Review: City of Borders

By James Martin, November 13, 2009

Dirs. Yun Suh | Israel | 2009 | 66 mins | Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles

The New Israel Fund screening of City of Borders at the UK Jewish Film Festival covers just about every inch of Israeli society, as it hones in on the lives of Jerusalem’s gay, lesbian and transgender community, through the vista of Israel’s political landscape.

Sa’ar Nathaniel, present at the screening, is also one of its main protagonists- Jerusalem Municipality Councillor during the day, he runs the city’s only full-time gay bar, Shushan, at night.

Shushan, which serves as a melting pot of Israeli and Palestinian society through the expression of various sexual guises, is where the film-documentary’s most endearing character, “Boody” can be himself.

Describing himself as “Ramallah’s only drag-queen act”, he’s treated as a pariah by his hometown community. His own mother believes steadfastly he can “straighten out” and says: “I want him to marry his American cousin”.

In fact, tired of the intolerance he witnesses everywhere (except at Shushan) he ends up in the States, marrying a Palestinian-American man.

Nathaniel, who is 40-odd, (“never ask a gay man his age”) came out in the 1980s when Israel’s only gay scene was “in parks”.

Disappointed there’s now no gay bar in Jerusalem since he closed down Shushan two years ago, he’s also now stepped down as a city councillor.
“Ideology doesn’t pay the bills”, he says.

The Meretz member also reflects on the death threats he received from the public and the disdain with which some of the city’s ultra-Orthodox councillors hold him.

Nathaniel, who believes that gays, lesbians and trasgenders, as “minorities should emphasize with other minority causes”, does not find that everyone in his community shares his opinion.

Settler Adam Russo, who was stabbed three-times by an Orthodox fanatic in the 2005 Jerusalem gay parade, is an interesting antidote to Nathaniel’s “all can be fought under the gay rights banner” stance.

During a gay rally he tells Nathaniel that there shouldn’t be “Don’t kill animal” placards at the parade. “I love meat”, he says. “I’m a carnivore.”

Other dynamics in the film include the relationship between a Palestinian-Israeli nurse and Israeli doctor, which is tempestuous to say the least. Samira Saraya describes her first encounter with Ravit Geva as being like “f***ing the occupiers”.

Neither is Nathaniel able to get full support from the Tel Aviv gay community. He is told in no uncertain terms that he and other gay activists in Jerusalem are “making our struggle harder”.

Nathaniel disagrees, as his banter with the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem city council members reveals. When one tells him he’s “not welcome in Orthodox circles”, he replies: “I am for helping people, you are for corruption.”

And the “occupiers” are everywhere, including a British yeshiva student who refers to gays as being “worse than animals”. No doubt he would cringe if he received the DVD for Chanukah.

Last updated: 2:58pm, February 18 2011