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Citizen Nawi

2007
Distributed by Frameline, 145 Ninth St., Suite 300, San Francisco, CA 94103; 415-703-8650
Produced by Sharon Schaveet
Directed by Nissim Mossek
DVD, color, 82 min.
Sr. High - Adult
Gay and Lesbian Studies, Jewish Studies, Middle Eastern Studies


Reviewed by Dan DiLandro, E.H. Butler Library, State University of New York College at Buffalo

Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 8/20/2009

Citizen Nawi follows Ezra Nawi, a plumber-turned-activist who is attempting to protect Palestinians and their rights in the South Hebron Hills. And while that brief description sums up much of the narrative, this documentary provides a good deal of additional information that will prove useful for audiences and act as a springboard for further discussion.

Indeed, Nawi is an Israeli and a homosexual. Both of these features mark him as something “strange” within the mixed political and religious climate of the region. It is, primarily, culturally at odds for this Jewish citizen to advocate for the rights of Palestinians; and viewers might be surprised by how much evident bigotry is directed toward the latter. The film makes manifest the racism directed at the Arab population by the Israelis, and this might be shocking to some Western audiences. Too, the narrative shows the incredible difficulty that Arabs encounter trying to get into and around the Israeli political areas. Indeed, there are constant scenes of roadblocks and individuals’ fears of being in the wrong place, having the correct pass, etc.

Regarding his sexual orientation, Nawi must navigate the religious bigotry and discrimination within his own culture. Described euphemistically as a “gentle guy” (when, as shown at the Jerusalem Gay Pride festival, not being referred to in much less positive terms), Nawi and the film are open to displaying this aspect of himself. This, of course, helps round out the narrative, and adds to its sense of immediacy and impact.

Too, episodes such as the ones with Nawi’s mother and an Irish Parliamentarian friend add a touch of lightness to the largely heady film; but these scenes, too, further the story along in their ways, showing more of Nawi’s social milieu but also putting them firmly into the context of the overall society and its conflicts. That his mother and a female friend, for instance, wish Nawi were heterosexual are “nice” episodes, but the film can skillfully show how even these light utterances are made significant in the discriminatory world of the film.

There exist some major problems with the film, though. For instance, the English subtitles of the spoken regional languages do not seem at all to capture the action of the narrative. It is often difficult to determine exactly what is being said (many linguistic nuances are truly lost in translation here) and occasionally by and to whom. Another aspect of the film is the discrimination shown by Israelis to the Palestinians, but it is not explained why there is such an evident fear and hatred of them. While this is certainly a platform for discussion, especially in educational settings, it makes the narrative feel a bit skewed.

It is also unclear why Nawi became such a strong advocate for the Palestinians in the area. It might be that he became aware of the bigotry toward the Arabs when he met his one-time lover, Fuad, but this is not particularly explained, so it is difficult to get a full sense of Nawi himself and his motivations.

Fuad, by the way, is in constant trouble with the Israeli police and courts -- though surely nothing shown is his “fault.” In fact, the Palestinian is thrown into jail for, apparently, having been at a checkpoint where he was not supposed to go and at other times was charged or put on probation for such things as “illegal residence charges.” This allows Nawi to further explain that the police were often around their quasi-shared residence within Israel. Since they were “different” and “obvious,” the police would routinely visit the apartments and harass and/or imprison Fuad and himself. (Indeed, the police presence is ubiquitous, but even threats of imprisonments are clearly expected by the pair as well many of the film’s other Palestinian people.)

Other fairly shocking—and perhaps antithetical to some audience’s ideas on the region’s dynamics—scenes include the South Hebron Israeli’s treatment of the Arabs, an attack at the Gay Pride parade, and many other images of violence and intolerance.

So while Citizen Nawi has some evident problems with the film itself as well the narrative, it is surely an important work that shed light on many of the area’s conflicts and dynamics. The film is, thus, recommended for audiences interested in gay and lesbian studies, Jewish studies, and Middle Eastern studies.