Jewschool is proud to once again sponsor the best of Israeli documentary films showing at the Other Israel Film Festival, the largest festival devoted to the history, culture, and identity on the topic of minority populations in Israel, from Dec 1-8 in NYC.
The film Junction 48 is an artistic triumph in allowing an international community entrée to a little known community of Israeli Palestinian young adults (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship) through its stories and powerful indigenous rap and folk music. However, it is overly melodramatic in its efforts to narrate the story cinematically.
The movie is set in the Israeli town of Lod, formerly known as Lydda, just 20 minutes from downtown Tel Aviv. In his book, The Promised Land, Israeli author Ari Shavit describes how in 1948, most of the town’s Arab population were forcibly exiled. Given an hour and a half notice of their expulsion, they were allowed to carry only what they and their animals could fit on their backs. An unknown number of people died from exhaustion and dehydration on the long march to the Arab front lines in the excruciatingly hot July weather.
Junction 48 focuses on the lives of young adult descendants of the thousand Palestinians who remained and now live alongside a Jewish population in a city whose names was changed to Lod. Rapper Tamer Nafar (who stars as Kareem) refers to himself as “a refugee on your doorstep.” The movie presents the precarious life of those living in a giant Palestinian ghetto. Living amidst poverty, unemployment, and crime, Kareem and his friends use music to express their struggles and their vision for a different world. “A weapon without culture can only destroy us, but with this weapon will build.”
The strength of the movie is in the powerful lyrics and musical performances.
They speak of internal community struggles:
Exorcise the demon of poverty out of me
The demon of oppression
The feeling like there is no tomorrow.
Exorcise my demon of drugs
They speak of the racism of Israeli Jews:
Humus, salad, fries on the side
You like to eat at our restaurants
But when you see too many of us
Coexistence turns into a demographic threat.
They speak of differences with their elders:
Let us go together on two different paths.
They speak of lifting restraints on relationships between men and women:
I will fight for both freedom and love.
And they express the pain of exile:
The strings of my heart cry out. I was born in Palestine.
Unfortunately, the superb artistry of the music stands in stark contrast to the heavy handedness of the characters and plot line. The Israeli Jews appear as caricatures: an Israeli rap band resemble Neo Nazis and Israeli hipsters are naïve idiots oblivious to the meaning of the Arabic rappers’ lyrics they wildly applause.
The Palestinian characters have more depth but their development is secondary to efforts to squeeze in as many stories as possible about the external and internal oppression of the community. The movie would have more effective with fewer subplots and greater insight into the lives of the characters. It’s as though the filmmakers were worried they couldn’t trust their audience would reach the right conclusions so they overstated their message.
That said, the important story told in Junction 48 is very much worth seeing. I hope to hear more in the future from the dynamic, talented, and visionary young people who I came to know through Junction 48.