With the limited exception of Jordan, no single Arab state has ever granted citizenship, or even normal residence and job rights, to Palestinian refugees. As a result, the vast majority of these Palestinian Arabs remain in refugee camps (not literal “camps” anymore), living on the international dole. Even on the West Bank and in Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are still caged in restricted areas.
Compare that with the fate of the 800,000 Sephardic Jews who in the years that followed 1948 were either deported or forced by anti-Jewish law and pogroms to flee the Arab world. They and their millions of descendants were not indefinitely kept in refugee camps as political pawns.
Rather, with Jewish communal helping hands, most Sephardic Jewish refugees soon managed to build full new lives in Israel, the U.S., Canada, South America and Europe.
Not that their new lives were problem-free. Many of the films in this, the 16th annual Sephardic Jewish Film Festival, tell just that type of tale. One of the finest is “Mabul” (“Flood”), which stars one of Israeli and French cinemas’ most popular femme fatales, Ronit Elkabetz (pictured)— herself the daughter of Moroccan Jewish immigrants to Israel’s Negev city of Beersheba.
Elkabetz plays the wife of an Israeli airline engineer. The two struggle with a deeply troubled marriage amid plans for their youngest son’s bar mitzvah. The sudden return home of an elder, severely autistic son merely adds to the approaching deluge.
“Tinghir” retraces the Judeo-Berber cultural ties between Jews and Muslims who once lived together in the Moroccan mountains and have begun to rediscover each other.
“The Last Jews of Libya” is a striking documentary by New York filmmaker Vivienne Roumani-Denn, whose own family was among the final 36,000 Jews forced to leave Libya after 2,300 years of Libyan Jewish life.
Palestinian leaders who complain constantly about Israel and demand the “right to return” to parts of Palestine that are not theirs to return to might learn a few things from New York’s Sephardic Jewish Film Festival.
Chesnoff, formerly of Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report, has been covering the Mideast for more than 40 years.