This year, I took a special interest in the documentaries from the Middle-East at the Berlinale. First I was thoroughly impressed by the peaceful Palestinian resistance against the new Israeli fence in the film Budrus. In the film, we see women breaking through the circle of soldiers and lying down in front of the bulldozers – to save their old olive threes. Many young Israeli activists also go to the West Bank to support their protests. Another impressive film is Still Alive in Gaza, about the period of hopelessness following the Israeli invasion one year ago. Also Gay Days, about the flourishing gay and lesbian community in modern Israel – a film that is light years away from Israel Ltd., (at IDFA last November) showing how Israel “brainwashes” young visiting foreign Jews. Another one to mention from Berlin is A Film Unfinished by Shtikat Haarchion, about the Nazi archive reels unearthed from a Warsaw ghetto in May 1942, complete with close-ups of filth-encrusted, starving Jews, cordoned off without food, medicine or, (unbeknownst to them) a future. This one reminiscent of the violent Israeli repression of Gaza – another present-day ghetto.
At the Berlinale, the strongest criticism of Israel from a Jewish-Israeli is made by 48-year-old Anat Yuta Zuria with her documentary Black Bus. She addresses the hundreds of thousands living in ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Judaism, particularly in Jerusalem: the women have to cram themselves into the back third of the buses; they must not be a source of annoyance to the men at the front.
These men, dressed in black suits, wide-brimmed hats and skullcaps and holding the Torah in their hands, look away from the women. They are taught to be disgusted by them. Their husbands often use a certain type of cloth with a hole while practising their twice-monthly sexual duties. As one woman in the film puts it: “does he think I am his toilet?”
Jewish gender segregation has increased in the last decade: Some grocery stores now have different opening hours for men and women. One current proposal is to allocate separate sidewalks in the Orthodox sector. Women have no real freedom of speech. A driver license is out of the question – they could drive away …
In Black Bus, director Zuria follows two young women who managed to break out of the ultra-Orthodox environment. The blogger Sara Einfeld started anonymously writing sarcastic and revealing stories on the Internet about repression at home. She became a cult blogger, but was revealed and thrown out on the street. The other woman, photographer Shulamit Weinfeld, took pictures of the repression on buses and in the streets. She was also seen and subsequently disowned by her family.
These two protagonists suffered severe psychological problems as a result of their expulsions and both made serious suicide attempts. The film director found Shulamit at the hospital, and convinced her to continue taking photographs. Different Orthodox women also talks about mechanical and cold-hearted families, who in stead of expressing love for their children are more concerned about appearances and rituals.
Shulamit tries once to enter the front of the bus only to be thrown to the back, and later having an argument with some angry Orthodox men who call her a slut. Photographs of these scenes are now uploaded on Internet.
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