and makes an intense gesture of disrespect that sets off a compassionate display of solidarity.

Hamoud tackles almost all the taboos of Arab Israeli society: drugs, alcohol, and homosexuality. Salma is rejected by her Christian family for being a lesbian, while Leila leaves her boyfriend when she discovers he is more conservative than he claims. Nour ultimately rebels against her family and traditions by leaving her religious fiancé Wissam after he rapes her. The municipality of the Muslim village Umm am-Fahm has issued a statement condemning the film as being “without the slightest element of truth” and barring it from being screened there and Hamoud as well as her actresses have received death threats.

“Bar Bahar” literally meaning “land and sea” in Arabic and translates as “neither here, nor there” in Hebrew. I understand that Hamoud chose to set the film in Tel Aviv that is regarded the most tolerant and liberal city in Israel to make a point that even there racism against Arabs is prevalent.

“The Only Language They Understand” by Nathan Thrall—Can the Status Quo in the Israel/Palestine Conflict Be Changed?

Thrall, Nathan. “The Only Language They Understand”, Metropolitan, 2017.

Can the Status Quo in the Israel/Palestine Conflict Be Changed?

Amos Lassen

Nathan Thrall is considered to be one of the best informed, most insightful, and least polemical analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His conclusion about the present conflict is the title of his new book, “The Only Language They Understand”, and it is that the status quo will remain in place indefinitely unless the two sides are forced to change it. No one is prepared to exert such force.

It’s been tried in the past but not since the 1990s. It was then that President Jimmy Carter confronted Israel repeatedly and unrelentingly, threatening at one point to terminate U.S. military assistance. There were accusations that he was “selling Israel out,” and the ultimate outcome was the Camp David Accords of September, 1978. In 1991 James Baker, George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of State, withheld a $10 billion loan guarantee and brought Israel to the negotiating table in Madrid.

Without pressure, however, neither Israel nor Palestine have much of an incentive to upset the existing conditions, according to Thrall sees it. Israel’s position has only strengthened since the Oslo Accords of the mid-1990s. She has greater control of more of the West Bank and this includes an extensive security barrier, some of which it would have to give up in a peace agreement. Palestinian Authority leaders understand that foreign aid, and their own jobs, would be at risk if there were a comprehensive peace deal. They also realize that their relation to Israel has profoundly changed— “transformed from a protector against an occupying army into an agglomeration of self-interested businessmen securing exclusive contracts from it.” There are world leaders who maintain that time is short, but as Thrall reminds us that that peace is within grasp but overstated as warnings that the perpetually closing window for a two-state solution has nearly shut, or that the occupation of the West Bank “will make Israel an international pariah.” Meanwhile, Israel has become a regional power and cordially works with Egypt and Jordan, and quietly with Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the Emirates.

Thrall also updates several important pieces which first appeared in periodicals. He deconstructs Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land” and documents the shortcomings of Shavit’s history of Israel and the flaws in his reasoning. He also takes a hard look at the Shavit’s book and how it was so ecstatically received by American Jews.

Then there is Thrall’s very strong critique of John Kerry’s diplomatic ministrations and calls them “faith-based diplomacy”. —is also required reading. “Kerry found a formula to launch new negotiations: he made inconsistent promises to each side.” He also gives us a look at the failures of the Obama Administration’s approach and states that these did not attain anything whatever.

In several other essays, Thrall looks at the intifadas and other Palestinian protests; the increasing Israeli dominance of East Jerusalem; Hamas; and the skepticism about the “two-state solution.” Everything he says is documented, hugely informative and argued. What we get here is a clear understanding of

the dynamics of Israeli-Palestinian relations as well as an essential guide to the history, personalities, and ideas behind the conflict.

“Three Floors Up” by Eshkol Nevo— An Apartment Building in Tel Aviv

Nevo, Eshkol. “Three Floors Up”, (translated by Sondra Silverston), Other Press, 2017.

An Apartment Building in Tel Aviv

Amos Lassen

One of the books due out later this year is one I have been eager to read since I first heard about it. Set in an upper-middle-class Tel Aviv apartment building, this Israeli novel examines the interconnected lives of its residents and their turmoils, secrets, unreliable confessions, and problematic decisions and readers see a society in the midst of an identity crisis.

Arnon, a tormented retired officer who fought in the First Intifada lives on the first floor and he confesses to an army friend with a troubled military past how his obsession about his young daughter’s safety caused him to lose control and put his marriage in peril. Above Arnon lives Hani, “the widow,” whose husband travels the world for his lucrative job while she stays at home with their two children. Hani becomes increasingly isolated and unstable. When her brother-in-law suddenly appears at their door begging her to hide him from loan sharks and the police, she agrees to do so in spite of the risk to her family. She thinks that his being there might bring some emotional excitement into her life. On the top floor lives a former judge, Devora. Now that she has retired, she is anxious to start a new life and joins a social movement, while desperately trying to reconnect with her estranged son. She falls in love with a man who isn’t what he seems. 

I have lived in an apartment house in Tel Aviv and can tell you from what I saw is that each building of this kind is almost a microcosm of the larger society of Israel. Writer Eshkol Nevo vividly “depicts how the grinding effects of social and political ills play out in the psyche of his flawed yet compelling characters, in often unexpected and explosive ways”.

“All the Rivers: A Novel” by Dorit Rabinyan— An Untenable Love Affair

Rabinyan, Dorit. “All the Rivers: A Novel”, (translated by Jessica Cohen), Random House, 2017.

An Untenable Love Affair

Amos Lassen

When Liat meets Hilmi on an autumn afternoon in Greenwich Village, she realizes that she is unwillingly drawn to him. Hilmi is a talented young artist from Palestine who is handsome and charismatic. Liat is an aspiring translation student who plans to return home to Israel the following summer. Even though they knew that their love can be only temporary and that it can exist only away from their conflicted homeland, Liat nonetheless lets herself be enchanted by Hilmi. His wise eyes spoke directly to her and he was both sweet and devoted to her.

Together the young lovers explore New York City and as they do they shares their thoughts and their homesickness for their countries. However, the joy that Liat feels is filled with guilt that comes from hiding him from her family in Israel and her Jewish friends in New York. As her departure date nears and her feelings for Hilmi deepen, Liat must decide whether she is willing to risk alienating her family, her community, and her sense of self for Hilmi’s love.

The book has been banned from Israeli school classrooms by Israel’s Ministry of Education. It is quite basically the story of a forbidden relationship, a love story and a war story. It is also a New York story and a Middle East story that dives into the forces that bind us and divide us. Hilmi reminds Liat that the land is the same land and all of its rivers flow into the same sea in the end. What we really see here is how public events play upon the private lives of those who attempt to live and love in peace with each other. This is a very human story of rapprochement and separation that brings together reality and emotions.

Liat and Hilmi’s chance meeting sparks a love affair that takes readers on a five-month journey through New York City. But the young lovers have to deal with the knowledge that their secret love is forbidden by their families and will have to end when Liat returns to Israel in just five months. Back in Israel they are separated physically by just forty miles but those forty miles are quite a distance ideologically.

We know when we meet that this relationship is essentially on a timetable. We see both sides of the conflict well and we understand that the two characters passionately believed they were right in the way they felt. While I wanted to find the love story to be convincing, I felt something was missing but the book does help us to understand both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from two very personal and opposing views.