IN BETWEEN tells the story of three young Palestinian-Israeli women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv. Away from traditions and their families, they find themselves “in between” the free lives they’re aspiring to live and the restrictions they face. The main characters are Nour, who studies Computer Science and is about to get married; Salma, who dreams of being a DJ; and Laila, a successful lawyer, who hopes for a partner who is as liberal and independent as her.
All three characters are fighting for their right of freedom to choose.
In shining a light on people caught in the middle, this award-winning film has also illuminated the best and worst of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. On one hand, a cast and crew of Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli (Christian and Muslims) worked together to make the film, generating deep cameraderie. Some of the Israeli-Jewish crew tried to learn Arabic.
However, this sense of mission and bonding has been balanced by the criticism and intimidation directed at the Palestinian-Israeli director, Maysaloun Hamoud, following the film’s release last year. Hamoud was criticised by the Arab community for getting Israeli financial support to make the film, despite the fact that she is an Israeli citizen.
More disturbing is the fact that Hamoud received death threats and was issued with a Palestinian Fatwa (a religious Islamic ruling), the first in 70 years. The Fatwa condemned the film, called Hamoud a heretic and banned its screening.
The outrage was based on religious sensitivities and a rape scene in the film, which was carried out by a religious Muslim man against Nour, who is also religious. Both characters left their town of Umm al-Fahm to go live in secular Tel Aviv. As a result, the Umm al-Fahm municipal council was the first to boycott Hamoud’s film, saying it tainted the town’s reputation.
Although not debated, it is important to notice that the film does not show Nour going to give evidence of the rape to the authorities, which would have allowed police to charge the rapist. The audience is asked to assume that Nour and perhaps also Laila, the lawyer, didn’t feel that this path was an option because of Muslim attitudes.
Although this element of the story caused anger within the Muslim community it is supported by figures from the Israeli Association of Rape Crisis Centres, which reveals that only 13% of rape victims go to the police and only 1%-2% of cases reach the court. These statistics tell us that many victims, mainly women, are still suppressed and afraid of fighting back.
Mouna Hawa, who plays Laila, said in an interview that the film is about a minority in a minority in a minority. Although this description implies a very local focus, the film’s themes about barriers to free choice are very much universal.
Hamoud is not the only Israeli female director to receive death threats for her recent work. Maya Zinshtein was also targeted following the release of her documentary Forever Pure, football fan racism in Israel. It’s not uncommon for a society to accept its own reflection, but it is reassuring that Maysaloon Hamoud will keep on “shaking the system”. In Between is the first film of a trilogy.
In Between premieres in Melbourne on October 26 and in Sydney on October 29, but will be screened several times during the festival. For details, go to www.jiff.com.au
WATCH THE TRAILER
‘In Between’ Trailer
Israel’s Arabs divided by the film In Between’s portrayal of changing world (The National)
The female director who was issued a fatwa for her first film (BBC)
REVIEW Flatmates crash the cultural boundaries (Guardian)