Sarit, an Israeli, and Amal, a Bedouin, share a moment in A Slim Peace.
Photo courtesy Aslimpeace.com
A Slim Peace will be screened on Saturday, May 2, at 9 p.m. at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth. The film will be followed by remarks by Sarah Elshazly, an Israeli Arab who serves as chief of the bureau of prevention and community relations in the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. A $5 donation is suggested. For more information, contact Udi Shorr at 732-819-9850.
April 28, 2009
The subjects and viewers of Yael Luttwak’s 2007 documentary A Slim Peace are challenged immediately: Are issues that unite stronger than those that divide?
In this case, she raises eyebrows of “the man on the street” and potential participants when she explains her concept: women from the spectrum of Israeli society — sabras, settlers, Palestinians, and Bedouins — coming together for a weight loss support group.
The theme is nothing new: Take a group of people who have nothing in common, who even harbor resentment toward one another, put them together for a shared goal, and watch how they organize and what they achieve. “See? We’re really not so different after all.” That might work in a feature film (Remember the Titans, The Breakfast Club, Men of Honor), but real-life results are seldom as neat and tidy as screenplays.
Some polled by the filmmaker bemusedly respond that such a crazy idea just might work while others say it could never work. Ichsan, a Palestinian television personality and one of the key figures in A Slim Peace, calls the Israelis “bastards, settlers, thieves. We live in misery because of them.” Just a few kilometers away in the Bat Ayin settlement, Rivkah and Ariella express similar sentiments, fearful of constant attacks by Palestinians.
Luttwak, a graduate of the London Film School, previously used this method in Meeting Point, a television series with Israelis and Palestinians that was aired by both Israeli and Palestinian networks.
At the first of the meetings in A Slim Peace — which were held in Jerusalem in early 2006 against the backdrop of Palestinian elections — crossed arms and crossed legs reflect the distrust and animosity. The 14 women sit side by side, but are worlds apart. Nevertheless, they deserve credit for their honesty. They do not say one thing in private and put on a happy face in the group. “We connect because we’re women,” says one of the settlers, “but I don’t feel 100 percent comfortable.”
“It is a blind date,” says Ichsan, whose husband died fighting against Israelis. “I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Luttwak follows subsequent meetings. Ichsan seems more annoyed that the exercise device used to measure her steps malfunctioned during the long walk through Israeli checkpoints than anything else. “Like the peace process, it’s not working,” she half-jokes.
Some of the participants seem willing to keep an open mind — but they wouldn’t be of much interest. Instead, Luttwak focuses on key members from each demographic who basically repeat their respective party’s line. There is a gradual softening, as the filmmaker may have hoped for/intended, which comes out in private chats. Aviva, a native-born Israeli, claims to have more in common with the Palestinians than the settlers, to whom she “can’t relate.” Amal, a Bedouin, says she is “caught in the middle” between the Jews and the Palestinians.
“It’s good to interact, even if you don’t change your mind,” says Ichsan after a congenial visit to the home of group member Dasi Stern, a descendant of one of the organizers of the militant Stern Gang, which fought for Israeli independence.
Luttwak revisits some of the women a year later to gauge the progress of their weight-loss goals and the relationships they forged while in the group. (Why did the program end? Was it planned with a definite duration or did it die due to lack of interest? The Bat Ayin settlers say the trip to Jerusalem was too expensive and difficult to organize, but there are no other explanations offered.) Just like at camp or college, once they have left their unifying device, they have fallen out of touch and returned to their ways of life — but perhaps with a new philosophy.