The Arty Semite

A POW's Unlikely Friendship in Lebanon

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

The drama and tension of life in the Middle East are a potential goldmine for filmmakers. Few have excavated that terrain more successfully than Israeli director Eran Riklis.

Courtesy Strand Releasing

“Zaytoun” (Olive), which opened in New York September 20, is his latest movie to examine the region’s politics in micro-terms. There was an Israeli Druze cross-border wedding in “The Syrian Bride”; the destruction of a Palestinian woman’s lemon grove in “Lemon Tree,” and now “Zaytoun.”

Like the other films, Zaytoun has an elevator-pitch plot: an unlikely friendship between a young Palestinian boy and an Israeli fighter pilot downed over Lebanon. But like the others, a capsule summary does little justice to the nuance, intelligence and delicacy Riklis brings to his projects.

It’s 1982 and a civil war is ravaging Lebanon. Fahed (Abdallah el Akal) is a 12-year-old who lives with his father and grandfather in a Palestinian refugee camp. Both enthrall the youngster with tales of their old home in what is now Israel and carefully tend a young olive tree sapling they plan to plant on their return.

Fahed tries to pick up extra cash by selling gum and cigarettes outside the camp, but Lebanon is a dangerous place. The Lebanese seem to hate the Palestinians almost as much as they hate the Israelis. Fahed and his friends are forcibly recruited by a local PLO commander and undergo what passes for military training.

Fahed’s father is killed by an Israeli bomb and shortly thereafter an Israeli pilot, Major Yoni (Stephen Dorff) is shot down and captured. The youth and his friends are part of a team tasked with watching the imprisoned fighter; in a tense moment, an angry Fahed shoots the pilot in the leg. But over time, the youngster starts to see Yonni as his ticket home. He helps the fighter pilot escape in exchange for a promise that Yoni take him to Israel. And so the two — a Palestinian child and a wounded Israeli pilot — set off on a journey.

This is by no means a typical buddy road flick. If anything, it more closely resembles the Oscar nominated “The Defiant Ones,” about a pair of escaped prisoners, starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier. But the screenplay by Nader Rizq, a Palestinian-American, is more subtle — these two enemies slowly bond, first becoming allies and, ultimately, friends.

The film owes much of its success to el Akal, an Israeli Arab who lives in Tel Aviv. He manages to convey both the child-like innocence of a 12-year-old and the darkness of someone raised under difficult circumstances.

Is the film a metaphor for the situation in the region? Will people getting to know each other better be the ultimate solution? As in real life, there is no truly happy ending.

Watch the trailer for ‘Zaytoun’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Curt Schleier, Zaytoun, Film, Eran Riklis

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.