Friday, November 27, 2015

The Plight Of The Defeated

Israeli film-maker Claudia Levin focuses on the dispossessed in her documentary, ‘Bums – Go Home’ 

Photos: A still from the documentary; Claudia Levin

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 2011, social activist Claudia Levin came across a camp in her hometown of Tel Aviv where 2000 people were living in poverty.

It was called the Lewinsky Garden Tent Camp,” says Claudia. “The media had ignored them, and many people in Tel Aviv did not know that such a place existed.”

Armed with a camera, Claudia spent several days there. And she was shocked to find that there were all sorts of people, ranging in age from 16 to 70.

There were drug addicts, people suffering from sexually transmitted diseases, sex workers, victims of domestic violence, and the homeless,” says Claudia. “Some of them had lived for 40 years on the streets. There were also asylum-seekers from Sudan and Ethiopia. But the most interesting aspect was they all enjoyed a sense of community, even though they had nothing.”

Nevertheless, the film is an honest and unflinching look at the defeated people of society. 

There is Rotem who had been a prostitute since the age of 11. She also takes drugs. And she walks around, with calipers, because of a damaged leg. She looks at the camera and says, “What can I do to get some peace of mind?”

Natan is pictured on a hospital bed where he tells the doctor that he had taken the drug cathinone for three days. “Then I threw myself into traffic at Levinsky Street,” he says. “I wanted to commit suicide.”

Meanwhile, the police think these are lazy and irresponsible people, who don't want to work.

I told them, 'Guys, they are not like you and me',” says Claudia. “They don't do what we do. If we get up in the morning, we will wash our face and brush our teeth. But they will not do that. Firstly, they are trying to get some money, so that they can buy something to eat. So their mind-set is different. It is a parallel world.”

In the end, the police dismantle the camp. As they were doing so, one woman shouted, “You destroyed the only good thing in our neighbourhood.” Another man said, “Eight cops to arrest one girl: shame on you.” Later, the group gathers in a park, and one of them says, “We have to be strong. If not, we will be lost.”

Claudia became an advisor and confidant. “I told them they should get off the streets,” she says, at the Cinepolis, Kochi, where her documentary was being shown. “They should be aware of their rights, and try to get help from the government.”

But that turned out to be disappointing. “Very quickly it became clear that the bureaucracy did not have the ability nor the sensitivity to take care of street people,” says Claudia.

That was also the case with municipal inspectors, police, and workers at mental-care clinics and hospitals. “All of them were working independently of each another,” says Claudia. “Not only is there no single organisation to coordinate the care of the needy, they tended to compete with each other.”

So, she went to the Knesset and showed her documentary, 'Bums – Go Home' to the law-makers, to make them aware of the situation. “But they only said that they did not have any money to provide help,” she says.

However, by the end of the 56-minute film there are a few who manage to get jobs and a place to stay. “So, there are some positive stories,” says a smiling Claudia. “I am happy that I played a small part in this.” 

(Published in The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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