The stares. The suspicions. The accusations.
Life as an Arab in Israel is dissected in “The Cousin,” directed by Tzahi Grad. The movie explores the dynamic of Jewish-Arab relations by following Naftali (Grad), an Israeli artist who hires Palestinian worker Fahed (Ala Dakka) to renovate his studio.
The intrigue begins when a young girl is attacked, and the villagers assume Fahed is guilty. The gossip leads to an arrest, and the young Palestinian is questioned and slapped around.
Despite his release, the villagers still think Fahed is guilty, and they act out against the worker. Compounding the situation, Fahed is afraid and behaved awkwardly around his employer’s “well-meaning friends,” leading innocent actions and mistakes to be interpreted as signs of guilt.
The irony in the film is that Naftali is working on project to house Israelis and Palestinians on the 1967 border for negotiations.
“Palestinians and Israelis just need to talk” is a line in the promo video, and when Fahed questions Naftali’s vision, calling it naive, Naftali replies that it’s “not impossible.”
The film reveals what happens when good intentions are tested against the reality of bigotry and bigots justify their views with unfounded claims. The film dissects the denial that is present when Naftali is faced with the truth that his friends and family harbor such views.
Naftali is caught in the middle, trying to prove Fahed’s innocence while controlling his own irrational suspicions.
In the end, Grad proves that world peace is great in theory, but any resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict begins in individual hearts and minds.
(Atlanta Jewish Film Festival screenings: Jan. 25, 7:50 p.m., Perimeter Pointe; Jan. 27, 6:20 p.m., Atlantic Station; Feb. 9, 11 a.m., Tara; Feb. 12, 7:50 p.m., Springs)