Cannes film portrays trans ‘warriors’ on Israel’s margins

An intimate documentary about Palestinian transsexual women in Israel, filmed before the latest Gaza war and unrelated to the conflict, screened at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday.

In “The Belle From Gaza”, French filmmaker Yolande Zauberman delves into Tel Aviv nightlife, camera in hand, in search of a trans woman rumoured to have walked on foot all the way from the Gaza Strip.

On her quest to find the mythical figure, Zauberman meets others who candidly recount running away from their families, the struggle to affirm their gender identity, and their romantic dreams.

“They’re real warriors of their own destiny,” she told AFP ahead the premiere at Cannes, where she was joined by some of the film’s subjects on the red carpet.

“Trans women were once viewed as goddesses and demi-goddesses. I wanted to give them that place in the film.”

It is her latest to explore the taboo margins of Israeli society following her 2011 film on racism, “Would you Have Sex with An Arab?”, and 2020’s “M”, in which she followed a survivor of sexual abuse within the ultra-orthodox Jewish community.

“The Belle From Gaza” follows Danielle, Nadine and Nathalie as they battle to escape a life of prostitution.

The success story they aspire to is embodied by Talleen Abu Hanna, a Palestinian Christian with Israeli nationality who won Miss Trans Israel 2016 and managed to patch up ties with her family.

– ‘Accept myself’ –

Abu Hanna said Miss Trans Israel was a chance for a fresh start.

“It’s given me the chance to feel human… to accept myself,” she told AFP.

Initially, her father had no idea what “trans” or “gay” meant.

It took time “to teach my family how to accept me and how to love me,” she said.

Pro-Palestinian activists have long accused Israel of “pink-washing”, or boasting of its acceptance of the LGBTQ community to cover up its rights abuses against Palestinians in the occupied territories.

But Abu Hanna said her role was not to “pink-wash” anything.

“This is my real life,” she told AFP.

Zauberman agreed: “There is a freedom in Tel Aviv that does not exist in other parts of the Middle East,” she said.

“And then there is also a territorial arrogance, a colonial arrogance that is unbearable,” she said, referring to the Israeli government’s policies towards the Palestinians.


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