The digital prophets of Israel
An Israeli web series featuring monologues of activists sparks debate beyond the Jewish-Palestinian binary. It shows the power of new media for effective anthropological interventions, but also the intensity of the controversies such visibility often entails.
At a time when the words “Israel” and “Anthropology” are constantly attached to “boycott,” “occupation,” or “war,” it is very easy to fall into simplistic or generalised perspectives on this fascinating strip of land. In these times it is crucial to seek out the complex, the particular and the unspoken.
One example of perspective is that of Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews.
While the Israeli/Palestinian conflict , over 50 percent of Israel’s Jewish residents actually from Arab Muslim lands. These ancient ethnic groups are indigenous to the Middle-Eastern/North African region which used to be adynamic and multicultural space. Moreover, they also suffered, racism and displacement by the State of Israel,dominated by Ashkenazi Jews are still misrepresented and discriminated against in allocation of fundsand lands.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Eastern/Mizrahi Jews is their strong lingual, historical and cultural bonds to Arabs and therefore Palestinians. Some scholars such as Yehouda Shenhav and Ella Shohat went as far as nam them “Arab Jews”. I see as distinct in histories, religions and ethnicity, but I am equally aware of the links they share after cohabiting this region for It is this belief, coupled with my own Jewish-Moroccan origin, that led me to create a Web-Series combining ethnographic interviews, visual storytelling and sociological debate.
Challenging pre-conceptions using digital videos
“Neviim” (“Prophets”) is a web-series I co-created, co-edited and co-filmed with Yossi Brauman It is comprised of ten 5-8 minute monologues by Mizrahi activists, who share their world views and discuss issues of history, culture, identity and struggle. The series became known for its dynamic and rhythmic editing speech and music in a “spoken-word” style portray each speaker in his/her own urban surrounding. The soundtrack features instrumental Arabic hip-hop, which is suitable to the subject of social struggle and the deep connection to the iddleast space.
The title (Neviim) was inspired by biblical prophets such as Jeremiah, Hosea and Isaiah who operated in the same geographical terrain, passionately speaking up against social injustice, idol-worship, corruption and war. These prophets, who still carry great meaning in Jewish culture, were both poets and fighters, intellectuals and activists, and these were the qualities we were looking for when casting for our web-series.
By designing the series for digital platforms such as Facebook and YouTube we viral distribution of the messages, ideas and knowledge each episode. The videos are short and communicative; theyshared by thousands of people in their own social media profiles and encourage open debates, arguments and story-sharing in the comments of each episode. One particular episode gave a green light for dozens of people to share their most painful and unspoken family secret.
The Yemenite Children Affair
Our seventh episode, featuring a brilliant social activist named Naama Katiee, deals with the most sensitive and controversial issue of the Mizrahi story- the Yemenite Children Affair.
(Please enable the English captions / subtitles by clicking on the bottom right of the player)
During the first years of Israel, especially between 1948 and 1954, it is claimed that hundreds of toddlersmostly of Yemenite-Jewish origin but also from North African, Balkan and even Eastern European familieswere taken away from their parents and sold to European Jew families for adoption. that their children passed away but no death certificate or grave was in sight. The families kept looking for their children for many years, often dismissed as delusional or conspirative by and mainstream media.
In her monologue, Naama tells us the shocking story of kidnapping Mizrahi Yemenite children from her unique perspective. She frames the tragedy not only as a hitelack crime but as a crime. In her opinion, many Yemenite mothers lost their trust in Jewish-European women who served as nurses, social workers and bureaucratic officials during the kidnapping. Moreover, Naama links the affair to the wider question of whether feminism fails to outside Euro-America because it often imposes socio-cultural values that are irrelevant and even harmful in a non-Western context.
The power of new media
his unique episode with Naama Katiee encouraged dozens of people to share their stories of loss and ongoing search for lost sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Personal stories were posted as comments or sent private messages, later collected by members of “Amram Organisation”, wto re- this painful affair and renew the struggle for finding the lost children by building an archive of witness-stories.
I believe that the power of anthropology and its ability to make a positive change lies primarily in documenting stories, interviews and ethnographic insights, and in making them visible to the public.
I am an anthropologist and multimedia journalist focusing on digital technologies and family studies. I am a graduate of UCL’s Digital Anthropology Masters program and currently a Phd candidate in Tel Aviv University. My PhD research takes place in urban Ghana and examines issues of privacy and culture as reflected in family-houses and social media.
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