[Marxism] Crossing the divide: Cooking with the enemy

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sat Jul 5 08:43:34 MDT 2008

(This director made a stunning 1984 feature film
called BEYOND THE WALLS in which Israeli common
criminals are compelled by circumstances to find
common ground with Palestinian political prisoners
when an Israeli man is put in among them after he
committed the then-heinous crime of meeting with
the Palestine Liberation Organization. I hope it
gets a broader international release. It's unlikely
to get more than that, but if it's half the result
BEYOND THE WALLS was, it will be worth your time.

(I'm not at all unaware of the fact that producing
and distributing materials like this are used by
Israel to present an image of a society with less
violent intolerance toward Palestinians than their
actual practice in the occupied territories really
is, but in the context of racist dehumanization of
Palestinians, in Israel and beyond, films like this
can open the minds of some people. There's a series
which tries to humanize public images of Islam in
that country, perhaps in a similar manner as this.

(I suppose Yossi will have criticisms of this show.
Go ahead, Yossi, I'm all ears. Lack of proletarian
perspective of whatever...)

Crossing the divide: Cooking with the enemy


Take two chefs, one Israeli and one Palestinian, and you have the
recipe for a groundbreaking TV drama that is helping to break down
barriers in the Middle East. Donald Macintyre reports

Friday, 4 July 2008

There's a moment when one of the two strong women at the centre of
Good Intentions, a ground-breaking television drama series showing at
prime-time on Israel's Channel Two, leaves a voicemail for the other,
who is preparing to drop her son off at the induction camp for the
first day of his compulsory army service. "I only wanted to wish you
good luck for your son," she says. "I hope he will be safe."

That would be unremarkable. Except that the woman making the call is
Amal, a Palestinian from Ramallah whose brother is paralysed from the
waist down after being shot by an Israeli army patrol; has just
passed through a hated military checkpoint on her way home from work;
and is struggling to protect her own daughter from the perils and
pressures of life under Israeli occupation.

Both women are chefs recruited for the series' show within a show, a
TV cookery programme with the – in the sceptical eyes of the unnamed
channel's bosses – outlandish idea of being co-presented by an
Israeli and Palestinian. The developing bond between them is
strengthened by the implacable opposition each faces from among her
nationalistic friends and family. Tami's husband, who once shot an
unarmed Palestinian during his army service, is angry and embarrassed
at her cooking in public with the enemy; the woman she runs a
restaurant with, whose husband was killed on military service, leaves
for a rival concern in protest at her doing the show; and her son
says that by working with a Palestinian she "weakens me as a

Across in the West Bank, Amal is facing problems as daunting and as
intimately portrayed. Her embittered brother regards his sister as a
collaborator for working with the enemy even though she has taken the
job to help provide for him. "Is it co-existence food?" he
dismissively asks her as he angrily refuses a meal she has prepared
for him. Her 12-year-old daughter is beaten up by her classmates.
"They said mother was co-operating with the Israelis and they have to
kill her," she tells her grandfather.

Mainly in Hebrew and Arabic – with subtitles in both – Good
Intentions is what director Uri Barabash, the Oscar-nominated Israeli
movie-maker who trained at the London Film School under Mike Leigh in
the 1970s, justly calls a "breakthrough" for peak-time Israeli TV.
Although the popular Arab Work programme was recently aired on
Channel Two, it was a sitcom in which the Arabs are Israeli citizens
and the Israel-Palestinian conflict is wholly absent. In Good
Intentions it is omnipresent. And with a steadily darkening
storyline, scripted by the Israeli writer Ronit Weiss-Berkovich, this
is no comedy.

But, says Barabash: "What is really important is that the most
mainstream Israeli channel you can think of is showing at prime time
once a week a drama series in which half the action is set in
Ramallah, in Arabic and about a Palestinian family. I'm very happy
and proud about it."

As with the fictional cookery show, the channel's network company
Reshet took some persuading to run Good Intentions. The inspiration
for it came from the Parents Circle-Families' Forum (PCFF), a joint
grassroots organisation of Israeli and Palestinian families bereaved
by the conflict. One of its most prominent members is Robi Damelin,
whose 28-year-old army reservist son, David, was killed by a
Palestinian sniper in 2002.

Ms Damelin, who believes "the occupation is killing the moral fibre
of Israel" has for several years travelled widely at home and abroad
presenting the PCFF's message of mutual understanding in partnership
with Ali Abu Awwad, a jailed Palestinian veteran of the first
intifada, whose brother, Yousef, was shot dead by an Israeli soldier
at a checkpoint and is now an advocate of non-violent resistance.

She regards Good Intentions as "a very unusual opportunity for
Israelis to get a glimpse of the other side and vice versa, to see
the human side of the so-called enemy".

At one point the circle dashed off a proposal to USAID for a grant
towards making a drama series. "You can imagine how surprised we were
when they said yes," she says. But while the US development aid
contribution of about $750,000 (£380,000) – between a third and half
of the show's total budget – certainly helped Reshet's decision, Ms
Damelin still believes it was "incredibly brave" of the network to
air the show.

The PCFF also brought the cast to a meeting at which eight bereaved
Palestinians and eight Israelis told their stories. For Clara Khoury,
the rising 31-year-old Arab Israeli actress who co-stars as Amal,
this was "really touching and powerful". She was especially affected
by a young Palestinian woman from the West Bank, Shireen, whose
civilian brother was shot and killed by Israeli forces. "This person,
so strong, gave me this encouraging power to get into this
character," she says, adding that even before that "I loved the idea
of this series. I accepted without reading it".

The secret has been to set what producer Haim Sharir calls a "trap"
for Israeli viewers who would normally switch off anything
conflict-related – by making the story so emotionally involving that
they are drawn into "understanding the other side".

But while he and Barabash are irritated that putting it up against
Euro 2008 kept the audience for the first five episodes down to
around 600,000, it has stuck by the eminently exportable series.

On the question of how far it can also penetrate the Palestinian
audience, Khoury says the feedback she has had has been positive –
including from friends in Ramallah. And Al Jazeera has now expressed
interest in airing the show – which would create a huge potential
audience for it in the Arab world.

Sharir believes the story is one that the satellite channel "could
live with if they are willing to show the other side just as we are".


     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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