Se­cret plight of the desert no­mads

Ori Kleiner’s film de­mands that Is­rael’s Be­douins be res­cued from a life of ter­ri­ble poverty. By Nick John­stone

The Jewish Chronicle - - ARTS&BOOKS -

NO­BODY COULD view Ori Kleiner’s doc­u­men­tary about the lives of Be­douin com­mu­ni­ties in Is­rael as any­thing but a damn­ing so­cial cri­tique. Shot on lo­ca­tion in the Negev over the sum­mer of 2006, Rec­og­nized presents a shock­ing por­trait of the des­per­ate poverty fac­ing many of Is­rael’s es­ti­mated 110,000 strong Be­douin pop­u­la­tion.

“When I first went to Is­rael in 2005 to do re­search, I didn’t even know how to recog­nise Be­douin vil­lages or even approach th­ese peo­ple,” ex­plains Kleiner, a 35-year-old New York-based Is­raeli.

Once he did make con­tact, he found wel­com­ing peo­ple, ea­ger to talk. As he filmed their sto- ries, he re­alised how poor his knowl­edge of their cul­ture was.

“Even though I was born in Haifa, grew up in Is­rael, spent 21 years there and go to Is­rael ev­ery year to visit fam­ily and friends, it re­ally amazed me how lit­tle I knew about this topic. I knew they were Be­douin and liv­ing down south, but that was pretty much it.”

He started hear­ing the same story over and over, of a peo­ple not recog­nised by the Is­rael gov­ern­ment, sub­se­quently de­nied Is­raeli cit­i­zen­ship and with that, the right to ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties such as wa­ter sup­ply, elec­tric­ity, hous­ing, ac­cess roads, health­care.

He also started run­ning into prob­lems with the Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties, as his cam­era cap­tured scenes of crack­downs on un­recog­nised Be­douin vil­lages. “There were some in­stances where I was not al­lowed to film. For in­stance, house de­mo­li­tions,” he says.

As the weeks rolled by, Kleiner was sur­prised to find that over 63 per cent of Is­rael’s Be­douin pop­u­la­tion are chil­dren un­der the age of 18 and even more sur­prised at how up­beat those he met were, de­spite their grim predica­ments. “For the most part, they’re not liv­ing a mis­er­able child­hood. They’re very happy even though their con­di­tions are ap­palling.”

Kleiner ended up shoot­ing 75 hours of footage. He de­cided, while edit­ing, to omit in­ter­views with Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties, keep­ing the fo­cus in­stead on the Be­douins’ sto­ries. “I’m def­i­nitely not point­ing fin­gers at any­one or blam­ing. I’m more say­ing: ‘Let’s see things for what they are. Let’s talk about the Be­douin and the Be­douin is­sues’.”

Kleiner hopes that in due course, the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment will recog­nise the Be­douin pop­u­la­tion. “Ev­ery­body should have the right to elec­tric­ity, clean wa­ter, ac­cess roads and so forth. There’s a mon­u­ment in the Negev that says, the peo­ple of Is­rael will be tested in the desert. It’s a quote by Ben Gu­rion. And for me, this is the real test. How do we deal with this dis­en­fran­chised pop­u­la­tion? That’s the real test for the peo­ple of Is­rael.” Rec­og­nized will be screened at the In­sti­tute of Con­tem­po­rary Arts, Lon­don SW1, on Sun­day at 4.30pm. Tel: 020 7930 3647

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