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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Our Land – And Ours

To live in Israel is barely to begin to understand it.

You’ve just learned to nail jelly to the wall, step back to admire your handiwork, only to watch it slither off and cause you to trip up over the mess!

So it is with cinema. I often boast that we’re treated to popular movies many months before they’re released in the U.K. or Europe.

But now I’ve discovered that Zaytoun (Olives), a new film directed by Israeli Eran Riklis and which opened here on Thursday last week, was viewed  as  ‘feel good’ Christmas fare by British audiences in December last year.

It was a great pity, moreover, that a bare half-dozen middle-aged viewers were at the Saturday night screening in Nahariya. Were others deterred as some of Riklis’s previous work like Lemon Tree has proved unpopular with local audiences? That notwithstanding, I felt like saying to those present, “just think, we’re so near to where the action takes place, I suggest we get out of here and investigate its truth”. 

ZaytounThe storyline, set during the 1982 Lebanon War, traces the unlikely but growing affection between an Israeli fighter pilot, Yoni (Stephen Dorff), and a Palestinian boy, Fahed (Abedallah El Akal). They meet after Yoni is shot down and captured  outside the Shatilla refugee camp in Beirut where the boy lives and is being trained in terrorism. Fahed and his friends are left to guard Yoni. But Fahed is persuaded to free him in exchange for helping him to get over the border into Israel where he wants to plant an olive tree at his family’s abandoned home.

Objective critics have dismissed the film as fanciful; a mere road-cum-buddy movie. But it’s much more than that. While the professionals sneer at it for being hugely entertaining but whimsically twee, I believe Riklis, an IDF Yom Kippur War veteran and his screenwriter, Nader Rizq take pains to tackle the history on both sides of the conflict with precision and even-handed care. What’s more, having got to know the area a little, I can assure outsiders that the countryside around Tiberius is captured in all its compelling beauty.

I consider the film to be another hit for Riklis and  producer, Gareth Unwin (The King’s Speech). Many Israelis know that despite the huge difficulties involved, that this is how true friendships can be made and then endure across the great political divide. It attests, for example, to the success of the many groups which work for peaceful co-existence, both within Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The movie is also a good vehicle for the gifts of 14-year-old Abedallah El Akal, whom I look forward to seeing in tough adult roles in the not-too distant future.

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