The Dead of Jaffa by veteran TV filmmaker, Ram Loevy, is a hard-hitting feature film about how our contemporary reality is haunted by those who have come before us, in this case specifically the Arabs of Jaffa who lived during the British Mandatory period of 1948.
The story is about Rita and her husband George who is the proprietor of a small shop. One day, three children from a small West Bank town near Hebron are smuggled into Israel and dropped off at their house. Their mother is dead and their father is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison. Rita and George are told that these are the children of a distant relative. Whether they are or they aren’t, George is terribly worried about the risks involved in harboring three undocumented children. But George and Rita are childless and Rita is not willing to give up the children so easily.
The two younger children are happy to become part of George and Rita’s household. But the older boy, whose political consciousness is already developing, has moved out of their house into an abandoned house next door. George tells him that this is where dead people live, which we take to understand that it belonged to Palestinians who left in 1948. As the boy looks out of the window, he magically witnesses the 1948 period, and watches as Palestinians in traditional dress are moving around, preparing for a celebration. A whirling dervish begins to dance, and is supernaturally flying above. These figures are not actually ghosts from the past, rather they are part of a foreign film which is being shot in the old part of Jaffa – a romance about what it was like living under British occupation during the 1948 period.
George is cast as a distinguished Palestinian doctor and we watch as his character is shot and killed, in multiple takes, by a British soldier. This is not the strongest part of the film, perhaps because Ram Loevy has purposefully created the film-within-a-film to look somewhat stiff as a reflection of the lack of understanding of the foreign filmmaker. The tension between the historical period and the modern one reaches a climax when a staged anti-British demonstration gets out of hand and becomes a violent demonstration against the Israeli occupation. This is when the viewer realizes how the memory of the trauma and hardships of 1948 is actually part and parcel of the contemporary reality.
Ram Loevy is known for his wide array of films dealing with difficult political and social issues including discrimination, poverty, economic and social inequality, and difficulties between Arabs and Jews. Loevy is perhaps best known for his 1978 made-for-TV film, Khirbet Hiza’a, based on the story by S. Yizhar (an author of the Palach generation). The film is set during the 1948 War of Independence between Israel and the surrounding Arab states, in which Israeli soldiers forcibly deport the citizens of an entire Arab village. Remarkable for its honesty and openness at a time when the onscreen examination of Arab-Israeli issues was still rare, the film portrays the impotence of one soldier who challenges the others about what they are doing, but is quickly silenced by another soldier’s vision of the Land of Israel becoming filled with inevitable waves of Jewish refugees who will replace the “fleeing” Arabs.
The Dead of Jaffa is available from Laila Films.