A young Israeli's special framework for peace
Jerusalem — Michele Ohayon is 24 years old, $10,000 in debt, and very happy . . . except about one thing: the political and social road she feels her homeland, Israel, is traveling down.
The newest of a new breed of Israeli filmmakers, she has just unveiled her first major work: the story of an Arab and a Jew whose university romance falls victim to the conflicts, prejudices, and pressures of the society around them.
The mere making of the film, the realization of a dream that began when she was a film student at Tel Aviv University 19 months ago, marks the end of a long personal battle.
But now, for Michele Ohayon, the real battle begins - to get Israelis, particularly Israelis who don't share her film's heart cry for widened Jewish-Arab contact and coexistence, to watch the film.
''People don't have to change their minds when they see the film,'' Miss Ohayon says over coffee in a crowded Jerusalem restaurant. ''It is enough that they see it, and go home and think about it.''
''The issue of Jew and Arab is the most important one facing Israel. But most people don't think or talk about it much.''
Miss Ohayon's film - a 50-minute ''long short subject'' called ''Pressure'' - has played to generally rave responses at special premiere showings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
But so far the raves have come generally from the converted, from members of a minority, left-leaning intelligentsia that has been lobbying against the Israeli government's approach to Mideast peace since Egypt's Anwar Sadat flew to Jerusalem in 1977.
At least as important to Miss Ohayon as this kind of positive response - or as are several extremely positive reviews that have appeared in the Israeli press - is a tentatively planned showing of her film this July in the north Israeli development town of Maalot. Site of a 1970s Palestinian terrorist raid on a secondary school, Maalot is a profoundly conservative place peopled largely by Jewish immigrants from Arab countries in North Africa. Of all communities, these Sephardic Jews tend to be the most suspicious of, and uneasy with, non-Jewish Arabs in Israel.
Michele Ohayon understands all this as well as anyone. She was born in the Moroccan city of Casablanca. (''Yes. Bogey's town,'' she says with a wide smile.) Her parents packed up and moved with Michele, her two sisters, and infant brother to Israel in 1965. When she was a child, her family instilled in her the kind of conservative convictions that residents of Maalot would find comfortably familiar.
But then, as a 16-year-old high school student in Jerusalem, Michele Ohayon began to look at the world differently. Dresses, boys, parties - all gradually seemed trivial against the greater political issues swirling around her. And the most wrenching of all these issues was, for her, not only political but also personal: the question of the relationship between Jew and Arab inside an Israel still formally at war with the Arab world.
It was then that her ''personal battle'' began. And if Miss Ohayon seems a very happy woman, despite the hefty debt she rolled up in making ''Pressure,'' it is because her personal battle has turned out the way it has.
Political logic notwithstanding, her family has joined her in the struggle.
Around the family dinner table, there are hints of good-natured political debate, especially between the family filmmaker and her teen-age brother, who is serving in the Israeli Army's crack Golani Brigade in Lebanon.
''Sometimes,'' their father chuckles, ''I have to mediate between them.''
But almost palpably, a familial sense of solidarity, and pride in Miss Ohayon's achievements, reigns supreme. ''My mother and father, and my oldest sister, all helped in the public relations for the film,'' she recounts. Her other older sister, who lives and works in New York, wrote the English-language subtitles for the overseas version of the film.
There was support, too, from her friends and professional colleagues. Helping defray production costs were two small cash grants: one from the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the second from Tel Aviv University.
The actors, camera crews, and technical staff all worked without pay.
The finished product has a few of the inevitable rough edges of a first film. In characterization, it includes the stereotypes of a film treatment on so charged and complex an issue. There are shades of the ''good Jew'' and the ''bad'' one, ''good Arab'' and ''bad.'' The dialogue is stilted in some places.
Still, it is a sense of sincerity - and considerable success in making a thorny social and political issue movingly human - that seem, above all, to have struck viewers here so far.
''I feel very strongly that I have tried to make a personal, human, more than a political film,'' Miss Ohayon says. ''The idea was not principally to make a statement. It was to tell a human story in which the characters are real and the viewer is left to draw conclusions.''
The story involves Yoma, a Jewish woman, and Raif, an Arab, who are university students in love. Raif is detained by police on suspicion of involvement with a planned terrorist strike. Eventually, he is released. But before then, Yoma is torturously caught between contradictory pressures. All her friends - Jew or Arab, bookish or politically active - urge her not to play with fire, to let the police and Raif sort out his problems. The police pressure Yoma to inform on Raif.
The film ends with its most powerful and finely rendered scene. Yoma visits the released Raif's home village only to overhear news of his betrothal to a local Arab girl. Yoma's face - showing an ambiguous mix of abiding love and pain , of romanticism and cold realism - fades out against the final credits.
''Of course, any serious work of film or literature in the modern world inevitably has a political aspect,'' Miss Ohayon acknowledges.
Yet she insistently portrays herself more as catalyst than advocate. Her aim, she says, is to make ''human'' films that will move viewers, make them think, not to ''make political declarations.''
Her hope, which she is almost sure will go unredeemed, is that Israeli state television may eventually air her film. Meanwhile, she is trying to market ''Pressure'' overseas to chop away at her debt. Still, in writing a background blurb on the film for potential foreign buyers, she has pointedly avoided reference to its political ''message.''
''I want people to buy it not because they may think it is controversial, but because they decide, after seeing it, it is worth showing.''
But ''mainly, I'm planning my first longer, nondocumentary film,'' she says. Eventually, she thinks she might try to address the complex issue of Israel's involvement in Lebanon. Yet first, she wants to tackle a question from deep inside by putting on film the story of a Moroccan Jewish family's life in the land of Israel.
''The difficulty of the film scares me a bit,'' she says.
''But the idea excites me, too. I feel, somehow, that I must do this film before anything else.''