May 13th 2007 Tribeca
A Slim Peace
(Docu -- U.K.)
By JAY WEISSBERG
A Discodog Prods. production.
(International sales: Film Sales Corp., New York.)
Produced by Charles Lambert. Executive
producers, Ben Funnell, Andrew Herwitz, Davide Romieri.
Co-producer, Yael Luttwak. Directed by Yael Luttwak.
Yael Luttwak uses the universal desire for weight-loss as the perfect excuse
to bring Arab and Israeli women together in "A Slim Peace." Clever
premise flies, thanks to strong personalities overcoming budgetary
limitations and a certain lack of structure, with real progress made until the
daily realities of a divided Israel
overwhelm the giant steps forward made by women trained to fear the other
side. Docu's novelty should earn it a popular place
in Jewish fests as well as small-screen broadcast.
Body language says it all at the first meeting of a diet support group
composed of highly educated Palestinians, secular and religious Jews, and
Bedouins: the discomfort is tangible as women who would never even look at
each other are forced to confront their fears of the other. Getting settlers
to sit down with Ramallah residents was Luttwak's biggest challenge, but over the course of six
sessions, the women not only lose weight but bridge their ingrained mistrust,
highlighting just how geopolitics artificially narrows perspectives and sows
seeds of hatred. Though the outcome one year later is less than hoped for,
the applications are huge.
Camera (color, HD), Yvonne Miklosh; editors, John
Mister, Carol Salter;
music, Avshalom Caspi; sound, TomerBlayer; sound design, Peter Hodges.
Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (World
Documentary Competition competing), May
4, 2007. English, Hebrew, Arabic dialogue. Running time: 60 MIN.
Amid Turmoil, Mideast Cinema's Subtle
By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 27, 2007; C01
If "Making Of" displays unabashed artiness, two much more
rough-edged documentaries exemplify another part of the cinematic spectrum.
Yael Luttwak's "A Slim Peace" is a cinema
verite account of a group of Israeli and
Palestinian women who find common ground in -- where else -- losing weight.
After organizing a group of women interested in losing a few pounds, the
filmmaker, the women and two dietitians get together for weigh-ins that
inevitably become political consciousness-raising sessions.
Some encounters are predictable (Jewish settlers meeting their first West
Bank dwellers), but there are some unexpected twists: a Sephardic Jewish
woman reveals that, as an indigenous Arab, she feels much more akin to the
Palestinian women than the American settlers. A Bedouin woman breaks out of
that tribal stereotype -- of a deeply sexist and insular culture -- and turns
out to be the film's most self-empowered feminist.
Inadvertently true to its title, "A Slim Peace" offers a relatively
slender sampling of the myriad issues and histories that weave through
contemporary politics in Israel.
And although it suggests the possibility of communication within that
freighted context, it also hits obstacles, such as when one of the Jewish
settlers suspects one of her new Palestinian acquaintances of destroying an
Israeli playground. Despite the obvious optimism of Luttwak's
enterprise, her film ultimately suggests that the hardest habits to break aren't
about food, but the psyche.
"A Slim Peace" touches on the migratory nature of identity in Israel;
that theme also suffuses the heartbreaking documentary "9 Star
Hotel," which provides an intimate look at migrant workers in that
May 3rd 2007
Taking it off for peace
A new documentary asks whether uniting Israeli and Palestinian women around
weight loss is the way to lasting peace in the Middle East.
By Amy Reiter
Pages 1 2
Photo: DiscoDog Productions
A scene from "A Slim Peace" May 3, 2007 |
Question: Can the united struggle of 14 women of widely varying
backgrounds to reduce the width of their waists advance peace in the Middle
East? Answer: That's the question
filmmaker Yael Luttwak asks in her new movie, "A Slim Peace," which
had its world premiere last week at the Tribeca
Film Festival. Luttwak -- who is half-Israeli,
half-American, and now lives in London
-- was working with Palestinians and Jews in Israel,
and trying to lose some weight herself, when the peace process broke down in
2000. "Something in my head just connected the two," she says.
To pull together the disparate group of women for her documentary, Luttwak
solicited strangers in cafes and surveyed friends and friends of friends,
including secular urban Jews, religious Jewish settlers, Bedouin Arabs,
Palestinians -- young and not so young, well-off and less so. The women met
regularly in Jerusalem, some of
them traveling past checkpoints, an hour and a half each way, to bond over
their body issues, and maybe -- just maybe -- find common ground.
At first, sitting around a circle with two dieticians -- one Israeli, one
Palestinian -- the women are tensely polite to one
another. But as the meetings progress, inhibitions are shed along with the
weight, paving the way for angry confrontations and, ultimately, a tentative
Luttwak sat down with Salon in New York
to discuss her film, her process and her fierce belief that peace in the Middle
East is at least as attainable as losing those last five pounds.
Question: Did you make this film with a particular goal in mind?
Answer: I was really passionate about making this film. I believe
in peace. I care a lot about the Middle East. I care about
the fact that Israelis and Palestinians are continuously killing each other,
and I'd like that to stop. I wanted to see what would happen if we brought
them together over something as universal as weight loss -- because who
doesn't care about their weight? Could they come together on something as
neutral as that?
Question: Where did you get the idea to marry weight loss and the
peace process, two things that one doesn't normally think of as fitting
Answer: It came from my own personal life. I have always
struggled with my weight. And I've seen a lot of women around me struggle
with it. It's not that I'm obese -- though I've never been stick thin -- but
I've always felt a little chubby. I've always had my own body issues. I think
it's hard to find someone who doesn't.
So when I lived in Israel,
and I was working with Israelis and Palestinians, I lost 10 kilos, or 20
pounds. I went to Weight Watchers, and I sat in these meetings and I saw
these Middle Eastern women -- and they're so full of life and spice. And it's
all so intimate, because weight has so many emotions attached to it. It's so
loaded. There's success and there's failure and there's pain. Then at the
same time, in 2000, the peace process broke down -- and it's never been
repaired since. So something in my head just connected the two.
Question: You assembled the group of women in the film. What sort
of characters were you looking for? Answer: I wanted to bring together
women that would never be willing to meet. I didn't want to do a weight-loss
group of rich Israelis and rich Palestinians who were already liberal and who
were for peace. I wanted to go as far as we could.
It was very important to me that it be a program that the women would benefit
from, too. They're opening up their personal lives and sharing of their lives
and their bodies and their families. So I got amazing dieticians, luckily:
the head of nutrition at Hadassah Hospital, Israel's
premier hospital, and a Palestinian dietician, who is amazing in her own
right. It's a new approach in that it's not about dieting. Diets don't work,
based on research. It's about changing the way you relate to food and
changing your lifestyle. We had a lot of weight-loss success stories.
In terms of the peace process, there didn't seem to be that much direct
conflict in the group, but there was a sort of pervasive tension.
I think that's a great observation -- and it was my observation as well
pretty early on. You may be bringing together women who would never normally
meet, but they don't sit in a room and start hitting each other. They were
very polite, which is very unusual, because in the Middle East
people are not that polite. They're usually known to be maybe a little
aggressive, certainly less inhibited, very casual.
So everyone was on their best behavior. The tension was much more subtle. As Ichsan, the Palestinian woman, says, "It's like
we're on a blind date."
But then, of course, when Hamas was elected, there
was an out-and-out argument. Weight loss went to the side and the discussion
became about politics. The big thing for me was that the women came back
after that meeting. They had this big fight -- a true argument, a screaming
match -- but they came back. And that was the testament. But I think that
also reflects reality and people. When you have a fight with someone --
whether it's your best friend, your lover, your brother -- you have a fight
and it's healthy and you get it out. Then, if you care enough about that
person, you come back. And they did.
Next page: "Once you realize they're people, you're people, it's
There's a scene between the spitfire Palestinian woman, Ichsan,
who may be the most compelling character in the group, and Dasi, the Israeli yoga teacher whose father-in-law was
well known in the Israeli independence movement. They become friends, but
when Ichsan goes to visit Dasi
at her home in a well-to-do part of Jerusalem,
things sort of blow up between them. What happened there?
They asked me to turn off the camera. As a filmmaker I would have wanted to
have kept the camera on, but as a human being who follows the rules, I turned
it off. Because they really fought. I think you see that it's uncomfortable.
And you see Ichsan at the end and she is left
alone. So I believe that the audience understands what happened.
Also, we've seen arguments before. So, in some ways, it's banal. What's interesting is these characters and the subtleties,
the nuances. This is a case where you have two people who get along really
well. As human beings, they have similar senses of humor, similar ways of
operating in the world. They're very fun, feisty women. And then it hits
them. They completely leave the headlines and see each other as people -- and
then they go back to the headlines. They recognize this is too big for us,
this gap that we have. And that's what I think you see.
It's a pretty disappointing moment.
Question: Did the friendship -- which was really the strongest
one between any of the women of different backgrounds -- cool off after that?
Answer: It's not that the
friendship cooled off. I think they recognized that, although they got along
as people, there were bigger obstacles, bigger than them, bigger than their
humor and personalities. That's what I think they recognize at that moment,
in that house. And that, I think, is what you feel.
At one point in the film, Aviva, an Israeli woman,
says she feels like she has far more in common with the Palestinians in the
group than the Jewish settlers, most of whom are American. It suddenly became
clear that the group could be divided along all sorts of lines, secular and
religious, well off and poor. It wasn't just Jews vs. Arabs.
Life is complicated. We all know it's not black and white, though we always
seem to go there. Was I surprised that certain women didn't get along and
others did? Yeah. I was surprised about a lot of things. But I'm not
surprised about the fact that a secular Israeli gets along better with a
Palestinian than she does with an American settler. They have a lot more in
common. That's the whole problem, I think. If only Israelis and Palestinians
were a little more different. If only they were like Asians and Swedes, I
think we would have a lot less problems. It's because, I think, they are
originally cousins -- because they talk similarly, they like the same foods,
they move similarly, they have very similar mannerisms -- that
they have conflict like families have. I was really glad that Aviva expressed that, because that's a voice I don't
think we hear very often. I really don't think you hear from the secular
Israeli who just wants to live, to do their thing.
The group you pulled together was all women.
Question: What do you think the role of women in the peace
process is? Are women particularly equipped to forge peace?
Answer: I've given that a lot of thought. The reason why I wanted
an all-women group is because, according to research, support groups,
weight-loss or otherwise, are slightly more intimate if they're single sex. I
wanted to create a group that would become intimate. I needed to raise the
I chose all women partly because I'm a woman, but I also believe that the
reason that there is conflict, that people are aggressive toward each other,
is because they're fearful of each other. And why are they fearful? Because
they've hurt each other. On a simple level, when someone hits you in the
face, you become fearful that they'll hit you again. So you put up a barrier,
you put up a wall, you take a gun, you put on a mask, you have soldiers. For
some reason, I think women are able to react in a less aggressive way.
They'll sit down. They'll eat together. They bear children. It's sort of a
simplistic answer, but it's my simplistic answer.
Was there ever a moment that you felt frightened? You went into some areas
that someone with your background wouldn't normally journey into. I'm
thinking specifically of Ramallah.
Question: How did you feel going into those areas? Answer: Listen, I didn't tell my
parents every time I went into Ramallah. I didn't
share all the details of all my travels, because I know that people get
scared. But it's fear of the unknown. It's fear of just not being in a place
where everybody is like you. But once you realize they're people, you're
people, it's fine. The first time I went into Ramallah, it was like anything -- the first time you ride
a bike, the first time you eat anchovies, you don't know, it's unknown. You
don't know what it's going to feel like, you don't
know what it's going to taste like. It's the same thing. But you shouldn't
let that stop you from exploring the unknown. Your world might become totally
different as a result.
Question: Is that a takeaway message from the film? Answer: I don't want to give a
takeaway message. And I'm certainly not interested in manipulating anybody
that goes to see the film. But I'm very passionate that we can have peace in
the Middle East. I really believe it. It's just our
own minds that stop it. I think what it can show is that when you do bring
people together, people that for thousands of years have hated each other,
within a few hours walls break down. It's possible.
2nd May 2007
If the idea behind Yael Luttwak’s
documentary, A Slim Peace, seems outrageous –- uniting Arab and Jewish in Jerusalem
in the common goal of a smaller ass –- the execution is nuanced with wit and
passion. Luttwak convinced Israelis, Palestinian, a Bedouin and two settlers
(some of the women were religious and some not) to join a sort of weight
watchers group, though her disingenuous claim that the group will not be
political is immediately questioned by the Bedouin woman, who agrees to it
nevertheless. Those there women all live quite close to each other, some of
the Jews claim to have never met an Arab, and vice versa. In the run-up to and
aftermath of the Palestinian election, which saw Hamas
put into power, tensions ranneth over the
ostensible chatter about fiber grams and calorie counts. Luttwak’s
subjects are staunch women, fascinating subjects all, especially when, after
the group disbands, most of them acknowledge that their superficial
commonalities will never bridge their deep divides. This is a rare look at
how life is lived by the middle class in this region; the native Israeli
woman was surprised to find that she had more in common with the Arab from Ramallah than the humorless American Super-Jews from the
settlement, and you might be too.
7th May 2007
Yael Luttwak| BIO
My Road Through Tribeca
Posted May 7, 2007 | (EST)
Read More: Breaking Politics News, Mike Leigh
My first feature film A Slim Peace premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in the World
Documentary Competition this past week.
The idea is a bit crazy. To bring together a group of Palestinian, Israeli
and American settlers together in a weight loss group. After three years my
idea became a finished film. Along with my producer we raised the money to
make the film. I asked 100 people for support and 1 person said yes. Almost
everything about making A Slim Peace was a challenge. From finding women who
would normally never meet to join our group to finding a place where both
Palestinians and Israelis would be willing to meet and share their lives and
stories. Also, to create a story from these meetings between the women while
remaining neutral and objective and to make as good, entertaining and
thought-provoking a film as possible!
But the last hurdle is having the chance to share the film once you have made
it. Luckily, my mentor and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Leigh believed in
me from the very beginning. And Peter Scarlet and his team at the Tribeca Film Festival believed in the film and selected A
Slim Peace for the festival.
But the pinnacle so far was to share A Slim Peace with hundreds of New
Yorkers this week. The audiences have been amazing and engaged and asked me
lots of challenging questions!
Meeting the other filmmakers has been a true privilege as well. It is a
lonely profession at times and to be able to share and compare notes of the
experience you can learn a lot from a fellow filmmaker.
Of course this is still the beginning. The challenge now is to try secure a distributor to enable an even greater audience to
share in the journey that the women undertake.
The real excitement though comes in the chance to invite other women from
across the Middle East to participate in the initiative, to use it as a model
to get even more people meeting and talking. I plan to head out to Israel
again next month, to try facilitate another group and
continue the work.
Though for now, it has a been a fantastic couple of
weeks here at Tribeca. A festival which makes
dreams come true for filmmakers like myself to share
our stories with such great audiences, and for that opportunity I am truly
Mar. 22, 2007
17:43 Cinefile: Israelis at Tribeca
By HANNAH BROWN
9 Star Hotel, about Palestinian workers
illegally who work building Modi'in, will be part
of the World Documentary Competition. 9 Star was one of two films that split
the documentary prize at the Jerusalem International Film Festival in July.
One Israeli film that will have its world premiere at Tribeca
is Yael Luttwak's A Slim Peace, which is about a
women's weight-loss group in the West Bank that
includes both Palestinians and settlers, and seems likely to bring a new
perspective to an old issue.
Dieting is a political issue
by Lisa Goldman on Wed 25 Apr 2007 04:57 PM IDT | Permanent Link | Cosmos
In the ongoing - and often ham fisted - attempts to humanize the faces behind
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, documentary director Yael Luttwak has come
up with a rather unique idea: take a cross-section of Israeli and Palestinian
women, put them on a diet program together, and watch what happens. The film
is called A Slim Peace.
You can watch the trailer here - and see how even the simplest
questions or ideas are political. When the Bedouin (Israeli) woman is told
that the group of dieters will include Jewish settlers and Palestinians, but
the film is not political, she immediately points out that it IS political -
just by virtue of the participants' identities. When the American-born religious
West Bank settler is asked to explain whether she
lives in Israel
or..?, she answers that the question is too
political. When a young woman who is doing her graduate degree in biology in
Tel Aviv is asked whether she prefers to be called Arab-Israeli or
Palestinian, she shrugs and says she really doesn't care; then she explains
how difficult it is for her to find a man, and again she is frustrated by the
political reality in which she lives. A Palestinian journalist from Ramallah explains that she often overeats out of
frustration when she has to wait for two hours to get through a checkpoint on
her way to work - then confesses that the last time she felt good about
herself was when she was in love, a long time ago.
This is how the director describes her film:
"In A Slim Peace, 14 women--Israelis, Palestinians,
Bedouin Arabs, and American settlers in the West Bank--are
brought together with the shared goal of losing weight and find out they have
far more in common than they ever would have imagined. A Slim Peace takes a
revealing look at the universal struggle for acceptance, understanding and
personal transformation in a land of intractable conflict. This is a video
diary made by the film's director."
Monday August 6, 2007
"A Slim Peace": According to director Yael
Luttwak, the universal language of peace just might be … weight
loss. In an experiment to open the way to better communication, Luttwak
brings together a group of women--some Israeli, some Palestinian, and some
Jewish settlers living in the West Bank--to attend a
series of Weight Watchers-style meetings. These women in most cases have
never spoken to someone from the opposing side, but eventually they warm up
to each other and begin to discuss their fears and concerns.
While the movie is funny--as it shows that the excuses women
make for cheating on their diets are the same in every culture--it is also
sad because a year after the meetings end, the women did not keep in touch
with each other, and their opinions about the future of peace in the Middle
East really haven’t changed.
This movie also did a great job of revealing to me just how
much I do not know or understand about the complex history of the West
Bank, and it was worth seeing the movie for that reason alone.
weight-loss plan aimed at peace By Nick Johnstone
Yael Luttwak’s new film brings
together 14 Israeli and Palestinian women to diet. Could their joint quest
bridge the cultural divide?
In January 2006, a Palestinian TV producer and comedienne, IchsanTurkhin, left her home
in Ramallah and, with a special permit in hand,
crossed the border into Israel.
She then made her way to Jerusalem,
where she met the other 13 women who had signed up to appear in Yael Luttwak’s documentary, A Slim Peace .
For the next six weeks, Turkhin, along with other
Palestinian women, Israeli women and religious American Jewish settlers, met
on camera to participate in a weight-loss group with a difference. Presided
over by two dieticians — one Israeli, one Palestinian — the group sought to
find out if shedding pounds in search of a new body image could override the
intense politics of their individual lives.
“I laughed when Yael first suggested this idea,” says Turkhin.
“I felt, it’s a smart idea and it’s childish and innocent. And I laughed a
lot. I said: ‘Yael, you think we can all sit together?’ And she said: ‘Yes.’”
After that initial approach, Jerusalem-born, New
York-raised Luttwak, 35, told Turkhin
that the diverse group would include American settlers.
Turkhin was not impressed. “I said: ‘First, I
believe they are thieves who are stealing a land that doesn’t belong to
them.’ And then I said: ‘I can’t imagine why they [have come here to] live
with a people which hates them! I can’t believe how
people come from a good life in the United
States, to come and live here in
It was a hard sell, but Luttwak eventually persuaded Turkhin
and the equally reluctant settlers to give the project a chance. “It’s much
easier to consider someone an enemy if you don’t humanise
them,” explains Luttwak. “Once you humanise them,
then it’s hard to consider them an enemy. But we forget this. And it’s so
much easier for the media and politicians to put people into categories. But
behind that, we’re people.”
The idea for the film, which is being screened in London
this weekend as part of the UK Jewish Film Festival, came to Luttwak in 2000.
She was based in Tel Aviv at the time, working on a “teen talk show”, a
co-production for Israel’s
Channel 2 and the Palestinian Broadcasting Channel. The show was being shot
in Ramallah and Jerusalem,
where she befriended Israelis and Palestinians alike.
With the 2000 Camp David summit sparkling on the
horizon, genuine hope for peace was in the air. Personally, too, Luttwak was
feeling optimistic, shedding pounds as part of a WeightWatchersprogramme in Tel Aviv. Then, the peace talks broke
down. A despondent Luttwak headed back to the US,
working as a TV news producer, while developing what would become her
directorial debut film, A Slim Peace.
“I’d been hearing those Middle Eastern women at Weight-Watchers in Tel Aviv
talk about their successes and failures with losing and gaining a kilo, and I
thought that if we could get everyone together and focus on something that is
universal, that actually goes quite deep, then maybe we could find a way
She moved to London and studied
directing at the LondonFilmSchool under playwright and
director Mike Leigh. He became her mentor, and when she graduated she worked
as a researcher on Leigh’s play, Two Thousand Years.
Then, in mid-2005, with funding in place, she returned to Israel
and began casting the 14 women. With an eventually willing cast, and a heap
of red tape overcome, Luttwak waited to see how the first meeting, held in
January 2006, would go. Like all the women, Turkhin
“Everyone came with a stereotype,” says Turkhin.
“So I wanted to break the stereotype. I am a Palestinian woman, I’m educated,
I speak English, I read, I write, I love, I have children. Don’t put me in
any one category. I wanted them to see a different, smart Palestinian.”
Over the next six weeks, the women collectively shed 100kg and slowly
loosened up. Politics remained to the fore, but they eventually found middle
ground, and some are still in touch today. “We’re all much more alike than we
are different,” Luttwak concludes.
“As trite as it might sound, at the end of the day, we’re just people. The
distances are so small and the borders so flimsy, but Israelis and
Palestinians are kept very separate. Interaction is the key to peace and
that’s why I was passionate to make this film. What would happen if we bring
people together? People who would normally never meet.
“It only takes a few hours for the barriers and stereotypes and categories
and vilifications to come down, because people find things that they have in
common. It doesn’t mean they fall in love with one another, but they can get
A Slim Peace is being screened at the Screen On the Hill, London NW3, on
Sunday. Tel: 020 7435 3366
Women's desire to be thin is universal.
That, at least, is the premise behind "A Slim Peace," a documentary
bringing together Palestinian and Israeli women for a six-week weight-loss
session of counting calories, measuring their waistlines and reflecting on
issues of body image.
The 14 women - Jewish settlers, Bedouin from the Negev,
secular Jerusalemites and Muslim women from Ramallah
who travel through checkpoints to attend the group - met last year over the
course of two months in Jerusalem,
a city where everything is political and even losing weight can be cause for
Together, they commiserated over a love of fatty foods and the difficulties
of balancing work and family. But when the group disbanded, more than 120
kilograms lighter, promises to meet again lapsed and were forgotten.
The film, which premiered at the Tribeca
Film Festival and was screened this week in Jerusalem, brought many of the
women back together - some looking much the same as when they last saw each
other. One woman, however, was 50 kilograms lighter.
The unofficial reunion also served as the launch of a new series of Slim
Peace groups, set to begin next week also in the capital.
"Even though we were all so different, we had the same issues: we're
fat, we work too hard, we're raising kids and we don't pay attention to our
bodies," said AvivaMeirom,
who lives in Jerusalem and was a
member of the group. "We put our families and work first and then ourselves last. That was our common problem."
From the outset, the women invited to participate in the group were told that
the weight-loss program would be apolitical. But in a place where everything
has political dimensions, weight loss - like other issues in the conflict -
quickly became a matter for rivalry.
"I will lose more weight than they will," IchsanTurkich, a Palestinian producer living in Ramallah, remembers thinking to herself when she heard
that settlers would be in the group. "I will make it into a competition
and show the occupier that I am more talented than they are. I will show the
occupier that I am also a person with dreams and ambitions."
The idea for the joint nutrition and weight-loss project - the first of its
kind - was the brainchild Yael Luttwak, an American-Israeli filmmaker based
in London who said she had long
struggled with her own weight. In 2000, with the intifada
raging, she was living in Israel
and was part of a Weight Watchers group in Tel Aviv when the idea for the
project clicked. She saw women - complete strangers for the most part - share
the euphoria of success and the pain and sadness of failure, as they joined
weekly to bond over a single goal. "I thought at the time, maybe we can
take this emotion and connect it with the peace process," Luttwak, 35,
The coexistence genre of documentaries is nothing new. Projects with
Palestinians and Israelis together doing everything from sailing and playing
soccer to cooking and rapping have been going on for years. But Luttwak says
she has attempted something else - and in many ways, she has succeeded.
"I was sick of bringing rich liberal Jews and Arabs just to talk about
peace in a very overt way. I wanted to try to go deeper in a seemingly
surface way. People say that dieting is superficial, but what you eat, what
you put in your kitchen and how you relate to your body is very loaded,"
Getting the women to agree was not easy; many of the women approached
rejected the idea out of hand. Other took considerable convincing. AmalElsana-Elhjooj, a Bedouin,
thought that sitting with settlers and talking about anything other than the
occupation was nearly traitorous; Turkich, the
producer from Ramallah, said she initially refused
to sit down with women she regards as "thieves, people who take what
isn't theirs"; and LettyZander,
a U.S.-born settler who lives in Ma'alehHever, south of Hebron, said she who didn't feel
comfortable even using the word Palestinian.
"When I think of Ramallah, I think of the
soldier who was torn apart with people's bare hands," Zander said. "As far as I know, those are the kinds
of people that live in Ramallah."
The weekly sessions were held at the Jerusalem Cinematheque
and were conducted in English, considered by all the participants to be a
neutral language. Two dieticians - one Israeli and another Palestinian - led
the group, teaching healthy lifestyle techniques, portion control and how to
read a nutrition label, while urging the women to lead more active
lifestyles. The women were regularly weighed and their waists were measured for
But politics, of course, was never far behind. RivkahAdinahDror, another
participant, lives on the settlement of Bat Ayin,
which doesn't even allow Arabs past its gate. And when Turkich
dons a pedometer and it accidentally resets, she jokes it's because she's
Palestinian. "If an Israeli was wearing it, it would work," she
tells the camera.
During one of the first sessions, Turkich, an
outspoken widow, meets Dasi Stern, a secular yoga
teacher from Jerusalem who joined
the group to lose what she describes as a very stubborn two kilos.
"Stern? Like the Stern gang?," Turkich asks. "Yes," Dasi
replies. "That was my husband's father."
And later, three weeks into the filming, Hamas
sweeps the Palestinian elections in a victory that stunned the Israeli women
in the group and fuels new level of tension into the group's already charged
atmosphere. As one Israeli woman admitted this week, "it was hard to
believe that none of the women in the group voted for Hamas."
Divided by politics
For the participants in the group, the societal pressure to stay thin was
largely unifying, despite the politics that continues to divide them. Many of
the women expressed a desire to "look beautiful" and said that
impossible body standards have infused even the most traditional of
communities. In some ways, they say, that may have helped them find the
much-elusive "common ground" that coexistence groups seem to always
"The pressure to be thin and the culture of dieting is the same in the
Muslim community as in the Jewish community," Elsana-Elhjooj,
the Bedouin activist, said. "My grandmother was considered a very
beautiful woman and she was very heavy. But to be fat then was beautiful and
desirable; it showed that you are healthy and not starving. Now, my mother
goes walking and does other sports. When I see my sisters, we talk about
weight, what to cook, and how to fit into our dresses for our brother's
When the seminar ended, successfully for some more than others, the women
pledged to continue their meetings, even if only sporadically. But the
promises lapsed and a different reality set in.
"I will not call Rivkah and say 'How are
things in Gush Etzion? Did beat any Arabs today?
Did you throw stones at Arabs?,'" Turkich said. "I will not visit her because they
will kick my ass if they do not shoot me first. We had a lot in common, but
in the long run, she cannot be my friend. But I will still be happy for her
if she loses weight."
Additional Slim Peace groups, sponsored by the U.K.-based Charities Advisory
Trust, are now forming and will be held at the AnglicanInternationalSchool