Arabs on Israeli Screens

Israeli films portray the ties and the tensions between Jews and Arabs.

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Films have been produced that explore the basic bonds of common destiny between Arab and Jew. In Beyond the Walls (Uri Barbash, 1984) and Cup Final (Eran Riklis, 1991) outside forces cause the Jews and Arabs to forge an otherwise unlikely alliance.

An image from the 1991 film Cup Final, directed by Eran Riklis 

Beyond the Walls is a hard-hitting film about life in a maximum security prison, where Arab political prisoners and Jewish hard-core criminals live side-by-side. Acclaimed both in Israel and abroad, the film was awarded the Critics' Prize at Venice and an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Picture.

In the tense prison atmosphere, which includes homosexual rape, arson, and murder, Jews and Arabs are seen as victims of the cruel warden. The film challenges political and social stereotypes and portrays larger-than-life characters. It leaves one with a clear metaphor of Arab and Jew being locked up together, banding together against a common enemy, condemned to mutual acceptance and coexistence.israeli culture quiz

Similar to Beyond the Walls, Cup Final leads the viewer along a road toward the possibilities of mutual understanding: The conclusion, however, is less optimistic. With the 1982 War in Lebanon serving as a backdrop, the film explores the themes of male bonding during wartime, the relationship between captor and captive, and the possibility of coexistence in the politically tense atmosphere of the Middle East.

Understanding One's Enemy

Any possibility of achieving understanding and coexistence in Israeli society is complicated by the fact that Israel has been in a continuous state of war with its Arab neighbors since its existence. For the first 19 years following Israel's 1948 independence, the Arabs in the region comprised the major power bloc both militarily and politically. Following the war of 1967, however, there was a giant turning of the tables, and suddenly they found themselves as the losers in battle. At that time, the Jews, who had been the underdog for thousands of years, found themselves in a position of strength. Avanti Popoli (Rafi Bukaee, 1986) explores this reversal of roles and makes a plea for understanding the humanity of the Arab enemy.

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Amy Kronish

Amy Kronish is a freelance film consultant from Jerusalem who has lectured, written, taught, and produced extensively and internationally. For 15 years she worked at the Jerusalem Cinematheque/Israeli Film Archive, where she eventually served as Curate of Jewish and Israeli Film. She is previously the author of World Cinema: Israel.