Beyond the Walls: Three-Way Checkmate in Israel

Uri Barabash’s 1984 film, Beyond the Walls is a presentation of the tensions of racial conflict in Israel with the vehicle of the narrative being inmates in a prison whose prides and predjudices are magnified by their close proximity and machinations of the warden to keep the prison destabilized and weak. The populace of the prison revolves around two cell boss inmates: a dark-skinned surly Jew and a fair-skinned, blue eyed, gaunt Arab called Issam. The casting is a deliberate tool of the director’s mission to dignify the Arabs, the Arab prisoners are more striking in appearance and more noble in their actions; while the Jews, while redeemable are despicable in their appearance and behavior in the beginning.At the outset of the film a newcomer is sent to the Jew’s main cell dormitory. This newcomer is an Israeli officer whose has been given time for subversive pro-PLO activity. He is hazed severely, yet isn’t beaten so as to smooth the way for the showcase of one of the Jewish inmates, Azamir the Nightingale, who is to perform for an international song contest. The subplot of the singer is perhaps most important in realizing the bridge over the racial schism. This subplot implies that the strength of culture can overcome the machinations of politics.

A powerful point in the film occurs during the solitary confinement of the cell bosses down the corrridor from each other. The Jewish cell boss realizes at least to an extent the humanity of his enemy and has a henchman deliver him a cigarrette. The film implies that this is the first step in acheiving unity, that the basic human needs be recognized and met in the Arabs before negotiations even start. The suicide of a Jew who lives in the Arab cell block catalyzes the bond of the leaders as they realize their common enemy is the Warden. Exactly what the prison stands for aside from a nebulous definiton of the state is unclear and thus the film's fault. The film suggests that the Arabs and Israelis could unite if they could unite against someone else and yet that is not anything but a temporary solution. The Arabs and Israeli conflict must be addressed within it its own context. The movie by posing a third enemy thereby engagaes in escapism and delivers a tear-jerker stand off as the movie fades to a melancholy and not wholely resolved close.


Last Updated on 02/02/00
By JR Kerr
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