Monday, November 30, 2020

Other Israel Film Festival Spotlight: Ma’abarot

I’m delighted to be returning for the seventh time to cover the Other Israel Film Festival, which features a diverse crop of Israeli and Palestinian cinema and is hosted by the JCC Manhattan. The 14th Annual Other Israel Film Festival runs virtually December 3rd-10th, 2020.

Directed by Dina Zvi Riklis
Ticket Information

In 1948, Israel officially became a country and faced many uphill battles in the formation of its nation, including minimal international recognition of its right to exist. The creation of a Jewish state was seen by communities around the world as a return to its historical homeland, and tremendous numbers came to Israel seeking a safe haven from their countries of origin, which were no longer friendly to them. The attitude towards Holocaust survivors from Europe and Jews from the Middle East and Africa was not the same, fostering a system of inequality explored in depth in this documentary.

This film’s title refers to the transit camps established to house the hundreds of thousands of new arrivals to the country. Former residents who lived for years in these camps are interviewed as they reflect back upon what they experienced and the way that they were treated, explaining how the camps were structured and run. Those coming from Yemen, Morocco, Syria, and other places note the disparity in the governmental perception of their communities and those from Romania, Poland, and other Ashkenazi areas who were given access to superior housing options and generally better fortunes.

The ideas covered in this film are far from surprising, and they feel reminiscent of the current spotlight on systemic racism in America. While many would not acknowledge that they see a difference between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic residents of Israel, it is clear that those who have experienced discrimination and unequal circumstances believe their perspectives to be valid, which in itself is reason enough to hear from them and learn from what they have to share. As a selection of the Other Israel Film Festival, this film serves a crucial function examining Israeli society as much more complex than simply a years-long conflict between Jewish and non-Jewish populations.

The content presented in this film is unsettling since the trauma endured by so many of its interviewees continues to be felt decades after their arrival to Israel. The use of archive footage of the transit camps is very effective in recreating the feeling of the time, and hearing from the people who now have much more life experience to reflect back on than they did when they first entered Israel is truly meaningful. Most countries aren’t nearly as young as Israel and the road to where things are at the moment must be traced through a much longer process, and this film offers a rare opportunity to look back a short time and gain tremendous knowledge from those still around to talk about what they remember.


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