Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:24 am (KSA) 21:24 pm (GMT)

Arab-Israeli film promotes peaceful coexistence

Young actor Mahmoud Shalaby
Young actor Mahmoud Shalaby

Israeli cinema theaters have began screening the movie “Jaffa” featuring Arab and Israeli actors and promoting peaceful coexistence inside the Hebrew state.

“Jaffa,” directed by Israeli filmmaker Keren Yedaya best known for her award winning movie “Or,” is about a love story between a Jewish girl, played by Israeli actress Dana Ivgy, and an Arab mechanic who works in her father’s garage, played by Arab-Israeli actor Mahmoud Shalaby.

The events take place in a little seaside town near Tel Aviv and in which Arabs and Jews live side by side. The Arabic name of the movie is “Arous al-Bahr” meaning “bride of the sea.”

“Jaffa” is the debut of 24-year-old Acre-based rapper Mahmoud Shalaby, who sees the movie as a call for peaceful coexistence and equality within the Israeli society and an exploration of the role love can play in making the two groups live in harmony.

“I wanted all Jews who live in Israel to understand that the relationship between us Arabs of 1948 and them is not a taboo,” Shalaby told the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. “On the contrary, it is a normal relationship that can involve love as much as hate.”

Love has a place

 The movie shows that although the tension exists, the possibility of love also exists, but it depends on how willing people are to work on this possibility in order to achieve rapprochement 
Actor Mahmoud Shalaby

The love story between the Arab man and the Jewish girl, Shalaby pointed out, stands as a symbol of relations between Arabs and Jews inside Israel and proves that love has a place between both if it is given the proper chance.

“That is why it is a political movie in the first place,” he added.

In the movie, the passion between the Arab mechanic Tawfik and his Jewish boss’s daughter Mali keeps blooming until it is violently disrupted when Tawfik kills Mali’s brother by mistake and goes to jail not knowing that Mali is pregnant with his child.

When asked how the movie promotes peace while it ends with the failure of the love story and a deepening of tension and mistrust between the two groups, Shalaby replied that although the end is tragic it still implies the existence of hope.

“The movie shows that although the tension exists, the possibility of love also exists, but it depends on how willing people are to work on this possibility in order to achieve rapprochement. It shows that if each group tries hard to communicate with the other, peaceful coexistence becomes a sure outcome.”

“Jaffa” delivers a message to Jewish Israelis through showing them that they cannot ignore the presence of Arabs in their society and that the consequences of doing so are never favorable, Shalaby added.

“Overlooking Arabs is impossible and will never bridge the gap between them and Jews. That is why I invested all my energy in this movie. I wanted to say that Israel is for both Arabs and Jews.”

Religion not an obstacle

 Extremism is growing in Israel and this is because of the worn-out ideas people get through education. People are born pure and free then their ideologies start getting shaped by what society teaches them 
Mahmoud Shalaby

Regarding the role of religion in facilitating or hindering peaceful coexistence, Shalaby said that religion itself was never an obstacle, but extremism has always been.

“Extremism is growing in Israel and this is because of the worn-out ideas people get through education. People are born pure and free then their ideologies start getting shaped by what society teaches them.”

Shalaby was born in the old city of Acre where living conditions were very harsh with teenagers trading in drugs and using guns while the Israeli police never interfered as long as the chaos does not exceed the borders of the city.

“It was a tragic life where either you defeat or get defeated. Those childhood memories were forever engraved in my memory.”

Shalaby’s relationship with art started when he formed a Palestinian rap band with a group of his friends and called it MWR. The band was extremely popular in all the venues where it performed especially Egypt, Jordan, and the West Bank. It was featured in Slingshot Hip Hop, a documentary about the development of Palestinian hip hop. Their most famous hits include “Because I’m an Arab” and “Arabs in Danger.”

However, members of MWR disagreed and they ended up splitting. Shalaby was out of work, so he decided to open a café near his house.

“But I felt unsatisfied after a while. I realized that this is not what I wanted to do.”

He sank in despair until a phone call from a cinema production company made him hopeful again. He was told that he had an interview with director Keren Yedaya who later offered him the lead role in “Jaffa.”

Despite the fact that he did not study cinema, Shalaby’s interaction with the main characters in the movie like Moni Moshonov, Ronit Elkabetz, and Dana Ivgy benefited him a lot.

The screening of “Jaffa” in the Cannes Film Festival made Shalaby shoot to fame and he received an offer from French-Israeli writer Valerie Zenatti to act in a movie whose script she wrote about the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.

“I was reluctant at first, then I accepted especially when I knew that Arab-Israeli actress Hayam Abbas will play the role of my mother in the movie.”

When “Jaffa,” was screened in New York, Shalaby got the chance to travel to the United States thus the travel ban imposed on him was lifted.

“I was not allowed to go to the United States for security reasons. I have a namesake who is on the wanted list for terrorist-related activities.”


(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).

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