The Dupes : This is a Warning Shot

Made in Syria during 1972, Tewfiq Saleh’s The Dupes provides insights into the desperation of Palestinian refugees during 1948 when the founding of Israel as a homeland for Jews forced almost all the Arabs out.

In Palestinian refugee camps, the men had to go out to find work, most often menial physical labor that paid poorly, and there was never work in the camps so most family providers had to seek work abroad. The most lucrative employment opportunities were to be found in Kuwait, however Kuwait denied entry to the Palestinians as a matter of course. Therefore most Palestinians could get as far as Bazra, a border town in Iraq, but there remained as transient as in Israel. Many capitalizing Iraqis set up fronts as smugglers to get Palestinians into Kuwait, yet developed reputations for abandoning their charges midway, leaving them to wander through the desert for hours to cross the border. The protagonists of The Dupes seek to circumnavigate getting lost in the desert by convincing a truck driver who transports an empty water tanker across the border to carry them all the way across inside the tank. The Palestinian characters are composite types who represent three generations from 50 yrs old, 30 yrs old, and a lad in his teens. These characters all have separate driving motivations but fairly representative ones : a desire to become a man and take care of the family, a desire to earn independent wealth, and a desire to earn enough capital to retire with his family and grow olive trees.

The driver who transports them is wounded veteran general who had his genitalia removed as part of surgery to treat a grenade wound he suffered. His ‘impotence’ is a metaphor for the state of Palestinians who are caught in a no-win situation facing Israel or Kuwait, neither of whom are ideal homes. The impotence also pervades the drivers character as the beuracracy slows him down at the checkpoints so long that his passengers asphyxiate and die. The driver is powerless to save them and powerless to give import to their dead bodies which he leaves on a smoldering pile of rubbish. Sexual politics are most present in dealing with the driver, because even as the audience knows of his impotence the seedy Kuwaiti checkpoint workers force him to tell stories of his conquests with women. The fact that he has to invent such stories as necessity illuminates the patriarchal ‘counting coup ‘ he has to grease the red tape holders palms with. Male social mobility in this reality hinges on oppression of women.

Critics of this film have looked scornfully on the presented passiveness of the Palestinians. The critics feel they are too passive, and yet by doing so they ignore that "the revoulution is waiting for a spark." Palestinians may be impotently trying to make the best of things, but with a movie like this rubbing their noses in the futility of passiveness, the Palestinian sympathetic audience is going to burn with rage. This rage may be the most justified rage the planet has ever seen, and if the Palestinians continue ‘monkey-wrenching’ the Mid-East then this movie seems to say you’ve had fair warning.


Last Updated on 02/02/00
By JR Kerr
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