Author Archives: Amy Kronish

Amy Kronish

About 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.

Gila Almagor

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Reprinted from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia with permission of the author and the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Writer and actress of stage and screen, Gila Almagor was born in Israel in 1940. When her parents married, they lived in Haifa, where her father, Max Alexandrowitz, an immigrant from Germany, was a policeman. Shortly after the marriage, when his wife was five months pregnant, he was killed by an Arab sniper. Alone in Palestine, his widow was left with a young child to raise. An additional burden was added when it became clear that her entire family had been murdered in the Holocaust, leaving her to bear the guilt of having survived while they perished.

Gila, an only child, grew up caring for her mother, who was slowly losing her grip on reality. When her mother was permanently institutionalized in 1954, Gila was sent to the Hadassim youth village where the other students were children of Holocaust survivors or of recent immigrants to the country. Gila Almagor

At the age of fifteen, Almagor left the youth village to go to Tel Aviv to become an actress. She studied at the Habimah Theater’s Drama School and after an internship there, was accepted into the company in 1956.

Accomplishments

In 1958 she moved to the Cameri Theater, where she worked until 1963 and again, after a visit abroad, from 1965. While she was affiliated with the Cameri Theater she became one of Israel’s leading ladies of the stage, appearing in plays at every Israeli theater. She later began working in film and has continued to work simultaneously both in theater and film throughout her entire career.

She has appeared in approximately forty Israeli feature films, dozens of stage plays and television dramas. Her starring roles in films include Siege, 1969; Highway Queen, 1971; House on Chelouche Street, 1973; My Mother the General, 1979; Summer of Aviya, 1988; Life According to Agfa, 1992; Sh’chur, 1994; and Passover Fever, 1995.

For many years, Gila Almagor accepted her media image as a Jew of Moroccan descent, a misperception which emerged from the many and varied roles she played in Israeli films. She had actually been hiding her true family background.

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Arabs on Israeli Screens

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 Before the establishment of the state of Israel, Arabs were portrayed in locally produced films as primitive and exotic, compared to the Jewish pioneers, who were seen as modern and industrious.  Arabs rode donkeys and used old-fashioned plows to work the land, whereas the Jews used mechanized equipment to dig for water, cultivate the land, and pave the roads. Arabs were part of the quaint local landscape, often depicted visually together with images such as camels, palm trees swaying in the breeze, and barren desert.

These early films did not provide an in-depth understanding of the local Arabs or their culture, and neglected to portray them as individuals. In fact, Arabs were portrayed as peripheral characters, and their roles were played by dark-skinned Sephardic Jews.

In the Galilee

Arabs continued to be portrayed as one-dimensional characters and visual symbols–and only appeared in supporting roles–until the Israeli political and psychological realities began to change in the 1980s. At that time, a major feature film was produced that grappled with relations between Jews and Arabs, set against the background of life in the agricultural area of the Galilee in northern Israel.

An image from the 1982 film Hamsin, directed by Daniel Wachsmann

Hamsin (Daniel Wachsmann, 1982) is still considered a landmark production because of its brutal honesty and intensity and because it was the first attempt at tackling this difficult subject. The film centers on the relationship between a cattle rancher and his young Arab hired hand, and it touches on issues of land expropriation, the difficulties Arabs faced being accepted within Jewish society, the growth of Arab nationalism, and the sensitive subject of sexual relations between Arab and Jew.

At about the same time, another film was produced about Arab-Jewish relations in the Galilee–this time from an Israeli-Arab point of view. Wedding in Galilee (Michel Khleifi, 1987) is a story of tensions between Israeli military authorities and Arab villagers during the 1950s and early 1960s, when Arabs in the Galilee were still under military law. The first feature film directed by an Israeli Palestinian Arab, Wedding in Galilee deals with generational differences in political consciousness, family tensions, and sexual inadequacies.

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