Israeli-Arab film 'Ajami' spotlights tough, gentrifying Jaffa
The makers of the Israeli-Arab film 'Ajami,' which was nominated for an Oscar, saw their depiction of drug dealing and poverty in Jaffa collide with reality earlier this week, when two of them were arrested.
The film "Ajami" was already getting a fair amount of press after being nominated earlier this month for an Oscar in the "Best Foreign Language Film" category.Skip to next paragraph
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But the film and the violent, crime-ridden neighborhood it portrays just became an even hotter topic after two brothers of filmmaker Scander Copti – one of whom was also in the film and served as his production manager – were arrested following a run-in with the police. The brothers, Tony Copti and Jieres Copti, who say they were beaten and mistreated by the police during their arrest over a week ago, filed a complaint against the Israeli police on Monday, charging brutality.
"We have photos of how the police treated us when they arrested us, but it was only after they took us to the police station that they really started to beat us," says Tony Copti, who acted in the film and served as its production manager.
The Tel Aviv District Police issued a statement about the arrests: "This was an unusual incident of an assault on officers who arrived at a scene of a crime and were attacked by dozens of local residents who beat them and cursed them. Reasonable force was employed in order to keep the order and arrest suspects."
"We hope that they will investigate this and that justice will be done," Copti says. "This kind of thing happens a lot in Jaffa – there was a similar incident just two weeks ago. We had a big meeting of all the communities in Jaffa to talk about it. Everyday we have incidents with the police. We hope something will change."
Tensions between the Arab residents of Jaffa and the Israeli officers sent in to police them have been a factor of life in the Jewish state for many years. Several residents interviewed for this article – some of them actors in the film – say that police aggression towards them is an ongoing problem that "Ajami" only touches upon briefly.
But the strength of the film is that it doesn't try to portray a one-sided view of the tensions in which disempowered Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians are victims and the Israeli-Jews are the aggressors. Rather, the film shows the multi-layered conflict in a way that blurs lines of right and wrong, and shows the humanity of all its flawed, lovable characters.
For example, there is a teenage Palestinian from the West Bank who has smuggled himself into Jaffa illegally to work in a restaurant in the hope of making enough money to help save his ailing mother -- and inadvertently winds up in the middle of a drug deal gone wrong. And there is an Israeli cop who, having just lost his brother – a soldier who was abducted and killed outside of Nablus - cracks and shoots the young Palestinian he should have simply arrested.
The film also touches on the social complications of life for the approximately 20 percent of Israel's citizens who are "Israeli-Arabs," from forbidden romances between Jews and Arabs - as well as between Muslims and Christians – to blood feuds, which put innocent people in the line of fire just because of their family affiliation. But the overriding current of the films pulses with the lure of drugs: as a source of crime, as an economic outlet, as ultimately, a path toward destruction.