Israeli Arab Porn Video Inflames Community Passions
TIRA, Israel (Reuters - 31 Dec) - "Fatima" saunters into the store, murmuring "Shalom." At the counter, "Yussuf" eyes her appreciatively and returns the Hebrew greeting. Cue music. The couple embrace, lapsing naturally into their native Arabic.
Were it not for the hardcore sex that comes next, it might have passed for another Israeli high school video on language education.
Instead, the bilingual film billed as "the first Israeli-Arab porno" has inflamed the Jewish state's Muslim minority, drawing charges of sacrilege and a vigilante death sentence on "Fatima" issued by her own hometown and family.
Amal Kashua, a 38-year-old mother of eight, was set upon by a mob last week in Tira, a prosperous Arab community in central Israel. "Yussuf," a Palestinian known only as Amir, was beaten too. They went to hospital under police guard, then into hiding.
Shamed by association, Kashua's relatives disowned her.
Tira residents were divided over whether Kashua and Amir were married or merely lovers, and rumors put the money they had made in November for their hour-long on-camera coupling at anything from 700 shekels ($148) to 30 times as much.
But none disputed that the stars of "Yussuf and Fatima" had brought the near-lynching in Tira square upon themselves.
"The whole town is satisfied and dissatisfied at once," said local man Fathi Sultan. "Satisfied at what happened, because we tried to protect our honor, but on the other hand dissatisfied because she (Kashua) didn't die, nor her husband."
From her hospital bed in Kfar Saba, a mainly Jewish city nearby, Kashua pleaded hunger as the cause of her "heresy."
"I didn't want to insult Islam. I just wanted to make some money," she told reporters, her face cut and arm set in a fresh cast. "I was addicted to drugs and needed cash to feed my kids.
"Plenty of others are worse than me," she said. "The fact is that a lot of people in Tira saw that movie."
JUDGING A FLICK BY ITS COVER
The litany of complaints began with the video's cover, which showed Kashua and Amir in a pre-coital pose against a minaret.
"This is a blow to the sensitivity of Muslims everywhere," said Tira attorney Ihab Galgoly, who was representing two men arrested on suspicion of leading the assault on the couple.
"We are considering suing the producers for breach of the law guaranteeing human dignity and freedom."
The studio which made "Yussuf and Fatima" remained unfazed.
"We are not liable since we did everything by the book," SexStyle director-general Amos Lahat told Reuters by telephone.
"The couple approached us to make the film, and we warned them that there could be repercussions in their personal lives," Lahat said, adding that they were paid "around $1,000" each.
Foreign pornography enjoys brisk sales in Israel, with tapes available for rent at stores and street dispensers. But local productions are a recent phenomenon. Lahat attributed this to the country's tiny population -- 6.5 million -- which precludes total anonymity for actors wary of being recognized in public.
With Israeli Arabs usually more conservative than their Jewish counterparts, "Yussuf and Fatima" set a precedent. Lahat allowed that market considerations were behind its cover design.
"There is considerable demand from the Arab sector for porn which 'speaks to them', as it were. So we wanted to emphasize that this was a precedent-setting ethnic film," he said.
But as of mid-December -- several days before Kashua and Amir were attacked -- the cover of "Yussuf and Fatima" had been stripped down: no minaret, no title, just the photograph.
"An Arab client who bought the film called in to lodge a polite request that we change its look to avoid causing offence, so we did," Lahat explained.
Some Muslims took further umbrage at the name Fatima, which was also that of the Prophet Mohammed's daughter. On this account, Lahat was unapologetic.
"In these parts you can find a scriptural connection to just about any name," he said. "Take a look at Hebrew, for example. Some of my Jewish actors have biblical namesakes too. So what?"
PRIVATE ACT, PUBLIC DISGRACE
"Yussuf and Fatima" hit sex shop shelves in mid-December. Within days, word that a local woman starred in it was echoing around Tira's narrow lanes. Communal curiosity was aroused.
Though no one admitted watching pornography, many townspeople knew "someone" who had identified the couple copulating in the grainy, hand-held footage.
"There are things which are private to man and wife, but when they are made public they become a disgrace," said Ashraf Sultani, a lottery-booth owner in Tira's squat shopping mall.
On the door leading to the main square, Kashua's family had taped a black-on-white poster made to look like a death notice.
"As God, and you all, are our witnesses, we hereby cut off all ties (with Amal Kashua) for all eternity," it read.
Kashua's brother endorsed the attack on the couple. "If I could, I would eat them both raw and spit them out," he told Israeli television, his face obscured and first name withheld.
A leading Israeli feminist described Amal Kashua as the latest victim of "family-honor" violence seen among Israeli Arabs and other conservative Middle Eastern societies.
"With standard domestic violence, the husband attacks the wife, whereas in family-honor cases the woman perceived to have 'strayed' from the moral code is fair game to other men in the community," said Yael Dayan, a long-time member of Israel's parliamentary committee for the advancement of the status of women.
Around 10 Israeli Arab women are murdered each year because of family honor, she said, with countless others beaten or banished.
"What's tragic is that, as Amal tells it, she got into pornography because of her financial straits. It is the same with many Israeli Arab single mothers who become prostitutes to support their children. And it may well get worse," Dayan said.
Israel's labor market and welfare system have been gutted by an economic slump linked to the world recession and a more than two-year-old Palestinian uprising for independence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
But the blues are good for blue movies, according to Lahat.
"Since this whole story over 'Yussuf and Fatima' broke out, we have sold hundreds of copies, most of them in the Arab sector," he said. "We may make another Arabic film. It pays."