Bringing together Palestinians, Israelis both on screen and behind the scenes

March 1, 2017
“Junction 48” starring Samar Qupty and Tamer Nafar, who co-wrote the film. Photo courtesy of the Match Factory.

In May, Israel’s Jews will celebrate the 69th anniversary of the state’s birth, while the country’s Arabs will mourn the event as a nakba, or catastrophe.

All attempts so far to forge a durable peace between the two Semitic peoples have come to naught. Even well-meaning optimists are throwing up their hands — but director Udi Aloni is not one of them.

“We can create a beautiful community, we can create a beautiful people,” Aloni insisted in a phone interview from Berlin, where he is shooting a film. “But first we have to acknowledge that we are two equal people.”

If there is such a thing as left-wing royalty, Udi Aloni is the crown prince. He is the son of Shulamit Aloni, a longtime Israeli minister of education and early champion of civil liberties, who consistently challenged her country’s religious establishment and the government’s occupation policies.

Unlike his mother, Udi Aloni’s stage is not the floor of the Knesset but the movie set, and he considers his latest film, “Junction 48,” as proof that Jews and Arabs in Israel can work together for their mutual good.

However, Aloni’s movie — about a Palestinian hip-hop artist and his singer girlfriend who try to use music to express both their political and humanistic beliefs — seems to make it clear that he sees the fault for the impasse as lying almost entirely with the Israelis. It shows, on balance, the Israelis as the oppressors and the Palestinians as the victims.

Aloni has no illusions that this view will be embraced by most Israelis in the near future. Asked how many Israelis shared his political and philosophical outlook, he answered, “About 1 percent.”

Palestinians who remained in their towns and villages after Israel’s military victory in the 1948 War of Independence frequently are labeled “48ers” and they consider their defeat as a junction between their old and current lives. Thus the title of the movie, which is set in the city called Lod by its Jewish inhabitants and Lyd by the Arab population. Lod/Lyd is the site of Ben Gurion Airport, about a 20-minute drive from Tel Aviv.

One of its best-known residents is Tamer Nafar, widely known as the fist Arab rap artist. He is both the co-writer and star of the film, which is based largely on his own experiences. As in his stage appearances, he uses his talents to convey both the deep resentments and the hopes of his people.

A very similar theme pervades the recent movie “The Idol,” this year’s Palestinian entry in the Oscar race. In “Idol’s” case, the protagonist is a more conventional singer, from a hardscrabble Palestinian background, who becomes the voice of his people when he goes to Cairo and places first in the top-rated TV show “Arab Idol.”

If the outsider’s image of Jews and Arabs in Israel is that of two completely separate communities, both the reality and the scenario in “Junction 48” are quite different.

For instance, there is the mind-bending scene in a Tel Aviv nightclub, where Jewish rappers sing “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People of Israel Live) and their act is followed by Kareem (Nafar) and his group with “Burn It, George,” a chant to alert his buddies when Israeli police are about to raid their drug hoard. More political is the next number, “Hamas Is in the Air, Raise Your Voices, Wake Up the Neighbors,” when Kareem’s girlfriend, Manar (Samar Qupty), laments in a song, “I have no land, I have no country.”

In another example of cross-ethnic relations, Kareem and his Palestinian buddies make a night of it in a Jewish bordello.

Udi Aloni directed “Junction 48” which is based largely on his own experiences. Photos courtesy of the Match Factory.
Udi Aloni directed “Junction 48” which is based largely on his own experiences. Photos courtesy of the Match Factory.

The movie is filled with striking scenes, such as a bulldozer demolishing a Palestinian’s home in order to erect a future “Museum of Coexistence.”

Other elements are just plain weird. Take Kareem’s mother, who is first seen attending a meeting of the local Communist Party cell in a room decorated with images of Marx and Lenin. Later, the mother has become a faith healer, applying Quranic verses to “cure” a Jewish youngster.

“Junction 48” also has a strong feminist thread, mainly in Manar’s struggle to assert her independence as an artist and a woman. As director Aloni points out, “Palestinian women have to fight against both Israel and their Palestinian male oppression.”

Aloni cites the making of “Junction 48” as one concrete example of close collaboration between Israel’s Arabs and Jews. Another joint effort underlays the film’s financing, partially through the Israel Film Fund, administered by the government, and partially through the privately supported Palestinian Film Fund.

As to his own feelings about the situation between these two Semitic peoples in Israel, Aloni remarks, “The more I work with Palestinians, the more they raise my Jewish consciousness.

“Junction 48” opens March 3 at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles.

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