by Jessica Carreras
“Jerusalem is really a city of borders … between east and west, between Jews and Palestinians, between secular and ultra-Orthodox, between straight and gay.”
These words, spoken by Sa’ar Netanel, owner of what was Jerusalem’s only gay bar, set the stage for debate about the bonds of nationality, ethnicity and religion that break people apart, and the characteristics – like being gay – that bring them back together.
Those similarities will be the focus of a forum held in conjunction with the showing of “City of Borders,” a documentary that follows several lesbian and gay Israelites and Palestinians as they come together at Netanel’s bar, The Shushan. The film and panel discussion will be held at 8 p.m. April 28 at the United Artists Theater of Commerce Township as part of the Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival.
Like the film itself, which explores the ways in which sexuality breaks down barriers of hate, the event will bring a unique pairing of organizations together: the Jewish Gay Network of Michigan and AL GAMEA, the metro Detroit-based GLBT association of Middle Eastern Americans.
For the two groups, it’s a collaboration that made sense from the get-go.
“We didn’t know that AL GAMEA existed until we sat next to one another at the Michigan Fairness Forum and decided that there was something that needed to be done,” explained JGN Executive Director Judy Lewis. “We needed to figure out some venue to start the conversation and this happened to be the first opportunity.”
When the Jewish Community Center, which runs the April 25-May 6 film festival, presented JGN with the idea to participate, Lewis immediately contacted AL GAMEA President Christiano Ramazzotti, who jumped at the chance to collaborate. “I was very excited that all of us GLBT people – doesn’t matter if we are Jewish, Arab, Muslim – to stand up together and talk about really serious issues and put politics behind us,” he added.
And the groups intend to do just that.
Discussing any issue that takes place in Israel makes inclusion of the decades-old conflict there near impossible to avoid. In “City of Borders,” the same is true. Interviews with Israeli individuals about their relationships with Palestinian people – and vice versa – always turn back to topics of war.
But something happens when sexual orientation is brought into the mix, as showcased by the scene at Shushan, which bustled with activity until its shutdown in 2007: nationality ceases to be the most important issue.
“When I came to the Shushan, immediately I got slapped in the face,” recalled one Israeli Jewish man. “I realized that everything I thought was based on hate. I kissed an Arab guy. This whole place allowed that kiss to happen. It would not happen in another place.”
Lewis and Ramazzotti agreed that their discussion and showing of the film would focus on similar topics – not the hot-button issue of the conflict.
“This is the message we’re sending to people, that we are all in this together as GLBT people,” Ramazzotti stressed. “That’s the key point. We support each other.”
“This is exclusively about the GLBT community in Israel and its impact on the U.S. and how we can take that and lay it over what it happens in this country,” Lewis added. “People of different faiths and different races and different nationalities in the GLBT community come together because they are a unified force based on their gender identity and their sexual preference.”
They’re taking measures to make sure the discussion moves in that direction, too. To avoid outbursts or fighting, audience members will be handed 3-by-5 cards and asked to submit their questions to the panelists in writing, instead of passing a microphone around. In addition, the hope is that the audience – like the panel, which will include LGBT voices from the Israeli, Palestinian and possibly even Lebanese community – will be diverse in their input and inspire a feeling of unity, not hate.
“I’m just hoping that all of the audience will be there – Middle Eastern and non-Middle Eastern – to understand that whatever is happening in the Middle East, there’s always some common ground where we can come together to support each other as GLBT people,” Ramazzotti said.
In “City of Borders,” hatred of and support for the LGBT community unites people of all faiths and nationalities on either side of the debate. LGBTs fight to hold World Pride in Jerusalem in 2005. They clash over issues of sexuality in city council meetings. In their fight for acceptance and equality, LGBT Israelis and Palestinians are one.
AL GAMEA and the Jewish Gay Network hope for the same outcome in Michigan.
“People on the outside are being brought together … in hate of LGBT people,” Lewis commented on the film’s message. It’s happening worldwide and this is just kind of an in-your-face movie that says, ‘We’ve got to stop this.'”
“We’re trying to say that we need to look at this for what it is and that we have to come together to survive. This is not the Israel issue. These are GLBT issues.”
‘City of Borders’ showing and discussion
8 p.m. April 28, with 7 p.m. pre-glow
United Artists Theater, 3033 Spring Vale, Commerce Township
Tickets: $10 for film, $18 for pre-glow reception