Saturday, September 26, 2009

And the Winner is.... "Ajami"!

Ajami movie poster up in Nazareth

The Israeli Film Academy has just wrapped up its annual awards ceremony. The Ophir Prize is often called the "Israeli Oscar" and this year, Haifa was awarded the honour and hosted the ceremony in the Auditorium (the same complex where the Cinematheque is located). This makes the city look really happening, especially as the decorations for the annual International Film Festival, which launches next week, are already up.

The film that came out as the big winner this year was none other than "Ajami," named after the Jaffa neighbourhood which it is based in. It took home the Ophir Prize for best film, best directing, best script, best editing, and best composition. Co-directed by the Jewish-Arab duo of Scandar Copti (resident of Ajami) and Yaron Shani, the film reflects the mixture of Jaffa. It's a gripping tale of all the balagan that goes on in Ajami: relations between Jewish and Arab neighbours, West Bankers and Israeli Arabs, Christians and Muslims, and everything in between. Most of the dialogue is in Arabic, but the local version of it, which is peppered with Hebrew.

I couldn't find an English trailer; for now it seems there's only Hebrew and Arabic.

ADDENDUM: It seems that the people at Global Voices really enjoyed my piece. Their post on Ajami, published a day after this one, is surprisingly similar to mine.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Other Gilad?

$10,000,000 for any information which leads to the finding of the missing soldier Majdi Halabi

It's been almost four and half years since the disappearance of the Israeli soldier Majdi Halabi. The then 19-year old soldier from the Druze town of Daliyat-el-Carmel was on his way to his base, but never made it to his destination. He hasn't been heard from since, and the Israeli public hasn't heard much about him, either. While everyone knows the names Gilad Shalit or Ron Arad, hardly anyone could tell you who Majdi Halabi is.

The fact that for a while already there has been a $10,000,000 reward on any information that leads to his discovery hasn't brought about any results either. You might see a sign about him if you are the Horev Centre in Haifa or pass by the University of Haifa, or catch the huge billboard up at the entrance of Halabi's hometown. That's how I learned about Halabi a few years ago. Someone has opened a Facebook profile in his name to "support the family." The Hana Fitness Centre in Daliyat-el-Carmel held a "sports event," sponsored by Speedo and others, on the fourth year anniversary of his disappearance. These all seem to organized by family members and fellow townspeople. But that's all. It just doesn't seem to be enough for a state that prides itself on its high concern for its soldiers.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Burning Crosses in the Middle East


Cross burning in Haifa

If you were in Haifa last night, you may have seen the burning crosses. Although burning crosses has different connotations in the United States, here it is done by Christian Arabs to mark the eve of عيد الصليب (Eid el-Salib), or the Feast of the Cross. The sight is pretty similar to the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba-Omer, with lots of children out until late, making fires. Along with that, there is the non-stop sound of fireworks going off. Today, the actual day of the holiday, it is quieter and there are special ceremonies at the churches. Hebrew readers can find out more about the holiday and its local customs here, under "חג הצלב".

Cross burning in Sakhnin

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Historic Development in Turkey-Armenia Relations

Turkey and Armenia announced today that they would establish diplomatic relations. If the protocols are formally ratified by the two countries before the deadline, it would spell the end of Turkey's sixteen-year blockade of Armenia. Turkey closed its border with its Caucasian neighbor in 1993, during the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno-Karabakh. I do not know enough about domestic politics in Armenia at the moment to speculate on whether serious political obstacles exist in the country to prevent ratification. Many Armenians in Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the large Diaspora will certainly protest any change in relations with Turkey that does not address the issue of genocide recognition. In Turkey, there are also likely to be voices, especially among opponents of Erdogan, against opening the border with Armenia.

More interesting for watchers of the region will be the fallout among Turkey's and Armenia's neighbors: especially Azerbaijan, Georgia, Russia, and Iran. For Azerbaijan, the Turkish move is a serious a blow, as the blockade was one of Azerbaijan's major instruments in pressuring Armenia during negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh. For Georgia, the opening of the Turkish-Armenian border means increased competition and the end of profits from shipping Turkish goods to Armenia via Georgia. Both will likely become even more dependent on the U.S. for aid and protection.

For Russia, which has emerged as Armenia's main backer in recent years, the deal means both an improvement in relations with Turkey and new opportunities for energy development. Turkey perhaps stands to gain the most - on the ground and in international diplomacy.