ISRAEL: A Borrowed Identity (זהות שאולה, 2014)


Success Case: Arab-Israeli Relationships in “A Borrowed Identity”

by Zoe Swaine

Please watch the video before reading the crafter statement.  Thank you.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a land issue for decades and the violence surrounding the issue has yet to be resolved. The problem comes down to the Israeli land in the Middle East which is nearly impossible to determine who owns it because claims date back centuries. Conflict over land has led to forced evacuations of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and missile strikes, killings, and riots on both sides. Israelis and Palestinians have a strong hatred for one another, and violence has made it even harder for the two groups to acknowledge any common ground. The Israeli drama film set, A Borrowed Identity by director Eran Riklis portrays an intercultural Israeli and Palestinian relationship in the 1990s which successfully bridges this gap, while still acknowledging the reality of the ongoing conflict. One speech by Israeli Politician Yossi Beilin called “Achieving Peace in the Middle East,” comments on what has, and continues to prevent any peacemaking. He claims that two courageous leaders were unable “to sit down, make mutual compromises, and sign the agreement” (Shefrin, 274). Realizing that these two groups hold more similarities than differences and effectively establishing common ground will be the first step to seeing one another not as the enemy, but rather as people.

Israeli film has been a route to comment on ongoing political issues surrounding Israel, and the production of film since the rise of the Arab-Israeli conflict has been a source of discussion (Shepkaru 81). However, its effectiveness to inspire peace has been unsuccessful. Shmuel Shepkaru, professor of Jewish Intellectual and Religious History, states that while these early movies were well-intentioned to provide mutual respect across groups in film, the failure of these films was a lack of Arab’s “individual voices” (Shepkaru 81). Without individual voices, films portrayed Arabs as one homogeneous group, with similar attitudes and beliefs, which is clearly unrepresentative to the diversity of any group of people.

More recently, an article called “Re-Mediating the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Use of Films to Facilitate Dialogue” by Elana Shefrin has explored few, but powerful successful documentaries about real Arab-Israeli relationships to facilitate dialogue between both groups. Those relationships in documentaries were able to “remediate fear-filled enemy stereotypes” (Shefrin 300) across both Israelis and Palestinians and establish a necessary commonality. Nevertheless, this secret peacebuilding superpower has never been properly employed, leading to continual harmful stereotypes and degrading Arab narratives to remain the central narrative of an Israeli film. Oftentimes Israeli drama films will force an erotic “forbidden” and “sexualized” backbone onto these relationships, forming an inherent power dynamic (Yosef). In Eyad’s final speech in his Jewish boarding school, he cites works like The Lover by A.B. Yehoshua and My Michael by Amos Oz which portray Arabs in degrading lights. Eyad argues that this occurs so often because it is “easier for the author and their readers when an Arab makes a move on a Jewish girl.” Therefore, this narrative translates into passionate and unbalanced love affairs, rather than equal relationships, which ineffectively promote any peacebuilding across Arabs and Israelis. It is clear that if Israeli drama films want to embrace these intercultural relationships then the relationship must be raw and exposed to the realities of the world they are living in.

As shown in the video essay, I pinpointed two characters, Eyad, an Arab boy who attends an Israeli boarding school in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and Naomi, an Israeli girl who welcomes Eyad with open arms. This main reality of the relationship is depicted through the ending of the couple’s breakup shown first in the video essay to differentiate A Borrowed Identity from other drama films. The couple breaks up in the end to show the reality of the pressures of Israeli society against their love for one another. Nonetheless, A Borrowed Identity successfully builds a “romantic bridge” (Loshitzky 112) across Arabs and Israelis through genuine love. The couple’s attraction is easily shared after Naomi shows an initial interest in Eyad in the library when she asks him about a chemistry problem. They began dating shortly after, only hanging out in the empty theatre with one another to hide from watching eyes. However, the couple must endure their families opposing feelings against their relationship, along with larger government politics, inevitably leading to their breakup. This couple successfully forms a “romantic bridge” (Loshitzky, 12) through their mutual respect and open communication. When their relationship is presented with a conflict, both characters equally communicate their growing concerns for the relationship as “real-world” problems begin to infiltrate their happiness with one another. They even joke around with one another about the hurtful threat of Naomi’s mother against their relationship, showing that the love they share transcends the hurt. In scenes where they say that they love one another, asking to say it in their native language also shows that their love even bridges their language gap. Naomi and Eyad’s openness and acceptance of their difficult situation create a realistic successful intercultural relationship depicted on an Israeli screen.

Works Cited

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