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Israeli Arab porn sparks outrage

Its stars are in hiding after being beaten, but the bilingual film, billed as a first, is still selling.

January 08, 2003|Dan Williams | Reuters

TIRA, Israel — "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 hard-core 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 pornography has inflamed the Jewish state's Muslim minority, drawing charges of sacrilege and a vigilante death sentence on the woman who played Fatima issued by her own hometown and family.

The woman, Amal Kashua, 38, a mother of eight, was set upon by a mob last week in Tira, a prosperous Arab community in central Israel. The man who played Yussuf, a Palestinian known only as Amir, was beaten too. They went to a 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. 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 resident 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 actions.

"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. The fact is that a lot of people in Tira saw that movie."

The litany of complaints began with the video's cover, which showed Kashua and Amir in a precoital 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 that made "Yussuf and Fatima" remained unfazed.

"We are not liable since we did everything by the book," SexStyle director-general Amos Lahat said.

"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 for their hourlong on-camera coupling in November.

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.

"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."

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