Arab Israeli filmmaker Ibtisam Sath Mara’ana grew up in Paradise, (Faradis in Arabic) a small fishing village on the Mediterranean. During the 1960’s, I often drove along the coastal road to Haifa and wondered about that Arab village perched in the hills above the road. It was one of the few Arab communities that remained after the 1948 war. Once, many years ago, we drove into the town. We had coffee in a café not dissimilar from a café in Ibtisam’s film, where only men sat. There were no conversations with anyone, and we soon left. I never met anyone from the village, but after seeing Ibtisam’s film I feel I am in conversation with her.
“We are decades apart in time,” I say to her. “I could be your mother but we have so much in common. My mother too disapproved of the way I dressed, the things I said, how I thought about the world. I was the first person in my family to go to college. It was painful for me to see your mother’s disapproval of you because it reminded me of my mother. But how much more difficult it was for you to break barriers, from your village to film school, to living in Tel Aviv. Your exploration of your identity as a woman and as an Arab growing up in Israel, a Jewish state is the core of your film.
In the film you are obviously obsessed with Suuad, also from your village, who left the village many years before, who we discover was jailed for having contacts with the PLO. Your search for Suuad, your journey to find out what she had done that was so terrible that no one was willing to talk about her. Your search for her made for the tension needed for a successful documentary. But it was not Suuad who I think about but your journey of self-discovery is what I’m left with. Perhaps you identified with her because you experience yourself as a radical—from the village to being a filmmaker– but the times are different. By the time you came of age there was an acceptance of the dual nature of an Arab-Israeli identify, or, as is politically correct today, the term is Palestinian Israeli. I believe that your search for Suuad and who she was and why she left the village is really your own search for your own identity as a woman, and as a Palestinian Israeli. What a difficult journey you have taken, and it is just beginning. You are thirty-three and have many more films to make, and perhaps many political positions to take.
In the Q & A I asked you about being on the Meretz list in the last election. You were number #12. Imagine, if things had gone differently…if, if, if. If there had been no Gaza excursion, if Meretz had been more successful at the polls, if there had not been so many parties running, if Israel had another political system, imagine, you would have been a member of the Israeli Knesset.
All this is idle speculation; the reality is that I am sure you will continue to make wonderful films. I learned in the Q & A that your partner is an Israeli Jewish man who you love very much. You have chosen a difficult path, one of enormous challenges. I look forward to seeing your next film, and the one after, and after. Wishing you great success.
Lilly Rivlin, filmmaker