Saturday, January 30, 2021

Dancing Arabs (A Borrowed Identity)


I watched the 2014 film A Borrowed Identity on Amazon Prime. I understand the title of the film may be Dancing Arabs (this is the title of Sayed Kashua’s book on which the film is based) on another streaming service.

The film follows an exceptionally bright Palestinian kid, Eyad, from his home in the West Bank to a tony prep school in Jerusalem. Despite the progressive ideals of the school, the students and teachers show prejudice and hostility toward Arabs.

Eyad works to improve his Hebrew and fit in as best he can. He falls in love with a Jewish girl, Naomi, who introduces him to Jewish Jerusalem.

Part of the school’s curriculum is for students to do community service. Eyad’s assignment is to help Yonatan, an Israeli about his age, who suffers from a debilitating disease. Yonatan is a music fan and opens Eyad to a cultural scene new to him.

Everywhere Eyad turns he encounters an Israeli society that discriminates against and fears Arabs. Eventually Naomi’s parents learn she is dating an Arab and take her out of school. Eyad drops out of school so Naomi can return.

Eyad had been working as a dishwasher in a restaurant, learning that Arab workers are confined to the kitchen and generally don’t become waiters – a role reserved for Jews. He figures he has a passing resemblance to Yonatan, so he borrows his ID card and starts waiting tables for more money.

His bank statements get sent to Yonatan’s house where his mother finds them and confronts Eyad in a touching scene. “I just wanted to be a waiter,” he said. “It’s fine,” the mother said, overwhelmed with the tragedy of her dying son. This small act unleashes a brilliant and disturbing course of events.

This film is powerful, showing a spectrum of prejudice in Israeli society, from the soldier at a checkpoint, to the literature teacher, to the family living in a nice house.  

This excellent film is both entertaining and provocative concerning the realities of modern Israel/Palestine. There is humor and engagement with any number of nationalistic issues that continue to define the region. 

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