Jews, Arabs, dolphins


Negative stereotypes can be numbing. One that has dulled our senses for years is that Jews and Arabs can’t get along. Many of us simply take it for granted. Read haaretz.com regularly, and you might even conclude that Israel’s Arab population is living miserably under an apartheid-like regime.

I certainly understand how reporters are wired to focus on the negative, and that good news is not really news. Reading about Israeli Arabs who might be happy under Israel’s democracy and who suffer little or no discrimination is not newsworthy. Abuse of human rights, however, is newsworthy — and that’s a good thing, because awareness is what forces a society to improve itself.

At the same time, though, reading only negative stuff can become exhausting and demoralizing.

Maybe that’s why it was so refreshing to sit with 250 people the other night at Laemmle’s Music Hall theater in Beverly Hills to watch the Israeli documentary film “Dolphin Boy.” The film was presented by The Jewish Journal’s Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival and its executive director, Hilary Helstein, as a preview to our annual festival, which kicks off on May 3.

“Dolphin Boy” tells the true story of an Israeli Arab boy who disconnects from humanity after suffering a vicious beating. The boy, Morad, was assaulted not by Israeli soldiers, but by his neighbors in his Israeli Arab village, who misinterpreted a text message Morad sent to the sister of one of the neighbors.

The beating was so traumatic that when we first see Morad, in a doctor’s office, he is zombie-like and cannot utter a word. His doctor, an Israeli Jew who is a world-
renowned expert on post-trauma care, develops a deep personal and professional attachment to the boy. Over several months, the doctor tries every treatment in the book to get Morad to speak and express himself, but nothing works.

Finally, before committing the boy to a mental institution, the doctor recommends a radical treatment: dolphin therapy (with the state picking up the costs). Meanwhile, one of the endearing stars of the film, Morad’s father, decides to leave his job and accompany his son to the dolphin reef in Eilat, where Jews — and loving dolphins — will help Morad undergo a miraculous three-year process of recovery.

The film challenges more than one stereotype. Of course, there’s the one that Jews and Arabs don’t get along. Even if that is true in many cases, in this story, all you see are Jews and Arabs treating one another like human beings.

There’s also the stereotype that Arabs live for revenge and justice. In fact, early in the film, Morad’s father is tempted to take revenge against the Arab neighbors who attacked his son. Some friends even suggest it. But in a defining scene, with a few friends playing the drums around a campfire, the father gets up, starts to dance and decides that he will devote every ounce of his being to saving his son, because, as he says, “His blood runs through my veins.”

You can’t be human and not be moved by these expressions of love — the love of a father for his son, the love of a doctor for his patient, the love of workers in a dolphin lagoon for a traumatized boy they help bring back to life.

It is this very celebration of life — symbolized by the playful and loyal dolphins — that slowly coaxes Morad back to humanity. How ironic that it takes loving animals to help him regain his trust in humans.

As I reflected on the film, I found myself wishing it would play on Al Jazeera and be seen by millions across the Middle East. That deeply divided part of the world could use an innocent reminder that the truest label we all share is our humanity. Beyond Arab and Jew, man and woman, Shiite and Sunni, Christian and Muslim, we are all part of the same species, sharing primal needs — like our craving for love — that transcend all differences.

“We didn’t really focus on the idea of Jew and Arab when we shot the film,” Dani Menkin, the co-director and producer of the film, told me during the panel discussion I moderated after the screening. “We shot a story of humans interacting with each other. We weren’t thinking of giving a special message. It was just an amazing story that I fell in love with.”

We’ve seen many Israeli films over the years that play to the negative stereotype of the big, bad Israel as the oppressor of Arabs. This stereotype is reinforced by the endless string of news stories describing discrimination against Israeli Arabs and examples of mutual animosity between the groups.

But lost in this big picture are the many little stories of Jews and Arabs peacefully co-existing and treating one another like human beings.

We can only be grateful for films like “Dolphin Boy,” which come along once in awhile to crack our cynicism and remind us that beneath the heavy noise of darkness lies the silent whisper of hope.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

World Briefs


Report: Saudi Sponsorship Hidden

Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of an anti-Israel radio campaign
in the United States last year was reportedly hidden. The Saudi government,
through a Washington public relations firm, Qorvis Communications, spent
$679,000 alone on anti-Israel radio ads that ran in 15 U.S. cities last spring,
Time magazine reported this week. Qorvis initially said the ads were sponsored
by a consortium of Mideast policy groups called the Alliance for Peace and Justice.
But in a filing with the U.S. Justice Department last month, Qorvis revealed
that the funding actually came from the Saudi government, according to the
report.

The Saudis spent at least $14.6 million on anti-Israel
public relations in the United States last year, according to The New York Sun
newspaper.

Sharon Seeks Help From California Rep.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly asked a U.S.
congressman of Lebanese descent to assist in negotiations on a possible
prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)
briefed Lebanese and Syrian authorities about the Israeli request and his plan
to comply with it, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported, citing the
Arab-language Al-Hayyat newspaper. In recent months, Issa has met with
relatives of captured and missing Israelis in Lebanon, the report said.

Protests Spur Hitler Show Revision

Under fire by Jewish groups, CBS executives will rework an
upcoming TV miniseries about the young Hitler. CBS President Leslie Moonves
said the upcoming “Hitler: Origins of Evil” will include new material in
addition to the biography upon which it’s based, due to concerns by some Jewish
scholars and organizations that the series would humanize Hitler, the New York
Daily News reported. “I don’t think anybody is going to walk out of this
miniseries saying, ‘Gee, you made Hitler into Tony Soprano,'” Moonves said.

Report: Arabs Threaten Olympic
Games

Islamic extremist groups reportedly have threatened to bomb
the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens if security is assigned to a consortium that
includes Israeli companies.

In addition, Arab nations are threatening to boycott the
Olympics if the SAIC Team gets the security contract for the Games, according
to the Greek newspaper Avriani.

According to Avriani, a classified report from Greece’s
government security service mentions that the possibility of using a “Jewish
company” for security at the Games “will blow the Olympics into the air.”

The so-called “Jewish company” — the SAIC Team — actually is
a U.S. consortium that includes two Israeli companies and several Greek
companies.

The report says that some SAIC Team employees come from the
Israeli secret services. The report also notes the possibility of attacks
before the Games, as Muslim groups reportedly have threatened a bombing blitz
if a Jewish company receives the Olympic security contract.

Greece also is reportedly concerned that one of the Israeli
companies on the team has signed a cooperation agreement with Turkey, Greece’s
longtime rival. Greece’s Ministry of National Defense noted that national
security could be compromised if the Israeli company gains access to classified
information.

For this reason, the Israeli company’s insignia has been
dropped from a recent SAIC Team advertising campaign.

U.S. Holocaust Museum Turns 10

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will soon commemorate its
10th anniversary. To mark the anniversary, the museum will present selections
of Anne Frank’s writings. The display opens on June 12, which would have been
the famed diarist’s 74th birthday, and runs through Sept. 12.

“Our first decade taught us that Holocaust history has the
power to speak to everyone — from inner city students to religious leaders,
from Naval Academy midshipmen to the police and FBI,” said the museum’s
director, Sara Bloomfield.

Since its dedication on April 22, 1993, the Washington-based
museum has welcomed nearly 19 million visitors, including 5.5 million school
children, 2.2 million international visitors and 72 heads of state, according
to museum officials.

Muslim Helps Save Brooklyn
Synangogue

A Muslim from Pakistan helped save a Brooklyn synagogue. The
man, who worked at a gas station near the Congregation Young Israel of Kings
Bay, became suspicious when another man came by several times to fill a
container with gasoline. The man called police when he saw the second person
dousing the synagogue with the gasoline. Police soon arrived at the scene and
arrested the alleged perpetrator, who said he wanted to “get back at the Jews.”
The gas station attendant, who was applauded by local Jewish officials and
politicians, said his religious beliefs prompted him to contact the police.

French Leaders Support Rabbi Injured in
Attack

Four former prime ministers of France came to a solidarity
service for a Paris rabbi who was stabbed earlier this month. Rabbi Gabriel
Farhi said his assailant yelled in Arabic, “Allah is Great,” but police say
they have not ruled out the possibility that the attacker was a Jew with
far-right political views who opposed Farhi’s Reform movement. Farhi was
lightly wounded in the Jan. 3 attack.

Last Friday’s ceremony in a small Paris synagogue was so
full that members of the crowd, which included France’s interior minister and
other government officials, had to stand outside. A letter of support also was
read from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Chummy Dolphins Penned

Vacationers at the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat will no
longer be able to swim with the dolphins, after the sea mammals became a little
too chummy in hitting up bathers for snacks. Nature Reserve Authorities said
the dolphins had become accustomed to being fed by visitors and became
aggressive when they were met empty-handed, Israel Radio reported. As a result,
officials warned the public to stop feeding the dolphins and restricted the
mammals to the Dolphin Reef.

Russia Denies Reactor Deal with Syria

An announcement from the Russian Foreign Ministry that Moscow
is building a nuclear reactor in Syria was mistaken, according to a Russian
official. A senior adviser to the Russian minister of atomic energy, Nicolai
Shingrab, said that even though Syria and Russia have been holding “very
general” discussions on the matter for the past two years, no agreement has
been reached because Syria could not afford to buy

Bin Laden Key Chain a Hit

An Osama bin Laden key chain reportedly is popular among
Palestinians. “They’re very popular, especially among taxi drivers and
children,” a shopkeeper in Ramallah told the Jerusalem Post. According to the
merchant, the popularity of the key chains reflects anti-U.S. sentiment among
Palestinians.

Three Palestinians Killed in
Clashes

Three Palestinians were killed during Israeli operations in
the West Bank on Wednesday. In Tulkarm, Israeli troops shot and killed a
Palestinian youth who threw firebombs at them. Palestinians said another youth
was killed during clashes there. Near Jenin, a 45-year-old Palestinian was
killed during an army operation to arrest two Tanzim members armed with rifles,
grenades and ammunition. In Jenin, troops arrested four other wanted
Palestinians, including a local military commander who planned suicide attacks
in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israeli police and soldiers on Wednesday
destroyed the homes of an East Jerusalem-based terrorist cell responsible for
killing 35 Israelis. The attacks attributed to the so-called Silwan cell
include last July’s bombing at the Hebrew University and suicide attacks at a
Jerusalem cafe and a pool hall in Rishon le-Zion. In another development, on
Tuesday, the army closed two Islamic colleges in Hebron. The action was part of
Israel’s response to the Jan. 5 double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv in which 23
people were killed.

Germany Bans Islamic Group

Germany’s interior minister outlawed an Islamic organization
that he accused of spreading anti-Semitic propaganda. The group, Hizb
ut-Tahrir, “is distinguished by the fact that it is active in universities with
anti-Semitic slogans,” Otto Schily told a Germany TV station Wednesday. He
added that the group had long been under observation by German authorities. The
Interior Ministry said the group advocates the destruction of Israel and the
killing of Jews.

Campaign for ‘Portuguese Dreyfus’

A Jewish group reportedly launched a campaign to clear the
name of a man known as the “Portuguese Dreyfus.” The Jerusalem-based Amishav
organization is trying to persuade the government of Portugal to posthumously
clear the name of Arthur Barros Basto, according to The Jerusalem Post. Basto
was a Jewish army captain driven out of the Portuguese military on trumped-up
charges in the 1940s. “This year marks the 60th anniversary of Capt. Barros
Basto’s discharge from the military,” said Amishav’s director, Michael Freund.
“He was a Jewish hero and role model, and his only transgression was that he
sought to inspire people to return to Judaism at a time when that was not
popular with either the Portuguese government or the Church authorities.”

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency