Everyday life between oppression and self-fulfilment
The film Junction 48 tells an exciting story about the lives of Palestinian youth in Israel. Phil Butland is enthusiastic about the multi-faceted presentation
Kareem (Tamer Nafar) works in a call centre during the day. In the evening, he tries to realize his dream of becoming a successful rapper. He maintains that his texts are not political, and just deal with everyday life. But with an everyday life like Kareem’s it is impossible not to be political.
The arbitrariness of oppression
Kareem’s life is similar to that of millions of working class young people worldwide. But one thing is different: Kareem lives in 48 Palestine, the term used by some Palestinians to call the part of Israel within the 1948 borders. And this has a specific effect on the repression that he experiences on a daily basis.
The everyday racism that Kareem and his friends suffer is familiar to people with a different skin colour from other countries. They may even recognise the regular police checks (although here such checks are performed by the army). There are, however, other forms of oppression that Palestinians experience uniquely.
Kareem lives in Lod, a village near Tel Aviv airport. The family of his friend Talal (Saeed Dassuki) has been living there for generations. But because they briefly fled the country because of the Israeli invasion in 1948 they do not have a residence permit. Now their house is to be demolished to build a museum which will show the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.
The Israeli director of Junction 48, Udi Aloni, says: “The Museum of Coexistence project in Junction 48 doesn’t actually exist in Lod. And yet similar sites exist in nearly every mixed city in Israel … Perhaps the most fitting example is the actual Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which was built on top of the ancient Mamilla Graveyard of an exiled Palestinian community.”
A differentiated picture
An unspoken, but ever-present theme in the film is how the different generations deal with their war weariness. This year we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank. In 48 Palestine, the occupation has lasted for almost two decades more, and the prospects of finding a just solution for the Palestinian population seem much worse.
Kareem’s parents are old Communists, whose practice seems to consist in long discussions and cultural events. After a car accident, Kareem’s mother’s faith moves away from the Party and she becomes an alternative healer.
Kareem and his mates are not so interested in political activism, they prefer to spend their time smoking pot or in the brothel. They do not want to resist, they just want to escape. Manar (Samar Qupty), Kareem’s girlfriend, tries to build a bridge between the generations and is politically active. She sings at the traditional music concerts and also raps with Kareem. But her conservative family doesn’t think that a woman belongs on the stage.
Junction 48 is not a film that shows how heroic Palestinians successfully resist the occupation. Their lives are more centred on survival than on great victories. And with the exception of Manar, all the characters are flawed. Kareem is charismatic, but lazy, and the way he treats Manar is often problematic. Other Palestinians are sexist or murderous, and are more willing to fight each other than the soldiers who oppress them every day.
The Israelis we see – mainly a couple of nationalist rappers with Star of David tattoos – are not demons. They feel that their culture is threatened and react accordingly (and with racism). They amuse themselves with stories about how elderly Palestinians have been harassed at checkpoints, but are never caricatures. They accept Kareem as a fellow-rapper, while hating him as a Palestinian.
The film tells several stories – even the final scene is just the beginning of a whole new chapter. A legitimate criticism would be that these stories are too short and we want to learn more. But even the shortest story is told with love and understanding, and can be developed further in our imagination.
Junction 48 would be an fascinating story about the hardships of the lives of modern youth no matter where it was set. The fact that it also illuminates the problems of working-class Palestinians makes it all the more worth seeing. At the Berlinale in 2016 Junction 48 won the audience prize, and deservedly so. Highly recommended.