The Israeli-Palestinian conflict won an Academy Award!
Director Ari Sandel orchestrated an insightful and hysterical musical comedy transplanting “West Side Story” into the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria. The film’s message, told through the rivalry between Israeli and Palestinian falafel stands in the West Bank, is that coexistence is possible if both people see their common humanity and interest, and, in the best Hollywood tradition, love can conquer all. This hopeful vision told through 22 minutes of lively and sometimes hilarious song and dance justifiably won the Oscar for the best live action short film.
“West Bank Story” replaces the Anglo and Puerto Rican love interests of the West Side with Fatima, a beautiful Palestinian fast food cashier, and David, an IDF soldier. This unlikely couple falls in love amidst the animosity of their clans, which is represented by dueling falafel stands, the Palestinian “Hummus Hut” and the Jewish “Kosher King.”
Tensions grow when the Kosher King's new pastry machine juts onto Hummus Hut property. The Palestinians ruin the machine and the Israelis respond by saying they will build a wall , prompting the Hummus Hut owner to say derisively, “Jews in construction?” and then burst into laughter. The Jews go ahead and build a wall between the two eating establishments, but it does not separate Fatima and David.
In the director’s utopian vision, the Palestinian Muslim and Israeli Jew can literally and figuratively break down the wall dividing their peoples, so when a chain of events leads to the destruction of both restaurants the lovers bring everyone together to work cooperatively to satisfy their peoples’ demand for falafel.
By showing sensitivity to the touchiness of the topic, the filmmaker succeeded in poking fun at both sides without seeming malicious or biased. One might hope that through laughter the film can be a constructive tool to lead us away from anger, but probably not yet from despair. David and Fatima’s conclusion at the end of the film that the only place where they can be free to fulfill their love is Beverly Hills reminds us that the Californian filmmaker understands that his cinematic fantasy is far from the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The real West Bank story requires more than a song and a dance to bring about a happy ending.