Switched at Birth – A Look at the Humanity of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Director: LORRAINE LEVY/2014

Lorraine Levy is a French director who has brought us this tale from the land of Israel and the West Bank.  Simply stated, two babies were switched at birth in 1991 at a Haifa hospital as Saddam Hussein rained SCUD missiles down upon Israel.  In the midst of the confusion, Alon and Orith Silberg brought home their son Joseph and raised him as a Jew.  Leïla and Saïd Al Bezaaz brought home their son Yacine and raised him as a Palestinian Arab and a Muslim.  Both boys grew up none the wiser with a family that loved them and raised them as their own blood.

When Joseph reports to start the process of serving his 3 year stint in the Israeli military, his blood work indicates that he does not share the same blood type as his parents.  His mother begins to investigate this and discovers the truth that her biological son was never brought home with them from the hospital.  The hospital brings the four parents together to sort out the details and then they begin to deal with the fallout.

The Other Son takes a very simplistic story and weaves into it the complicated political backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Palestinian Arabs who have grown up feeling as if they are being restrained from working, and freely traveling on their land have deep seated feelings towards Israel who enforces such restrictions with their military and a large wall that separates the West Bank from Israel. Israelis have grown up feeling that they have finally returned to their land and that the walls and military are there to keep them safe from a population that simply won’t acknowledge their right to exist and who have sent in suicide bombers to terrorize innocent civilians.  Needless to say, both groups have deep anger and are highly suspicious of the other.

The other thread that weaves through this story is one of religious and cultural identity.  What does it mean to be a Jew?  For Joseph who has been raised adhering to the Torah, being circumcised with the sign of Abraham, and participating in Bar Mitzvah, his Jewish identity is not just a religion or his perceived ethnicity.  As the Rabbi tells him, “Its a state of being”.  It is who one is.  For Yacine, his family takes pride in the fact that he is a Palestinian Arab studying in Paris with the aspiration to become a doctor.

When the truth about their identities is learned, both of these threads are pulled and begin to unravel.  What would it feel like to realize that you are your perceived enemy? Does the identity that you grew up knowing and believing about yourself cease to be, when it is discovered that you aren’t what you thought you were?  How do the loved ones in your life begin to react when they are thrown into such confusion about trying to love one who is of the people you distrust and even hate?

The Other Son is a poignant look at all of these issues that conveys the weight of such topics without being too biased towards any particular politic.  What is in view is the humanity behind it.  At one point in the film when the two boys are standing together looking in the mirror, Yacine remarks at their reflection, “Isaac and Ishmael….Abraham’s two sons”.  It is this sentiment that stands as a doorway presented in the film.  A doorway that may lead to more dialogue, hope, and ultimately healing.  With the constant clashes of these two cultures dominating the news for decades, such a film’s ambition is noteworthy.

Having traveled around Israel and having visited the West Bank myself, I can attest that The Other Son captures the tension perfectly as well as the unreal sense of calm that exists in everyday life.  A dog chasing a camel across the field, a soccer game being played by kids, beach-goers buying ice cream, and the ho-hum routine of border checkpoints that would rattle most people in the West but are just part of the life of the people of this region.  It is this backdrop that lends credibility to the scenario unfolding before us, because they are just like us.

The Other Son also is able to demonstrate the difference between how a mother and a father react to such news that your child is not your own.  It is through both of the father’s views that we get a sense of the larger political struggles, where it is through the two mother’s that we get a sense of the possibility of healing.  As this comes from a female director, perhaps this is a good window into what is possible, and more of a view of the healing that could come.

The Other Son is mainly in French with some English, Hebrew, and Arabic, all with English subtitles.  It is showing on September 16th at the Webster University Film Series in St. Louis as well at other places.  Check their website for more information on where to see it.