THE MEN BEHIND THE WALL – Walls in the time of Tinder

Ines goes looking for men beyond the wall.

Audaciously, going beyond the wall of apartheid, oppression and shame. More than 400 kilometers of cement and steel winding along the border between Israel and the West Bank penetrating the Occupied Territories and dividing Palestinian communities one from the other. Every day, over 60,000 Palestinians cross the border connecting the West Bank to East Jerusalem to go to work, to school, to hospital. Human and sentimental relations are not considered in the entry permits.

Ines Moldavsky, young Israeli director, winner of the Golden Bear Best Short Film at the last Berlinale, challenges this wall with her documentary THE MEN BEHIND THE WALL. It is an irreverent look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of Tinder and OkCupid, social apps for amorous and sexual encounters.

Would Israelis and Palestinians go to bed together if they wanted to?

Shifting between two parallel levels, political and social, THE MEN BEHIND THE WALL emphasizes the absurdity of segregation and of physical boundaries in the age of the social media. Ines Moldavsky ‘picks up’ Palestinian men living beyond the wall, “near, yet so far away”. Tinder, OkCupid and other similar apps «do not recognize the physical borders between these men and me», the director comments.

With fifty million users in the world and its showcase-catalog of faces to choose from, Tinder connects people who live near each other, allowing them to chat and eventually, if the match works, to meet.

Ines’s conversations with the men she contacts are lively, audacious, libidinous, sometimes hard-core. There would be nothing new or different from what happens in other parts of the world when using these apps if it were not for the fact of where we are. Ines’s approaches to Arab men inevitably end up being strongly conditioned by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflecting the reciprocal relations of power: male -female, Israeli-Palestinian.

«I can do everything you like»

«Can you take me by force and bang my head against the wall?» (Ines chatting to a young Arab)

«No, heads against the wall, no.»

«I’m from Tel Aviv. Have you ever fucked a Jewish girl?»

«No, you would be the first.»

«If you want we can be friends and have sex, if you want, I’ll come to you.»

In some cases, Tinder matches result in real dating. Thanks to her Argentine passport, Ines is able to enter the Territories, different cities of the West Bank and meet some of the men she has contacted. With an Israeli passport it would have been impossible because for security reasons the Israeli government prohibits its citizens from entering the Palestinian territories.

After the Second Intifada in 2000 and the construction of the fortress-barrier, it has become more and more difficult for young Palestinians and Israelis to come into contact with each other. Mutual mistrust has increased. Fear is always lurking in the background, even dating through Tinder, as has happened with Adam Nail, 24 years old, from Dayr al Hatab, a village east of Nablus.

«Aren’t you afraid of me?» (Ines)

«Why should I be?» (Adam Nail)

«Because I am Israeli and I am a woman.»

«No, the only thing I can be afraid of is if you’re a spy or something, but I trust you. And you’re not afraid of me?»

«No, not at all, you’re kind.»

For many Palestinians, the Israelis are only soldiers or settlers, while many Israelis know the Palestinians only through the media and only as terrorists or refugees. 30% of the Palestinian population is aged between 15 and 29, and most young people, both Israeli and Palestinian, unlike their parents or grandparents, are not interested in the peace process. While it is true that Tinder “does not know any physical boundaries”, when it comes to approaching men in Gaza, the matter becomes more complicated.

«You haven’t left Gaza in twenty years?» (Ines)

«No, if I came to see you, I could not go home, I would be arrested for sure and for Hamas it would be a question mark. They are very scrupulous when it comes to relations between people living here and people living beyond the green borders […]. Hamas has taken the will of the people, distorted it, doing what it wanted […] We live in a prison, all around us electric fences, control towers. There is no possibility of casual meetings, of casual sex.»

As in every prison, there is no sex in Gaza. Like every wall, the Israeli one in the West Bank has altered the life of the communities it passes through, cutting through communication arteries and the coexistence pulsing under the enduring “folklore” of the Arab-Israeli division.

Since 2002, Palestinians have lived in different parts of the country, have had different identity papers and have been separated by eight meters of cement. More than three million live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, two in the Gaza Strip, as many in Israel with Israeli citizenship and over fifty laws have been devised purposely for them, for non-Jews.

But if they could meet, get together and, why not, have an affair, how would it be between young Palestinians and Israelis? And what if it were the dating apps, platforms like Tinder, “that knows no physical boundaries”, which arranges meetings with only an identity match, regardless of bans, walls and power games, that were to break down the wall of segregation?