THINK ABOUT IT: Significant documentaries

The discussion in the Channel 13 TV studio was put in the hands of Lucy Aharish – a highly proficient Arab Muslim presenter, who fell into every possible pitfall during the discussion.

A Moroccan Jew prays at a synagogue in Tetouan. Most Jews left the country in the 1950s and 1960s (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Moroccan Jew prays at a synagogue in Tetouan. Most Jews left the country in the 1950s and 1960s
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last Thursday something bad happened to the documentary “Salah – here is Eretz Yisrael” (see my article of March 10), when a discussion held on the series after the fourth and last chapter of the film was broadcast, on Channel 13, went completely off course.
The discussion in the Channel 13 TV studio was put in the hands of Lucy Aharish – a highly proficient Arab Muslim presenter, who fell into every possible pitfall during the discussion on the highly charged subject of the film, and soon lost control of it altogether.
David Deri – the director of the film – was in charge of an improvised studio in Yeruham, and was clearly not coordinated with Aharish. Besides the fact that Aharish and Deri had not worked out how to run the discussion or what they wanted to achieve with it, too many interviewees were invited, given the relatively short time available, and making things worse, in Yeruham only Deri himself heard what was going on in Aharish’s studio.
In short – pandemonium.
What very quickly transpired was that Deri’s very effective approach to the film was not shared by the other two producers who participated in the program. As I stated in my previous article, Deri’s intention in the film was less to seek revenge for what had been done to the North African immigrants who had been shunted against their desire and will to development towns in the Negev, and more to open a gateway to corrective affirmative action, reconciliation, and closure.
On the other hand, his colleagues in making the film – Doron Galezer and Ruthie Yuval – appeared to be much more radical in their approach, and less tolerant of those who while admitting mistakes had been made and prejudices had been prevalent, felt that the film ignored the constraints under which the settlement authorities acted, and belittled the achievements of the immigrants themselves.
Galezer actually accused Amram Mitzna – the former Labor leader who was invited to participate in the discussion because he had served (voluntarily) as the appointed acting mayor of Yeruham in the years 2005-10, after the town’s elected mayor was deposed for corruption – of talking without having viewed the film, because he had spoken in such terms. The accusation was false – Mitzna had viewed all four chapters of the documentary.
Galezer’s and Yuval’s rather aggressive, intolerant approach, plus Deri’s insistence on letting some of the heroes of his film repeat without interruption what they had already said in the documentary at great length, left little opportunity or time for serious consideration of what those supportive of the film in general, but critical of some of the details, had to say.
Thus, for example, the Moroccan- born former mayor of Dimona, and current Yesh Atid MK Meir Cohen was interrupted in the middle of a sentence, after he had complimented Deri on the film but wished to express some reservations, simply because the time was up.
My concern now is that if the discussion on the documentary continues in the same vein as that held on Channel 13, it is liable to have very little practical effect on helping promote a healing process, and will merely serve politicians – especially to incite against the Ashkenazi elites of yesteryear in general, and the current Labor Party in particular.
Salah – here is Eretz Yisrael is not the only recent documentary film broadcast on Israeli TV airing painful issues in the Israeli reality. Another such documentary is that produced by Shlomi Eldar – a former Channel 10 reporter and commentator on Gaza affairs – entitled Foreign Land.
The film was broadcast on Channel 11 last Wednesday, despite the protests of Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who claimed that it is harmful to Israel’s image.
The 61-year-old Eldar, who is of Iraqi origin, left Israel for the US several years ago, after he discovered that the Israeli public was not interested in his style of reporting. Said style was exemplified by a telephone conversation he held on January 16, 2009, in the midst of Operation Cast Lead, with Dr. Azadin Abu Ayash – a gynecologist from Gaza who had worked in an Israeli hospital – which was broadcast in real time, in which Dr. Abu Ayash cried out in despair that three of his daughters had just been killed in an Israeli bombardment of his home in Jabalya.
Eldar kept him on the line, and simultaneously contacted the military authorities begging them to stop the bombardment and help save the life of another of the doctor’s daughters, who had been wounded.
Eldar’s film describes his own rather detached existence in the US since leaving Israel, and his longing for Israel despite the continued deterioration in the level of empathy the Israeli population and leaders demonstrate toward the fate of the Palestinian population, both in Israel proper and the territories.
The film also deals with the Israeli Arab actor Ghassan Abbas – a personal friend of Eldar’s – who used to live in Tel Aviv, and performed in many Israeli plays and TV series. Abbas left Tel Aviv for Umm el-Fahm, where he was born, several years ago due to growing racism he came across in the capital of Israeli liberalism, but admits to feeling estranged also in the Arab city, where Islamists reign and where Western theater is frowned upon. His dream is to leave Israel and find peace and quiet – which is also what Eldar sought but did not find – a dream that he is apparently unlikely to realize.
Only Abu Ayash, whom Eldar had interviewed in 2009, and about whom Abbas had put on a one-man play in 2012, based on Abu Ayash’ autobiography I Shall Not Hate, appears to have constructed a new life for himself and what remains of his family in Canada.
I must admit that Eldar’s documentary had a profound effect on me, and increased my feeling of hopelessness in face of the current Israeli reality. If the likes of Eldar and Abbas – an Israeli Jew and Israeli Arab, who devoted their lives to coexistence in this country – have despaired, then what hope is there for those of us who believe that we as Jews have a historic right to a state in Eretz Yisrael, but that the native Palestinians also have a right to lead decent lives in this land, and that we must find the way to coexist else we shall end up destroying each other? While I still want to believe that Salah – here is Eretz Yisrael has a chance of leading to a better, healthier and more optimistic balance between Ashkenazim and Sephardim in this country despite what I wrote at the outset, I have no illusions that Foreign Land has any chance of contributing to a change in the attitude of the Israeli public towards coexistence – certainly not as long as the likes of Miri Regev are in positions of power.
At least it is encouraging that the broadcasting corporation (Channel 11) had the guts to show the documentary, despite Regev.