This is a review of Tel Aviv on Fire, directed by Sameh Zoabi; it came out in limited release in the summer of 2019, although I just saw it on NetFlix DVD. Sly and well-written, the film is part satire, part social commentary. I found it very funny, very human, and the interaction between the two leading men—Assi, the Israeli checkpoint commander, and Salem, the charming, but hapless Palestinian aspiring writer for a “daytime drama” produced in Ramallah—to be full of heart and humanity. The film’s title is also the title of the soap opera—a show beloved by both Arab and Jewish women who are important to Assi and Salem.
Rotten Tomatoes gives it high marks, and I agree with the reviews listed there, especially: “this comedy is an enjoyable respite from the bleakness typical of the conflict’s stories…a genial illustration of the belief that all of these people are more similar than they are different.”
My delight in this film, unfortunately, coincides with yesterday’s declaration by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the U.S. does NOT consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank a violation of international law. Washington’s reversal of a 41-year-old policy is a gift to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently under indictment for corruption, who needs the political support from his buddy Trump (the same character, with his son-in-law Kushner, who has scuttled any pretense of being an honest broker in any “peace deal.”)
Of course, the United Nations and other world leaders protest that merely “declaring” what is or is not a violation of international law by Israel is not the prerogative of the United States (See comments by spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric during a press briefing on Tuesday in New York,).
My point is: artists like filmmaker Zaobi are to be praised for enlightening us through comedy. (The DVD extras include a terrific interview with him—if you can ignore the awful static-camera, wide angle of the segment). Just like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers and other late night show hosts prove, there are many ways to influence the hearts and minds of audiences, and Tel Aviv on Fire is one of them.