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How Arab women are reshaping Israel's film industry

Several films directed by and starring Israeli-Palestinian women have recently won big awards at film festivals, reshaping the local film industry.

The rift between the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel has deepened recently, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning his constituents on the last day of the elections in March 2015 that Arabs were "voting in droves," thus making more than a million Arabs feel like second-class citizens. But despite this deepening rift, three films have taken the Israeli film world by storm, providing a fascinating glimpse into Arab society in the Jewish state.

The first film to win big was “Sand Storm” by Elite Zexer that won six Ophir Awards (Israel’s equivalent to the Oscars), including one for best film. Then came “Personal Affairs” by director Maha Haj that took the top prize at the 2016 Haifa Film Festival, followed by "In Between" from director Maysaloun Hamoud, which has also received various prizes, including best debut feature film at the Haifa Film Festival. These three films deal with the cultural, social, religious and traditional world of the Arab community in Israel, as well as with the identity crisis and intergenerational changes it is undergoing. This wave of Arab cinema is particularly fascinating given the fact that its creators are women — directors and actresses — and their scripts deal with the lives of Arab women in Israel’s Arab and Jewish communities. In many respects, the wave of films by Arab creators shatters stereotypes not only through the narratives it tells but also through its Arab directors and actresses who hail from traditional homes and a traditional society, displaying courage in making liberated, free-spirited, promiscuous films.

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