Ajami is a film that was co-written, directed, and produced by Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis, and which was structured at lot like the movie Crash, with various stories coming together in the final scenes. The stories follow both Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis, and though Arabic is the film’s predominant language, Hebrew is also a very important component. Still, it is very significant that the movie was selected as Israel’s official submission to the Academy Awards- it was the first predominantly Arabic-language film to be selected as such.
At times, the movie reads like a laundry list of problems in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A short list? Unequal treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel, checkpoints, poverty, the divide between Palestinians inside and outside Israel, drugs, the divide between Christian and Muslim Palestinians, frustrations of Jewish-Israeli police, the difficulties of maintaining positive relationships between Jews and Palestinians in Israel, the kidnapping (and murder) of Israelis by Palestinians, neo-tribalism.
With such a long, complex list, there was a sense that a primary audience may have been a foreign one, with the movie being an attempt to show the outside world how complex the situation is, how much more nuanced it is than is generally portrayed. Still, I think that the message is geared equally, and maybe more importantly, inward to both mainstream Palestinian and Jewish-Israeli societies. Because the story is told from so many different perspectives, the viewer is made to feel sympathy for an array of characters from both sides of the conflict, and who is a “bad guy” for one character is developed and humanized in other scenes such that the roles are switched. In large part, this leads the audience to see that the labels of “good” and “bad” are too simplistic for the issues surrounding them. It works to show people on both sides a view that makes them feel empathy for the “other,” understanding that each side faces their own challenges. The story offers no happy endings. It doesn’t push an idealistic view of both sides getting along, it doesn’t have any feel-good message. But it does ask that people look to both sides with some measure of understanding, and an understanding that there is no black and white in their world. That, I think, is the biggest strength of this movie.