Film Screening Explores Sexual and National Identity in Israel

Sarah Mazer ’19, Staff Writer

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The Asbell Center for Jewish Life sponsored a screening of the film Oriented, a documentary chronicling the lives of three gay Palestinian men living in Tel Aviv, Israel on Tuesday, February 21. Oriented, directed by Jacob Witzenfield, premiered at the Sheffield Doc/Fest in June 2015 during a period of intense escalation in the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

The three men in the documentary are Khader, a wealthy Muslim living with Jewish boyfriend Fadi, a Palestinian nationalist who falls in love with an Israeli soldier; and Naim, who struggles to admit his sexuality to his family. The three men form a group called Qambuta, a non-violent cultural resistance movement fighting for gender and national equality. The documentary was screened in Tome Hall.

The film was brought to campus by Sydney Harlow, Engagement Associate of the Asbell Center. She discovered the film online in November and reached out to the cast members to arrange a Skype session following the screening of the film. Although the cast members canceled the session last-minute, the screening of the film continued. Harlow saw the film as a way to chronicle the diverse experiences held by Israelis, and added that she hopes that students “take away that it’s not just Jews living in Israel.”

Cheima Dahmani, a Fulbright teaching assistant of Arabic, commented that Oriented “spoke to her” in many ways. Dahmani, who is originally from Tunisia, related her own country’s treatment of the LGBTQ community to the treatment of the Palestinian Israelis in their home communities. Dahmani explained that in Tunisia, “not only are the LGBT people being persecuted, but also those who try to defend them.” She noted that although a national organization called “Sun” aims to defend the rights of the LGBTQ community, “it’s still not recognized by Tunisians in general,” adding that the severity of discrimination towards this community in Tunisia has led Sun’s President into two hunger strikes.

Geoffrey Cole ’20, president of Dickinson’s Hillel was more interested in the film’s ability to show the Palestinian perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cole expressed that the film was eye opening for Jewish students, whom he stated tend to “have a pretty one sided view of things… the pro-Israel side.” He recalled “jumping in his seat a little” upon hearing hostile comments about the Israeli state that were “just so opposite of what we’ve always been told and what we’ve always been taught.” Cole found that the film allowed him to think critically about his own reactions to the statements made by the Palestinians in the film and question, “why was that my response? Why do I think what I think is better than what they think?”