In Between

Welcome to the third in a series of film reviews which will highlight some of the most interesting issues facing our region. Watching movies and reading books about somewhere you visited is a great way to reminisce and avoid forgetting the places you went, the things you saw and the people you met. It's also a great way to prepare and get excited for an upcoming trip!

Last week we reviewed The Gatekeepers. This week we are covering...


They say you should write about what you know. Director Maysaloun Hamoud appears to have done just that in the clever, subtle and personal film بَر بَحَر - Bar Bahar, known in English as In Between (or finally in Hebrew לא פה, לא שם, 'Neither here nor there'). She was born in Budapest to Palestinian parents, and grew up between Europe, Beersheva and Jerusalem. The film tells the story of three very different Palestinian women, all citizens of Israel, living in Tel Aviv and has all the hallmarks of a very personal story.

Salma is a gay DJ from a Christian family in Nazareth, sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv with Leila, a party-girl by night and successful lawyer by day, from a Muslim family. They break societal norms together by doing drugs, speaking their minds and even just working. These things are of course not necessarily connected, but the two women live lives very different from their families. They are joined by Noor, a hijab wearing student from Umm al-Fahm who has come to Tel Aviv to study computer science. This is despite her husband-to-be protesting that it is a waste of time - she will be at home with the kids soon anyway. The story revolves around Noor's entrance into this world and the pull she feels back to her home town.


While the characters somewhat revert to type, and some - including Noor's macho, controlling Arab fiancé - are cardboard stereotypes, there are not so many alternative films out there about Arab women so to an extent it can be forgiven. There are even fewer films which present the stories of three such diverse characters while exploring the struggles and eventual sisterhood they share.

The film also highlights the casual racism Arab citizens of Israel regularly face. One of the opening scenes shows Salma being yelled at by the manager of a restaurant she works in for speaking Arabic too loudly in the kitchen with her co-workers, lest it upset the customers. Hamoud does not dwell on this moment; the film is not about this racism, rather we watch the characters' stories unfold alongside this racism.

In many ways it is also a film about Tel Aviv. The contradictions and contrasts inherent in the city known as 'Tel A-bubble' are beautifully highlighted throughout. One particularly insightful scene shows Salma applying for a new job in a typical Tel Aviv bar. The bar tender absentmindedly notes her accent and asks her if she from South America. She smirks and tells him she is a Palestinian and he simply replies 'cool'. Like most Tel Avivis, he is young, has no problem with working with Arabs, but probably doesn't know any personally, and finds it as exotic as working with a girl from Bogota or Buenos Aires. This moment is so emblematic of the tragic state of separation between young Arabs and Jews in the region today. Crafting this moment in an amusing way and showing it to the audience through the eyes of the young woman who is made to feel a foreigner in her own country is quite striking, and is just one example of an easily missed line in a film packed full of such moments.

It's also just a fun movie to watch. It doesn't feel like an educational documentary but it will have exposed some of the key issues facing Palestinian women in Israel today to a wide audience. In this way, it does accomplish an important goal and as Hamoud's first feature film it is quite an achievement. 

To better understand the Tel Aviv this movie exposes, why not join us for a walking tour? We tour both Jaffa and Tel Aviv together, several times a week and you can visit many of the places seen in the film with us.

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Israel election summary

6 March 2019
Israel's general election is just around the corner and the winner will have a massive impact on everyone our region. But things get confusing pretty quick. We are delighted to welcome expert political analyst Ellie Stern as this week's guest writer. She will explain the difference between Bibi, Benny and Bennett, and Likud, Labour and Lapid. Buckle up!
– by Ellie Stern –

On Monday night, just over a month away from the Israeli Knesset (parliament) elections on April 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed his people a rare shade of vulnerability, telling a crowd of diehards in his ruling Likud party that victory was “not in the bag,” warning of a difficult battle ahead.

How Israel's parliament currently looks
Netanyahu’s Likud is up against a newly formed but no less formidable centrist alliance that recently surged ahead to become the race front-runner.

Netanyahu, even if you truly resent him for it, is unquestionably one of the smartest world leaders. He is alleged to have an IQ of 180, placing him in league with roughly 0.0000001 percent of the population. In other words, odds are he has been the smartest person in every room he’s ever entered.

This means it’s almost impossible to tell if he is truly scared for his political future as he faces potential criminal indictment in three separate cases of corruption during his decade in office, or if he is using fear tactics to incite his latent supporters currently hidden behind other candidates for the highest office in the Jewish state.

This is something he has done before. In 2015, in an election day video, Netanyahu warned that “Arabs were coming to the polls in droves,” in order to push those who assumed his assured victory and decided to stay home.

His top challenger is Benny Gantz, former IDF Chief-of-Staff and Chairman of the Israel Resilience party (Hosen Israel). He teamed up with former finance minister and centrist darling Yair Lapid, who commands the Yesh Atid party in February - much to the delight of Israel’s largely centrist population who have, during the Netanyahu years, felt themselves shrinking from view.

Israel's Prime Minister and Attorney General
On the last day of February, Netanyahu and the world received the news that he would face a hearing based on the assessment of Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that he should be charged with bribery, breach of trust, and fraud.

Until this recommendation was made, the majority of voters who support Netanyahu were unmoved by him facing criminal charges. Polls still showed the Likud party winning enough seats to remain in power.

However, following the announcement, polls saw the Gantz and Lapid’s “Blue and White” centrist alliance significantly passed the party that has ruled Israel without recess since the late 70s. There have been several shock developments and break-ups this campaign season, but none as pivotal as this.

The new centrist 'Blue and White' alliance
Not only do the recent polls show Blue and White surpassing Netanyahu’s Likud by roughly 7 mandates, they also show a diminishing likelihood that Israel’s current PM will stay in power with a majority government, with odds tipping toward a center-left bloc being in charge of Israeli government policy for the next four years.

For Israel’s embattled Labor party - which once sat at the helm of the government before the Likud came to power in the country’s most significant political shake up to date and is now projected to earn just seven or eight seats (down from its 24 seats in the previous parliament) - Blue and White represents a hope that they might once again serve in the government and not its Opposition.

Israel’s Arab parties, now running in two separate joint lists, represent a bloc on their own. That makes three if you’ve been keeping track. The right-wing & religious bloc, the center-left bloc, and the Arab bloc.

Netanyahu and other right-wing officials have said that Gantz plans to ally with the Arab parties in order to form a government. However, considering Gantz’ career as IDF chief during Israel’s last two deadly wars in Gaza in 2012 and 2014, it is unlikely he or they will want to come together, even if it means a certain victory of the long-ruling right wing.

Between February 28 and March 1, Israel’s public broadcaster Kan published a poll showing Likud falling to 29 seats to Blue & White's 37 seats, and with 41% of respondents listing Gantz as the most suitable candidate for prime minister, compared to 40% for Netanyahu.

In order to receive seats in the Knesset, a party must receive over 3.25% of the total votes cast, roughly equivalent to four seats. There were 10 different party blocs represented in 2015's elections and it will be interesting to see how many of them survive this time around. There’s a real possibility that some of the smaller parties - both on the left and right - may not make it all together.

All parties have a policy regarding a potential peace deal with the Palestinian Authority, but security, corruption and the economy are typically much more important issues for most parties. Another key issue, mostly for the religious Jewish parties on the right, is the debate over military service for the ultra-Orthodox.

Ultimately though, to know the answers to all of these questions we can only wait. Soon Israel will either have a new Prime Minister, or the country's longest serving Prime Minister - with an ugly court case hanging over him. Be sure to expect plenty of twists and turns and a little over a month from now the region's politics may look quite different.


Ellie Stern is an Israeli-American journalist and breaking news editor at i24NEWS. She has a Masters degree in Conflict Resolution from Tel Aviv University and two Bachelor's degrees (in Human Development and International Studies) from the University of California, San Diego. Her expertise include politics, history, economics, and linguistics in both Israeli and US contexts.

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The Gatekeepers

- by Alex Jones - 

Welcome to the second in a series of film reviews which will highlight some of the most interesting issues facing our region. Watching movies and reading books about somewhere you visited is a great way to reminisce and avoid forgetting the places you went, the things you saw and the people you met. It's also a great way to prepare and get excited for an upcoming trip!

Last week we reviewed Five Broken Cameras. This week we are covering...


It seemed fitting to have these two films reviewed in our blog one after the other because they have so often been compared and contrasted. Both films deal with our region. Both films were released in 2013. Both films were nominated for that year's Best Documentary Oscar. And while Five Broken Cameras relies on footage from, well, five broken cameras, The Gatekeepers relies on footage from interviews with six powerful men. While the men reveal their soft sides, they are also anything but broken.

The six men in question are the six living, former chiefs of Israel's formidable secret service, usually known by the acronym 'shabak', or the abbreviation 'shin bet'. What is remarkable about the film is not only that they all agreed to be interviewed, but how open and honest they appear to be. The General Security Service, or שירות הביטחון הכללי‬ in Hebrew, was founded during the War of 1948 when the State of Israel was born. Its motto translates as "the shield that shall not be seen" and its mission is to safeguard state security. Things like highly sensitive intelligence missions to expose terrorist rings have led it into some dark and secret places. Although of course they do not reveal every detail of past operations, it is remarkable how much the former heads are prepared to say.

As a piece of cinematography, this film is nothing to write home about. It is a very classic documentary, relying heavily on close-up, intimately lit shots of the six Shin Bet leaders. Interspersed with this footage are shots of operations and some quite clever computer enhanced images which bring their stories to life. The film does rely a lot on the expertise of the narrators however, and viewers who are not already very familiar with the events of Israeli and Palestinian politics over the last few decades may have some trouble keeping up. Of course, joining one of our tours would bring you up to speed pretty quickly! It seems to be a film primarily aimed at Israeli audiences but its critical success abroad should put to rest any concerns of overseas viewers.

The men veer from blunt descriptions of brutal events, to revealing touching, human sides of themselves as ordinary men in extraordinary positions. One of the most shocking moments is the description of the assassination of Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash, which had never been officially confirmed until that point. Shin Bet approached the uncle of one of the terrorist's friends, and in exchange for a new identity he agreed to give Ayyash a cellphone which had been secretly bugged and rigged with explosives. It was remotely detonated as soon as Israeli surveillance confirmed Ayyash was using it, killing him instantly.




The men all clearly love Israel and spent their lives doing everything they can, in their eyes, to protect it. That is what makes the conclusion so chilling. Every one of them finishes by admitting that they view the ongoing Occupation as a disaster. They are all pessimistic about the chances of future peace and most worrying of all can barely hide their lack of faith in Israel's current political leadership - embodied most obviously by Benjamin Netanyahu himself. They all reveal themselves to be perfectly capable of admitting the contradictions in their duties and the far, far from perfect way they worked. But they are not stupid. They see, as anyone should be able to see, that an impoverished, ignored Palestine cannot survive endless Occupation any more than an isolated, bristling Israel can. Whether their hopes for the future are driven by a fear of Israel's geopolitical neighbourhood or a love for Israel itself, their warning should be heard loud and clear by supporters and detractors alike.

That is what makes this film a must-see for anyone with an interest in the future of our region.

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