With the recent coinage of the term “pinkwashing,” presumably an “unofficial” official policy whereby the Israeli government touts its progressive stance vis-à-vis gay and lesbian rights as a way to deflect criticism of the Occupation, one entry into the sixth annual Other Israel Film Festival took on new urgency earlier this month. But the documentary “The Invisible Men,” while hardly a wholesale indictment of the Occupation, offers a balanced but equally troubling spectacle. While Israel refuses to “legalize” Palestinian gays who enter the country fleeing persecution in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian families, adhering to religious and cultural norms, and Palestinian police, enforcing those norms, think nothing of abusing their own children and subjecting them to emotional, psychological, and physical torture. Thus the dilemma for young Palestinian homosexuals: survive illegally in Israel under threat of expulsion or legally in the territories under threat of death?
This Hobson’s choice is made painfully clear in “The Invisible Men.” Personal testimonies from three Arab men — two living undocumented in Tel Aviv and one under Palestinian jurisdiction — force us to wonder what sort of world compels people to live at the boundary of madness and suicide, renunciation and helplessness, self-denial and abjection.
Director Yariv Mozer and writer Adam Rosner home in on Louie, 33, who has been living illegally in Tel Aviv for 10 years. A skilled manual laborer — we see him repainting an apartment with such care that the owner extends her compliments — Louie’s position has nevertheless become untenable. He is repeatedly picked up by the authorities and sent back to the territories where it is impossible for him to live. His sexuality is known and rejected by his family; his father has even threatened his life with a knife at the young man’s throat. Scarred by that violent encounter, and as much or more by the rape he endured at age 8 by an older boy, Louie finds his way back to Jaffa, living under the radar and wearing a Star of David around his neck in hopes of warding off the police.