Arabs on Israeli Screens

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

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During the final hours of the 1967 Six Day War, two Egyptian soldiers are desperately trying to find their way back to the Suez Canal. When they happen across an Israeli patrol, using the only language they have in common--the language of the theater--one of the Egyptians, a professional actor, recites the monologue from Shylock. He is begging for water and understanding at the same time: "I am a Jew. Has not a Jew eyes, emotions, senses? Do we not bleed?" With this reference to Shylock, director/scriptwriter Rafi Bukaee is saying to his Israeli film-going public, You were an oppressed minority in the Diaspora; now it is time for you to understand and empathize with the oppressed minority within your midst.

Avanti Popolo is about perceiving the human being behind the face of the enemy. Although it refers to wartime, it is a metaphor for the greater understanding of Arabs in general, on both sides of the border. The need for developing a better understanding and relationship between Jews and Arabs within Israel is the theme of two additional films produced in the 1980s. Marriage of Convenience (Haim Bouzaglo, 1988) is a comedy told from the middle-class Israeli point of view, and Nadia (Amnon Rubinstein, 1986) is from the point of view of an Israeli Palestinian teenage girl.

Realism & Surrealism in the Territories

The effects of the military occupation of the West Bank on the relations between Jews and Arabs have been examined in The Smile of the Lamb (Shimon Dotan, 1986), an adaptation of the book by award-winning novelist David Grossman. Both a political and literary film, it focuses on the growing political awareness of an old Arab wise man who sprinkles his food with the soil of the land --"When I finish eating all my land, I can die in peace." Turkish actor Tuncel Curtiz won a prize at the 1986 Berlin Film Festival for this role.

Although Smile of the Lamb provides no solutions to the problems between Arabs and Jews in the territories, it does offer insight into emotional issues such as friendship and trust, and political issues such as confrontation, occupation, and coexistence.


During the 1990s, as the peace process developed, fewer films dealt with Arab-Jewish issues on the Israeli screen. Following Cup Final in 1991, two allegorical feature films were produced dealing with relations between Arabs and Jews: The Flying Camel (Rami Na'aman, 1994) and Circus Palestine (Eyal Halfon, 1998). The first is a statement about Jews and Palestinians rebuilding elements of the past and working together for a common future. The second is a complex film that takes place in a Palestinian town under Israeli occupation.

Some of the films about Arabs and Arab-Jewish relationships produced in Israel during the last 20 years are deeply pessimistic, ending in violence. Others offer a vision of coexistence and mutual support even in the midst of brutality and war. There are also films that make a plea for better understanding between the two groups. All of the films, however, reflect a rising consciousness among Israeli filmmakers--both Jewish and Arab--of the new regard for Arab-Jewish relations within Israeli society.

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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.