Friday, July 24, 2015

The Jewish Quarter On Palestinian TV

Reality TV

The Jewish Quarter: Co-stars Menna Shalabi & Iyad Nassar in a screen shot from the Egyptian-produced drama. David D. Kirkpatrick of The New York Times writes: ‘The Jewish Quarter’ is named for a neighborhood where people of the three Abrahamic faiths once all lived together. In its opening scene, Muslims, Christians and Jews take shelter together in a synagogue during an Israeli air raid. (The temple is now boarded up and forgotten, hidden behind stalls selling cheap hairpins.) A Muslim romantic rival to Laila, the Jewish protagonist, makes fun of a Christian woman, and Laila defends her.”
Source: The Forward

An article, by William Booth & Sufian Taha in The Washington Post discusses a new show on Palestinian TV, an Egyptian produced Arabic language late-night soap opera that follows a Jewish family living in Cairo in 1948. It shows Jews in a positive light, and moreover the article says, the show is highly popular among Palestinians living in the West Bank, “garnering a 40 percent share during prime-time viewing.” 

In “Egyptian show that’s flattering to Jews is a surprise hit among Palestinians” (July 17, 2015), Booth and Taha write:
Bethlehem, West Bank. A dozen Palestinian Muslim men gathered after midnight at an isolated farm house this week to indulge in a new delight. They were going to watch a soap opera about Jews. “Hush, hush. It’s starting!” someone said. The group settled down, sipped fresh lemonade, nibbled sweets, sucked on water pipes and then cranked up the volume for the opening credits of  “Haret al-Yahud,” or “The Jewish Quarter.”
The steamy Egyptian soap tells a Romeo and Juliet tale of a beautiful daughter of a well-to-do Jewish merchant and a dashing Muslim army commander falling in and out and in love again in old Cairo during the earth-shaking 1948 Arab-Israeli war and its aftermath. The show’s vibe is a mash of “Casablanca” with a little “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
“I never in my life imagined that I would be seeing this,” said Mahmoud Dadoh, a chicken farmer who had become a fan.
He was not amazed to see Jews in Arab media. Not at all.
Israelis and Jews, often presented as interchangeable, are a reliable staple on TV dramas produced in the Arab world, cast as greedy, villainous, hook-nosed stereotypes — or as evil occupiers of Palestine.

What Israeli media watchdogs often call “incitement,” the Arab world considers “television.”
No, what stunned the chicken farmer and his pals was that “The Jewish Quarter” is aired on Palestinian public television, with the implied consent of the Palestinian Authority, and it shows Jews in a positive light — as ordinary, even extraordinary, human beings.
“This is very new for us,” Dadoh said, pointing to the big-screen television during a scene where the Jewish patriarch counsels patience. “Look at them. Look at their dignity!”

The other men nodded.
To be sure, this show is a cultural product that has a large audience, which means that it has been highly successful in providing entertainment value, which does say something important. Entertainment can sometimes turn to education, since it is easier and more enjoyable to digest than traditional education. Yes, it is soap-opera drama, replete with low culture and high drama, and all that such combinations entails, not precisely my cup of tea.

This does not in any way suggest that the show is without merit, or that it has no value. Quite the contrary; and it has power to shape public opinion, not only in Egypt, where the show originates, but elsewhere in the Arab world where the drama is broadcast, This is part of the argument that Eyal Sagui Bizawe makes in Haaretz (“How ‘The Jewish Quarter’ became the talk of Cairo;” July 5, 2015):
Those who see themselves as being refined people of high culture can ridicule melodramatic Ramadan series, criticize the sticky romance, the overused filmmaking techniques and ridiculous mistakes made in them. But they would be better served if, instead of scorning the amusement that they see as dumbing down to the people, they recognize that they offer an important expression of the changes in society, challenging, shaping and different from the prevailing attitude for years.
Without a doubt, we know that culture has the ability to change views, perhaps not as powerfully as religion and politics (which often today appears toxic and ferments nationalism), but sufficiently enough, nevertheless, to engender dialogue, which are the tiny seedlings of trust that bear the tasty fruits of reconciliation and rapprochement. Such is always a good thing and considerably better than what we have been witnessing for decades.

For more, go to [WashPostt]; for more critiques , go to [TheForward] & to [NYT]

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