On Hold is the story of the Rokaya Sabbah, the Director and her partner - a young Israeli Arab couple leaving Israel for a better life in Spain. A quirky, complex and touching story that reveals the unique dilemma faced by many Israeli Arabs - caught between twin identities and mixed allegiances, the decision to stay or to go unearths the deep contradictions of life in Israel.
Written & Directed by: Rokaya SabbahProduced by: Nizar Younes – Al-Arz ProductionsSponsored by: The Second Authority for Television & Radio & The New Foundation For Cinema & T.VLanguage: Arabic, Hebrew with English subtitles
While planning for a workshop that I will be giving next week at St. Ethelburga's in London, I had the opportunity to view Rokaya Sabbah's documentary, On Hold (52 minutes, 2007). This is Sabbah's first film and it is about the Arabs of Israel – issues of their identity, the problems of living as second class citizens in a Jewish state, and their dreams of trying to build a better life for themselves and their children in a different place with more opportunity. Rokaya, a Muslim woman, and her boyfriend Jamil, a Christian, are considering leaving Israel and moving to Barcelona. They travel around the country talking about issues of identity, what is home, what they are looking for, why they are leaving. Among their family and friends, they find different reactions.
An interesting discussion ensues with some of their friends, living in Haifa who are more comfortable with their complicated identities. In a mixture of Arabic and Hebrew, they talk about being able to pass as Jews, on the one hand, and the frustrations of life as second class citizens, on the other.
Jamil is an actor and he's sick of playing Arab stereotypes. He is the son of Makram Khoury, the famous Israeli Arab actor and theater director. His sister, Clara, is already a successful actress. Jamil talks openly about the discrimination that Israeli Arabs experience at the hands of the Palestinians. He tells how he was treated badly when he was working at the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem – because he is an Arab of 1948, meaning an Israeli Arab, living within the borders of Israel since 1948. The Palestinians of Israel are between a rock and a hard place – on the one hand, they are not accepted by Israeli Jews as full citizens and on the other, they are looked down upon by their brethren, the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank.
Jamil says he wants to live abroad because there a man is a man. Here he is classified as an Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bedouin, Russian, Ethiopian, etc. I don't know if it is true that only people in Israel categorize one another. Recently a young woman from Rome told me that the moment she gets into a taxi, she right away has a need to check out the driver, to know if he's a foreigner, a Turk, an Arab, or an Italian. Is this the same everywhere? But this is a particularly sensitive issue for Rokaya and Jamil because they are an interreligious couple.Jamil's family is Christian and Rokaya's family is Muslim. Perhaps going abroad will help them get away from the obvious problems that this will cause here.
There were two more reasons to go abroad provided by the people they talked to – here Israeli Arabs are in a kind of limbo, they can't find their place comfortably in the Israeli workplace. Jamil threw in one more compelling reason -- to try something new!
On the other side of the scale, there do not seem to be many reasons to stay! The most compelling reason is family.In a touching scene, Rokaya's sister cries, and doesn't want her to leave.The other reason to stay is a responsibility to your own people. Would they be shirking their responsibility if they were to go abroad?
Amy Kronish/ April, 2009