Book Reviews / Arts

Emile Habiby ends up writing the quintessential character in Israeli-Palestinian literature: Saeed the Pessoptimist. This character represents the tension the Palestinian minority in Israel lives: pessimism imbued with optimism. The Jewish state is the situation you’re trapped in, that’s pessimistic; the optimism looks to the equality you think you can aspire to, despite the reality. Saeed is always trying to square the circle. This very much becomes a theme of Palestinian literature in Israel.

For a period in Hany Abu Assad’s new film, Omar, the eponymous protagonist shares an Israeli dungeon with unidentifiable insects he can barely make out in the darkness. Determinedly, they carry out tasks whose purpose he, and possibly they, cannot fathom. Are they prisoners too? And is their continual laboring a distraction from their confinement or a transcendence of their plight? There could hardly be a starker metaphor for the lives of Omar and his friends under occupation.

Alex Gibney’s documentary about Wikileaks and Assange could have been a fascinating study of the moral quandaries faced by whistleblowers in the age of the surveillance super-state. How is it possible to remain transparent, open, honest — even sane — when your every move is being watched? Instead Gibney indulges in easy character assassination.

“I want my films to put fear into Israelis. My job is to disturb their dreams, to wake them from the fantasy that there is no occupation.” An interview with Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, whose new movie, Omar, recently won a top prize at Cannes.

Over the past decade, Israel has surged up the arms trade’s international rankings. Despite having a population smaller than New York City, Israel has emerged as one of the world’s largest exporters of armaments. It is the merging of theory, hardware and repeated “testing” in the field that has armies, police forces and the homeland security industries of the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America lining up to buy Israeli know-how

Israelis have been revelling in the prospect of an Oscar night triumph next week, with two Israeli-financed films in the running for Best Documentary. But the Israeli government is reported to be quietly fuming that the films, both of which portray Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in a critical light, have garnered so much attention following their nominations. Guy Davidi, the Israeli co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, said industry insiders had warned him that pressure was being exerted on the Academy to stop the films winning the award.

Katie Ramadan’s debut exibition of photographs, most of them in black and white, explores the meaning of home and the boundaries between private and public space in three very different countries Ramadan has been travelling between over the past few years. It is, in Ramadan’s own words, “a journey from the inside outward.”

With the internet’s rapid growth and an associated flourishing of alternative journalism, the traditional disseminators of information to western audiences – our print and broadcast media – have come under scrutiny as never before. There is a growing sentiment, particularly on the left but also to be found elsewhere, that mainstream journalism is failing us, even if a variety of reasons are proposed for this failure.

In late 2002 Tanya Reinhart published her book Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, a debunking of the myths that quickly took root about Israel’s “generous offer” to the Palestinians at Camp David in July 2000 and an examination of the initial phases of Israel’s military onslaught against the Palestinian uprising, the al-Aqsa intifada. Four years later, Reinhart completes the saga by exploring how Israel’s response unfolded, culminating in the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005.

Coffins on Our Shoulders plots the troubled contours of Jewish-Arab relations in the Holy Land over the past century through two interweaving narratives. The first, intimate one comprises the stories of its two authors’ experiences of being Israeli – one a Jew, the other a Palestinian Arab – and the separate paths that led their ancestors, willingly and unwillingly, to their citizenship in the new state. A second, related narrative provides a series of contextualising analyses of ethnic politics in Israel.

Maybe I should learn to be less sensitive but when director Eran Riklis arrived in Nazareth last month for the screening of his much-garlanded film “The Syrian Bride”, he got off on the wrong footing the moment he walked through the door. A handful of Nazerenes had been invited to a film studies workshop, keen to see an Israeli movie that has won universal praise, as well as more than a dozen awards, for its uplifting and supposedly non-partisan message: that we must never let go of our humanity or our dignity, even in the face of the brutalitising effects of the Middle East conflict.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s mission since the collapse of the negotiations he led his country into at Camp David and Taba has been to reveal one, and one lesson only, to the world. “I am the person who exposed Yasser Arafat’s true face,” he has repeatedly said. The “revelation” that the Palestinians were never serious about making peace with the Jewish state created a new mood of militancy in Israel and, paradoxically, led to Barak’s rejection at the ballot box.

It’s strange to watch a film surrounded by most of the cast, especially when the presentation is not at a glittery London or New York première. But in the case of Elia Suleiman’s surprise hit movie, “Divine Intervention,” in which a fair proportion of Nazareth’s 70,000 inhabitants feature, it was difficult to avoid cast members at a screening in the city last week. Like everyone else, they paid to get in. Many critics have mistakenly assumed that the movie, a surreal and comic attack on the Israeli occupation, is set in the Palestinian territories. That is why, although it charmed audiences at Cannes, winning the Jury Prize, it disturbed the Oscar committee, which banned it from the competition on the grounds that its country of origin, Palestine, is not a “legitimate nation.”