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Gay and Arab in Israel

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Elie Chalala

17 Oriented_1“Oriented,” set in Tel Aviv, presents the dilemmas of three gay Arab men struggling with their Arab/Palestinian identities in Israeli society. While the film doesn’t cover new territory in terms of sexual politics in Israel or in Arab cultures, it does introduce us to three differing responses to Arab/Palestinian identity at a time of heightened conflict, up to and including the 2014 Gaza War. Israeli news clips play periodically in the background, marking the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers, the reprisal killing of the Palestinian youth, and the war itself. Against this backdrop, filmmaker Jake Witzenfeld presents the personal struggles of the three friends, who have cofounded Qambuta, a video activist organization.
Fadi, who possesses the strongest Palestinian identity, finds himself falling in love with a Zionist Israeli soldier. His attraction to someone who “doesn’t believe there’s an occupation,” and “doesn’t believe my people went through a catastrophe” has plagued him with self-doubt. “I’m in love with everything I fight against,” he says. “What if he leaves me? I’ll be without him and without my principles.” His friend’s counsel to “just have fun if he makes you feel good” seems trite in response.
At the other extreme, Naeem finds conflicts with Israeli Jews far from his thoughts as he struggles to come out to his parents. How will he tell them that he has no intention of marrying and carrying on the family line? In one of the best scenes in the film, his family discusses his “problem,” which they see as his desire to live in Tel Aviv, far from their village, never realizing (or acknowledging) the fundamental reason behind his need to escape their provincialism.
Fed up with the Jewish/Arab conflict in Israel, the third man, Khader, along with his “leftist” Israeli Jew lover, escapes to Berlin and even toys with the idea of permanently moving there. Convinced that the Gaza War will only intensify the scapegoating of Arabs, Khader finds himself torn. As an Arab, how can he leave Israel? His friend Fadi reinforces these doubts, pointing out, “That’s what they want – for you to leave.”
The refreshing lack of any ideological statements about Arab or sexual identity in Israel allows the film to focus on the individual struggles of these three young Arabs, who happen to be gay. Though Naeem’s gay identity motivates his desire to come out, the other two men struggle with more universal issues. Anyone, regardless of his sexual orientation, can find himself falling in love with someone who denies his reality, or can find himself becoming fed up with racial victimization. Their personal dilemmas have more to do with being Arab in Israel during the 2014 Gaza War. Witzenfeld teases us with the issue of negotiating life in this context, but unfortunately leaves this question largely unexplored.
Pamela Nice
Directed by Jake Witzenfeld
Grasshopper Film, 2016
Artwork Still from “Oriented,” courtesy of Grasshopper Film, via
This review appeared in Al Jadid Magazine, Vol. 21, No. 73, 2017.
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