They Were Promised the Sea

  • December 21, 2016

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Borders & Beyond

A myth-shattering documentary about women and men whose identity as Arab Jews challenges the very notion of enmity and belonging.

Shot in Morocco, Israel-Palestine and New York, They Were Promised the Sea is an intimate journey exploring the Moroccan origins of the director’s family. The search unleashes a complex web of questions about dual identity, political opportunism and the challenges faced by those torn between Homeland and Promised Land.

Kathy Wazana gives us unique access to a cast of characters that includes a Jewish advisor to the King of Morocco, the director of the only Jewish museum in the Arab world, a Muslim-Moroccan musician/jeweler who longs for the return of his Jewish friends from Israel, and a Moroccan-Israeli living in exile in New York whose poetry is dedicated to Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish.

In Israel-Palestine we meet Moroccan Israelis who long to return. One will make the journey. With Shira Ohayon, education director of the Andalusian Orchestra of Israel, we travel to Morocco where belonging and homeland takes on a new and disturbing meaning.

The film’s haunting score consists of original recordings of Andalusian and Sephardic music, performed in Arabic, Hebrew and Ladino. In one memorable scene, a Rabbi and an Imam, backed by a Sufi orchestra, performing liturgical poetry to Andalusian music in Hebrew and Arabic, seamlessly moving from Adonai to Allah, and providing a breathtaking glimpse of the genuinely symbiotic relationship of Jewish and Muslim Arab cultural heritage. Here in Morocco, brotherhood has continued to exist between “enemies.”

They Were Promised the Sea reveals the intersections of identity, community and belonging within a complex political environment.  The film exposes the political maneuvering that separated communities that had lived together for thousands of years, and also gives voice to those who resisted and continue to resist the separation of Arab and Jew.

Every scene and encounter, every witness, reminds us that there is another history of Jewish/Arab/Muslim coexistence — a history suppressed because it doesn’t fit the narrative which claims that Jews were persecuted and expelled from their Arab homeland, and that 850,000 Arab Jews are refugees.

Kathy Wazana

Kathy Wazana is a Casablanca-born, Toronto-based writer, translator, editor, turned documentary filmmaker, whose current work focuses on Jewish-Arab relations in Morocco and in Israel-Palestine. In recent years, Kathy has turned her attention to studying and understanding Jewish-Arab relations through the history of Jews in Morocco and her own identity as an “Arab Jew”.

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