Michael Mayer has lived in Los Angeles for the past 17 years. He has spent many of those working in Hollywood, making trailers for movies and American television series. From time to time he produced a documentary or directed a short film, but the trailers were the focus of his life. They were his livelihood, but he also loved to make them.
About a decade ago a friend from back home in Israel came to see him, but Mayer never imagined the visit was going to change his life. The friend told him he volunteered with the Israeli National LGBT Task Force (aka Aguda), and explained that part of this organization’s activity is devoted to helping gay Palestinians. Many of them, he told Mayer, are forced to flee the Palestinian Authority and hide from their families and acquaintances, because they refuse to accept their sexual orientation. Sometimes, he added, their lives are in real danger.
Mayer listened, riveted. He learned that many gay men who have fled their homes in the territories find refuge in Tel Aviv; he understood that their delicate situation often makes them vulnerable to extortion, by Palestinians and Israelis alike. Moreover, he was surprised to hear that, not infrequently, they have no choice but to flee and obtain political asylum abroad.
“I was surprised to hear the things this friend told me and surprised about the extent of the problem. Suddenly I said to myself, ‘Hey, this is a story I want to tell,’” he recollects, during a recent interview in Tel Aviv.
Mayer realized this was his chance to do what he had always dreamed of: write and direct a full-length feature film by himself: “This topic suddenly came along and turned me on. For years I was entirely submerged in the trailers business … but it was always clear that if I got up and made a film, it would only be with a subject that speaks to me. When this idea came up, I felt it was the first time I’d connected with something in such a powerful manner. So, I decided to do it.”
The result, “Out in the Dark,” premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, and won the best film prize in the official competition at the Haifa International Film Festival last fall, together with the highly acclaimed “Fill the Void” (Rama Burshtein’s debut feature).
Mayer’s film may not have won important international awards yet, but it has won the hearts of overseas distributors: So far it has been sold to 35 countries – an extraordinary achievement for a low-budget Israeli film by an unknown director – and the American cable network HBO bought the TV broadcast rights.
“Out in the Dark” (“Alata” in Hebrew) opened in local theaters last week. At its heart is a love story between an Israeli and a Palestinian, who try to prove to themselves and the world that love is stronger than any conflict or political reality, no matter how cruel.
Young Palestinian Nimr (Nicholas Jacob) is a psychology student who leads a double life. At home in Ramallah, with his family, nobody knows about his sexual orientation. At night he goes out to the big city beyond the fence, Tel Aviv, to enjoy the freedom and sexual adventures the city brings. When he meets Roy (Michael Aloni), a young Israeli lawyer, a love story develops that gives him hope for a better future. But things soon get complicated and, after being forced to come out of the closet, Nimr finds himself being persecuted, extorted and threatened in both worlds.
A group of Israeli and Palestinian environmental scholars have started on a joint effort to test the area’s water supply for potentially health-altering endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
At their head is Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at Sde Boker. He is also co-chairman of the Green Movement and ran for Knesset on Tzipi Livni’s ticket.
While people – and even their farm animals – continue to consume more and more medicines and chemicals, the effect of these substances once they have passed through the body and into the country’s water system are unknown, Tal explained. No one in Israel, or the Palestinian Authority, is currently looking for the presence of these chemicals or their effects “in a systematic way,” he added.
“Now we are on the hunt for the smoking gun,” Tal told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “It is my hypothesis that Israel’s enthusiasm for water reuse has grave implications.”
Tal has received a three-year, $560,000- grant from the USAID’s Middle East Regional Cooperation (MERC) Program to conduct the project. Many of his own students from Sde Boker will conduct the lion’s share of the laboratory testing in Health Ministry labs.
In the Palestinian contingent is water engineer Nader al-Khateeb, who also serves as Palestinian director of Friends of the Earth Middle East; Dr. Alfred Abed Rabbo, an assistant professor at Bethlehem University’s Water and Soil Research Unit; Dr. Shai Armon; and a group of Palestinian students, Tal explained.
As the presence of testicular cancer increases among the population’s males and average menstruation age drops among females, Tal stressed that it is crucial to get to the root of the conundrum. While one might say that hormone levels are changing due to consumption of hormone-laden beef, Israelis in general do not consume an enormous amount of beef, he explained.
One of the main areas where 11 Sde Boker students have already begun sampling is the Yarkon River, which has never experienced such a thorough monitoring, according to Tal. The team will also be testing the sewage treatment originating from Yeruham Lake, he said. Within the bounds of the PA, in addition to assessing stream water, the group will be testing the waters at the authority’s only secondary sewage treatment plant – in Al-Bira – and those at the two deteriorating sewage treatment plants in Nablus and Tulkarem.
“I think this is going to take to the next level what we know about streams,” Tal said.
After the sampling occurs, the team members employ Health Ministry laboratories to screen them through gas chromatographs, he explained. The first initial results will begin to emerge within a few months. Each sample costs about $1,000 to perform and assess, and the group has already conducted 56 samples.
The researchers are checking the water content at an extremely detailed level, in trace amounts of parts per billion, Tal explained.
“What we don’t know are the synergistic effects – when you have a suite of, say, 20 chemicals that work in concert,” he said.
Tal was particularly appreciative of the strong group of students working with him, most of who he said are women – both on the Israeli and the Palestinian side.
“I have had over 40 master’s students over past several years, but I cannot remember a group that is collectively as assiduous as this group,” he said.
Expressing gratitude to the American government for providing the funds, Tal stressed how important it is for Israel to take the lead on this type of research.
“I really believe that this is the cutting edge in environmental health research,” he said. “Because Israel is the world leader in waste-water reuse by so much, we have a responsibility to monitor this in terms of human health.”
Rossi said that “football is an international language which should be used to bring people closer, to strength the ties on the way to peace.” Peres thanked Rosell and said that “football offers equal opportunity to young people, without prejudice.”
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This unique combination didn’t surprise these two female cooks: “I guess we’ve disappointed all those who were expecting action and quarrels. The good bond between us was formed because we think alike about people”.
This friendship was formed on the set of this season’s Master Chef – Israel. Among pots and pans, Salma and Elinor discovered that two women coming from opposing sides of the Israeli society, had more than a few things in common.
“On the set, I didn’t see a difference between Salma and the other female competitors” says Elinor “but on the screen, when I saw how the photographers captured Salma and I on the same shoot, I realized how big this connection was”.
“I don’t judge people by looks” says Salma “Some people radiate goodness and you fall in love with them right away. Lots of people noticed my connection to Elinor because they thought we had similar personalities”.
“When I met Salma” Elinor continues, “I saw a wonderful person. I didn’t see a flag, I saw a person and the same thing applies to my friendship with Maya, the Jewish vegan competitor who holds left-wing viewpoints and opposes the fact that I live in a settlement in Gush Etzion, in the northern Judean hills in the West Bank. Every person has strong beliefs and viewpoints that lead him/her throughout life but those beliefs don’t affect who they are as human beings”.
“I’m not representing anyone” says Salma
Elinor: “Do people in your village say anything about the fact that you have a friend who’s a settler?”
Salma: “No one said anything”
Elinor: “People gently told me “we saw you hugging Salma”
Salma: When I entered the show, I didn’t think I would become friends with the Jewish religious competitor”
Elinor: “Neither did I. There are Arabs from your village who work in our settlement so I’ve had some interactions with Arabs before but never did I have a female…Arab friend?”
Salma: “Indeed, I’m Arab, aren’t I?”
Elinor: “Or should I say “Muslim?”
Salma: “A Muslim Arab”
Elinor: “Ok, so I’ve never had such a relationship with a Muslim Arab woman”
Elinor works at the Mushroom Farm in Tekoa and Salma is a nurse and a Research Coordinator of clinical trials on Altzheimer’s.
The two young women provide the required recipe needed to bring peace and love between Jews and Arabs but their relationship also provides a glimpse into the deep conflict, the prejudice and the fear that lie between us. For example, when we wanted this interview to take place in one of their houses, it didn’t work out.
“I’m really sorry I didn’t want to come to your house” Elinor says to Salma “but I’m scared. I have this deep fear inside of me. I know Salma and I trust her completely but I don’t want to come to a place where everybody’s going to stare at me.
Salma didn’t want to go to Elinor’s house either because she was afraid of the Jewish settlers. “What am I going to do in a settlement? How will I be looked at? On the other hand, if Elinor comes to my village, I’m sure nothing bad will happen to her. People in our village respect Jews but she thinks it’s scary and I am scared of going to Tekoa”
The compromise for the meeting was a Kosher Café in Tel Aviv.
“Here, in Tel Aviv, it is more acceptable. Tel Aviv is more open to these things” Elinor says.
“I said that it would be better if we met somewhere in the middle, at this point, but it doesn’t mean I will never come to visit Elinor in Tekoa” Salma adds. “My husband knows Rabbi Froman, the Rabbi of the settlement Tekoa and loves him”
Elinor: “Salma, wouldn’t you like to live in a Palestinian country?”
Salma: “I would like to live in a country that makes me feel like I belong, that doesn’t prevent me from serving in its military because I’m Arab, but, right now, when I see what goes on in Arab countries – I don’t think I would like to live anywhere else. There’s mor order here than what we see in other places around the world. We feel good here. I have a life, work, people I know and love. I would love it if this friendship with Elinor will cause people to think that there’s another way but I’m also realistic and I understand that this friendship won’t bring peace”.
Elinor: “we want to live in peace, without sirens, without wars. And it all begins with the common people”
The war between Israel and Gaza posed a first obstacle in this new friendship but even the rockets fired from both sides a week and half ago didn’t shake their peaceful viewpoints.
“It wasn’t Salma who fired those rockets from Gaza” says Elinor
“I heard some responses from people living in Gaza who said they didn’t want to be a part of all this war”.