What are the biggest misunderstandings about Jerusalem

What language does the communication speak? Identity and rapprochement of Jewish and Arab Israelis in My Heart Dances


In My Heart Dances, director Eran Riklis describes how prejudices and role ascriptions create social exclusion, but also how these can be overcome. In many small everyday observations, the film describes the complex and diverse mechanisms that allow or prevent exchange and communication. Language plays a decisive role, both literally and figuratively: the language of words, but also that of the body, the language of music and finally the "language of the heart".

A question of perspective

The political demarcation lines between official and unofficial language use cause the greatest misunderstandings. Opinions are divided about Eyad's father, for example. Is he a terrorist, as the Israeli newspapers claim, a resistance fighter, as the father himself explains, or is he just a picker, as the opportunist director at Eyad's Arab primary school insists, who brings the students politically in line (of the Israeli state) want? One man, three interpretations, depending on the speaker position. These ambiguities run through Eyad's entire childhood and school days. The young Arab teacher has to hide the map of historical Palestine behind the Israeli map when the headmaster enters the classroom. In the presence of authority, the teacher continues with the official lesson as if nothing had happened.

My heart is dancing, scene (© NFP)

In conflict with the language

However, it is not only meanings and rhetorical subtleties that create contradictions, but also the language (s) as such. With family and neighbors, Eyad speaks Arabic, while the majority of Israelis speak Hebrew. However, Eyad learns Hebrew more poorly than right in his place of birth Tira. At the boarding school in Jerusalem, his classmates make fun of his pronunciation, and they also mispronounce his Arabic name. Eyad becomes Ayid. Only Naomi notices. Finally, with the help of a handkerchief, she teaches him how to pronounce the P that Arabs struggle with. P for Palestine.

Difficulty communicating

Eyad is also sensitive to the Jewish perception of the Arab minority in school lessons. In a key scene of the film, when the teacher asked him about the role of the Arab twins in Amos Oz's novel "My Michael", he listed all the famous Israeli writers for whom the role of the Arab man was connoted as dangerous or inferior . Eyad's critical analysis ends with the rhetorical question of whether an Israeli woman can sink deeper than sleeping with an Arab. Naomi reacts to this in a surprising way. She gets up and kisses her boyfriend in front of the whole class.

This decision takes courage, but Naomi does not want to continue lying and therefore tell her parents about her Arab friend. At this point the first discrepancies between the two begin to become noticeable. While eating together, Eyad taunts his girlfriend about a possible violent reaction from their parents, but in the same breath objects with an ironic undertone that they are Ashkenazim. This swipe alludes to the self-image of the State of Israel, which was largely founded by Ashkenazim (the largest religious community in European Judaism) and which, as a reaction to the Holocaust, is primarily committed to peace between cultures. Naomi is snubbed at Eyad's comment. The short dialogue shows that, unlike Yonatan, Naomi has no sense of humor on this delicate subject. Naomi reacts similarly to the punk concert she goes to with Eyad and Yonatan. She sees the band's provocative, political lyrics (which are not subtitled in the German version) as an affront - and when Yonatan later jokingly asks them, looking at Eyad, whether the "Arab" dares to turn them on, Naomi finally says angrily goodbye .

Playing with cultural prejudices

In the dialogue between the two young men, the humorous game with common prejudices and stereotypes repeatedly loosens up. So Yonatan makes fun of how well Eyad finds his way through the maze of alleys of Jerusalem's old town. That was in his blood, Eyad replies with a wink - just like bargaining. Shortly afterwards, when Eyad buys hummus in the Arab diner, the seller asks him if he could just find a disabled Jewish friend. In scenes like this, the film also focuses on the prejudices of Arab Israelis.

The construction of identity

Eyad and Yonatan are aware that they are bound by their outsider existence. "Is that from birth?" Asks Eyad Yonatan on his first visit. "And you," he replies sharply, "are you like that from birth?" And then starts to grin. This question in turn lies at the heart of the narrative of My Heart Dances. Is Eyad's identity so firmly established that there is no rescue from rough roadside checks or poorly paid work? Is that only possible if you can identify yourself as an Israeli Jew? But how much rapprochement is possible without giving up one's own identity?

My heart is dancing, scene (© NFP)

The film gives the answer in an equally ambivalent and surprising way: Yonatan is finally buried with Eyad's ID. However, this finale, which seals Eyad's future as a Jewish, non-Arab Israeli, has nothing of a triumph. The pictures show a sad, beaten young man who marches lonely with Yonatan's mother behind his friend's coffin. Eyad solves his dilemma by denying his origin. Screenwriter Sayed Kashua, who is also responsible for the novel, does not negate the possibility of free will. Kashua, who writes his texts in Hebrew, and director Riklis see identity more as a social construct. In the opening credits, the film quotes the Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish: "Identity is our legacy, not our heritage, our invention and not our memory."

Synchronization difficulties

Unfortunately, this self-image of cultural identity, which director Riklis tries to achieve visually and linguistically, is a little lost in the German version. The linguistic diversity, the spontaneous mixture of Arabic and Hebrew in everyday life together, is turned into its opposite by an undifferentiated synchronization: In the German version, all the characters speak German. The synchronization is also problematic because expressions such as "Habibi" (my dear), "Abba" (papa), "Salem aleikum" (good morning) or "Praise be to Allah" (thank God!) Are exclusively used in the Arabic characters the mouth, which inadvertently emphasizes their otherness.

Jewish-Arab co-education
In the 1980s, it was still unusual for an Arab boy to attend a Jewish-Israeli school. Since 1998, the sponsoring association Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel has specifically promoted the exchange between Jewish and Arab students. Today there are five bilingual schools in Israel where Jewish and Arab educators teach school classes from pre-school to high school. The Max Rayne Hand in Hand School in Jerusalem (624 students) was the first of its kind in 1998 and is still the only bilingual school that offers a high school diploma. In the same year the Galilee School was founded, which 130 students attend from the first to the sixth grade. In 2004 there were also Gesher Al Hawadi in Kfar Kara (kindergarten up to 6th grade, 240 students), in 2012 the Hand in Hand Haifa Preschool (preschool, 70 students) and in 2013 the Jaffa Preschool in Tel Aviv (preschool, 100th grade) Students). The schools are funded by the Israeli Ministry of Education, but have so far been an exception in the Israeli school system.

Author: Viola Shafik, filmmaker, curator and PhD in film studies with a focus on "Arab cinema"., May 7th, 2015

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