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GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8.4 (2002) 553-579
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Interracial Sex and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in Israeli Cinema
Narratives of biracial sexual unions are common in Israeli cinema, from the early Zionist cinema of the 1930s to today. Among them are Sabra (dir. Alexander Ford, 1933), My Michael (dir. Dan Volman, 1975), Hide and Seek (dir. Volman, 1980), Hamsin (dir. Daniel Wachsmann, 1982), Drifting (dir. Amos Guttman, 1983), On a Narrow Bridge (dir. Nissim Dayan, 1985), The Lover (dir. Michal Bat-Adam, 1986), Nadia (dir. Amnon Rubinstein, 1986), Ricochets (dir. Eli Cohen, 1986), Lookout (dir. Dina Zvi-Riklis, 1990), and Day after Day (dir. Amos Gitai, 1998). In the Israeli social psyche, miscegenation gives rise to fears of racial, sexual, moral, physiological, and national decay and degeneracy, because it poses a threat to Jewish "purity" and dominance and so fuels the desire to maintain the binary oppositions between colonizer and colonized, "civilized" and "savage," Israeli and Palestinian. 1 Specifically, sexual relations between a Jewish woman and an Arab man (as opposed to those between a Jewish man and an Arab woman) evoke the greatest fears for Jewish racial purity, inasmuch as the Jewish woman, and not the Jewish man, is the origin of Jewish identity: hence the strict religious and cultural prohibition against such relationships. This anxiety, as an indicator of the sexual activity of the Arab man, pathologizes him as a sexual deviant, a criminal, and a barbarian. The Arab man, as the Israeli member of Parliament Rabbi Meir Khanna put it in his racist diatribes of the early 1980s, threatens "to steal our wives and daughters." 2 The Israeli female body is perceived in this context as national property beckoning to the enemy within. Like the "primitive" male other, the woman is seen as a threat to the very existence of the Jewish nation.
Anxieties about racial sexual hybridity arise from the desire to reinforce racial dichotomies. Yet the very existence of those dichotomies indicates the mutual dependence and construction of Israeli and Palestinian subjectivities. The Jewish [End Page 553] Israeli fear of hybridization and the Jewish insistence on racial difference mask a latent fascination with the Arab subject, a desire for forbidden love, an array of sexual fantasies. For the Palestinian subject, sexual relations with an Israeli man or woman may represent an attempt to move from the cultural margins to the center and so to gain access to socioeconomic opportunities. 3 In the official Jewish Israeli discourse, the attempt of Palestinians to pass as Israeli Jews is depicted as an effort to assume a false status and the privileges accruing to it. Palestinian passing challenges the notion that the Jewish Israeli identity is an innate, unchangeable essence, thereby questioning the privileges on which Jewish Israeli racial subjectivity is founded. Sexual hybridization in this situation breaks down the symmetry and duality of self and other, inside and outside. Hybridity, as Homi K. Bhabha argues, is a problem of "colonial representation and individuation that reverses the effects of the colonialist disavowal, so that other 'denied' knowledges enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority." 4 In other words, what is disavowed is not repressed but repeated in the hybrid.
Most of the films that focus on interracial romance were produced in the 1980s, that is, after the Six Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973) and after the occupation of the West Bank. The critical tone of 1980s Israeli cinema is inseparably intertwined with the economic, political, and social changes that followed these events. 5 Cheap Palestinian labor, along with the transition from a socialist to a capitalist economy, enabled the Jewish Israeli working class, made up mostly of Sephardic Jews who had endured social and cultural oppression from Ashkenazi Zionists, to improve their standards of living and political position. In reaction to the discriminatory policies of the Avoda (the party of labor), they affiliated themselves with the Likud (the nationalist right-wing party), and the Avoda's thirty...