Shattering the narratives

Igal Hecht talks to the ‘Magazine’ about making his award-winning film ‘My Home,’ which explores opinions of minority groups living in Israel.

Jonathan, a Christian from Lebanon who is grateful to be living in Israel, where he says he enjoys equal rights (photo credit: IGAL HECHT)
Jonathan, a Christian from Lebanon who is grateful to be living in Israel, where he says he enjoys equal rights
(photo credit: IGAL HECHT)
On January 1, an Israeli Arab carried out a horrific shooting in the heart of Tel Aviv, killing three innocent people and wounding six. Police confirmed that the motivation was nationalistic.
The assailant, Nashat Milhem, fled and managed to hide in his hometown of Arara in the north for a week, until security forces closed in on him. He “received full aid, especially from his family members,” police stated at the time. “Every day he slept in a different place. They brought him food and took care of him.”
Even his father, who had served as a police volunteer, was among those arrested on charges of abetting the murderer.
Living in the mixed city of Acre is Anett Haskia, an Arab Muslim woman who identifies as a Zionist and tried to win a seat in Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi Party before the last national election, albeit unsuccessfully.
Her three children – two sons and a daughter – all served in combat units in the IDF.
As Israelis struggle with growing security threats, including the Islamic State terrorist organization at its borders, many wonder: Is the non-Jewish minority, which constitutes 20 percent of the population, essentially loyal to Israel? Do most of its members seek the end of the Jewish state? On the other hand, is there racism against Israel’s minority groups? Does Israel treat its minorities equally? Are Jewish Israelis legitimately fearful of their Arab co-citizens? Israeli-born Canadian filmmaker Igal Hecht of Chutzpa Productions interviewed Muslims, Christians, Druse and Beduin, and followed some of their interaction with the Jewish majority. The result is his latest film, My Home, which premiered on the Documentary Channel in Canada in May and picked up the Best Director award at the 2016 Global Cinema Film Festival in Boston. The European premiere will take place at the Berlin Jewish Film Festival on June 15.
My Home is an enlightening film, offering fascinating insight into the lives and the unique predicaments of those non-Jewish citizens of the Jewish state who are peaceful, as well as exposure to the anarchists who sacrifice the good of their people for a destructive agenda. It should be required viewing for all Israelis as a first step toward improved understanding and coexistence.
Yet coexistence does exist somewhat.
In an interview with the Magazine, Hecht discusses the process of making his film and what he learned along the way.
Sitting at the Aroma Espresso Bar in Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall, Hecht says, “Just look around,” pointing to the diverse population strolling outside.
“The minorities are integrated. They are members of Israeli society. But that doesn’t mean that there’s no racism.”
How does your research differ from that of local Israeli journalists, especially considering that they live in the conflict zone? I’m looking as objectively as I can, as an outsider. I have made over 50 films, and about 30 of them deal with Israel and the Middle East. I come at each one as an observer. I don’t have the typical cynicism that a lot of Israeli filmmakers do. There’s a lot of self-hatred [among many Israeli filmmakers]. I don’t feel the need to define the State of Israel in order to please some European broadcaster so that I could make money. I self-produced the film. I just believe that it’s really important to show the situation of the minorities here – the true situation.
How did you pick your interviewees? Lior Cohen, my amazing photographer, and head researcher/fixer Dotan Nave connected me with some people.
I contacted them online, and it snowballed.
It will be a five-part series. I interviewed 30 people and picked the four that I highlighted because they represented different communities. I wanted to create a stand-alone film that presents the major issues in a concise way and to be accessible to as many people as possible.
We also interviewed members of the Joint List Party, including the Arabic- speakers. If we’re going to show what Hebrew-speaking politicians say in Hebrew, we should also listen to what the Arab politicians say in Arabic.
I think this film shatters the narratives.
One narrative is that of the Left, that Arabs have no rights. There is some truth in it; racism is experienced by minorities to a certain extent in every country, unfortunately.
It isn’t justified and it needs to be combated, but it exists.
The other narrative is that of the Right, who say they all want to kill us.
The point [of the film] is to give a voice to those who have never been given a platform, not just the extremists.
How can Israel improve when it comes to treating its minorities? One of the main issues is that Israelis lump all the minorities together as “Arabs.”
That’s the No. 1 problem, because they are so diverse. This is the shift that needs to happen.
The people I interviewed believe in Israel, and they want the world to know it. They know what the alternative is.
We see it all over the Middle East. It’s extremely unfair to judge Israel without considering the neighborhood.
Many on the Left who criticize the state are sitting in their ivory towers and never really talk to those minorities whom they claim to defend. They themselves are racist. They’ll say about their Arab acquaintances, ‘He makes the best hummus’ or ‘He does a great job fixing my car.’ That’s stereotypical. We wanted to go beyond the stereotypes.
To me, the funniest part of the film was when Jonathan [a Christian from Lebanon] was saying how good it is here in Israel, and the Jewish leftist was saying the opposite. To me, that was the most bizarre moment.
What about some Arab Knesset members who, despite being Israeli parliamentarians, appear to be working against the state? [Haneen] Zoabi and others like her do not represent the majority of their constituents, not even those who voted for them, because there was no one else to vote for. Meretz isn’t a [viable] choice.
I think the majority doesn’t want to be seen as an enemy of the state. They’re integrating. I think the state should make it easier. It should be a top priority.
The process was started, many steps that have been taken are positive, but there needs to be more. You can’t announce funding for infrastructure and not follow through, for example.
A virulently anti-Israel demonstration took place in [the northern Arab village of] Sakhnin during the recent wave of Palestinian violence, with about 20,000 participants. What does that indicate? It was a large protest, absolutely. But 20,000 out of 1.8 million [in the country] in a village particularly known as a hotbed? Would they get 20,000 elsewhere? I don’t know, but they picked a specific location.
That’s the great thing about this country – the democracy. Zoabi can say whatever she wants. As infuriating as it is, this is the essence of democracy, and it should be celebrated. This is the true strength of Israel.
Did you try interviewing the more hostile elements among the minorities, aside from the politicians? We did speak to individuals of all political beliefs. I felt that the opinions of extremists and those who are opposed to the State of Israel were illustrated via the Knesset members, and I didn’t want to show a one-dimensional view. Clearly, there are extremists, and they should be dealt with by the Israeli authorities and media. However, to paint all minorities as part of this is simply factually and intellectually wrong.
I do think that most among the minorities are integrating. I do think the politicians are thriving on incitement, and I do think it’s time the Israeli media look beyond and actually speak to everyday minorities.
They will find what I’ve found.
Do you consider yourself right-wing? No, I consider myself rational. There are issues on which I’m on the Left, such as gay rights and social welfare, but I’m very right when it comes to security.
It depends on the issue. But people in Canada and elsewhere have this perception that I must be right-wing because I’m pro-Israel.
To me, being pro-Israel means being pro-democracy, pro-21st century, pro-human rights. I don’t say that everything is so amazing; it’s not. There are so many issues. But they exist in all other countries as well. Here, people debate. I do believe that democracy trumps everything here. It boggles my mind how much hatred there is around the world for this country.
I believe that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is the definition of racism, and the Jews who are anti-Zionist are the biggest racists.