When Elia Suleiman's "Chronicle of Disappearance" opened at a
film festival here, he was appalled at what was written in the
program. His first feature-length film was listed as a product of
"Israel and the Palestinian Authority."
The film, he says, was a product of neither. Though he is a
citizen of Israel, as an Arab he considers himself a Palestinian,
and not an Israeli. But as a native of Nazareth, which has been
part of Israel since 1948, he does not live in the disputed
territories considered "Palestinian" and has no intention of living
under the three-year-old Palestinian Authority.
But art imitates life, and such conflict-laden, overlapping
identities are the central themes that permeate a new genre of film
coming from artists whom most Israelis call Arab-Israeli but who
view themselves as Palestinian.
In some ways, the question of what to call the 18 percent of
Israelis who are Arab resembles the move from terms like "Indian"
and "black" to "native American" and "African-American."
Just as the latter two have a more accurate link to geographic
history than to race, many Arabs who live in Israel want
recognition as minorities whose homeland was until 1948 - and in
their minds will always be - called Palestine.
But calling Israeli citizens Palestinians, a term usually
reserved for Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, triggers discussion
about more than just nomenclature. Can Israelis fully accept and
trust fellow citizens who are Arabs if they identify with the
Palestinians - the residents of the territories Israel occupied in
the 1967 war - who are trying to carve out a state of their own?
Will the Palestinian Authority, created by the 1993 Oslo peace
accords, also try to act on behalf of Israeli-Arabs when it comes
to discussing compensation for confiscated property and the return
of refugees - issues designated for upcoming "final status" talks?
The touchy question of dual loyalties came to a head when Ahmed
Tibi, a prominent Israeli-Arab professor, became a close adviser to
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. One top Israeli official
associated with the dovish left wing condemned it as a "dangerous
precedent." That rankles Israeli-Arab community leaders.
"As an adviser to Arafat and an Israeli citizen, you are adviser
to the enemy," says Suhail Fahoum, the deputy mayor of Nazareth.
Israel's largest Arab city, he says, gets one-third the budget
allocation of any Jewish city of equal size.
Yet some of the 1 million Arab citizens in the Jewish state
dislike the increasing popularity of unweildy names like "Arab
Palestinians living in Israel." Still trying to undo decades of
mistrust and inequality between the "Arab sector" and the rest of
Israel, some think calling themselves Palestinian works against
their struggle for acceptance and equivalent government spending.
Arab citizens of Israel have the right to vote, are represented
by several members of parliament, and can attend state schools
taught in Arabic, but they are still discriminated against.
Moreover, some Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza view the
Israeli-Arabs as far removed from the hardships of Palestinian
reality. Some resent them for taking Israeli citizenship, for
enjoying higher living standards, or for not doing enough to fight
for the Palestinian cause. And on a cultural level, many of the
Israeli-Arabs have been influenced by liberal, Western trends in
Israel that distance them from the more traditional, conservative
norms of the Palestinian territories.
Much of this reveals itself through the work of filmmakers such
as Mr. Suleiman and Nizar Hassan, a fellow Nazarene whose second
major film, "Yasmin," took last year's documentary prize at the
Jerusalem Film Festival.
In his film "Chronicle of Disappearance," an artistic
dramatization of his own diary and life experiences, Suleiman
suggests the fading of his culture before his eyes. His parents are
filmed sleeping in their den while the Jewish state's national
anthem shuts down the state-run TV station for the night, a scene
in which he seems to mock them for letting the creation of Israel
wash over them without a fight. …