Family ties defy the Israeli-Palestinian divide in ‘The Other Son’

Poster for The Other Side film by Lorraine Levy

Babies accidentally switched at birth.

From Mark Twain to the ABC Family Monday night lineupit’s a familiar plot device – and a usually a pretty cheesy one.

But French director Lorraine Levy successfully adopts this clichéd premise in her third feature film, The Other Son, which opens Friday at the Egyptian Theatre.

Levy delivers a story about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is provocative, humane and refreshingly free from the dogmatic lexicon that tends to inform the way we think about the region.

During the Gulf War in a Gaza hospital under attack, two infants are evacuated and then returned to the wrong families. Palestinian Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is given to Jewish parents Orith and Alon Silbers who raise him in a wealthy suburb of Tel Aviv. Jewish Yacine (Medhi Dehbi) returns to the West Bank with Palestinians Leila and Said Al-Beezar.

When 18-year-old Joseph prepares for his mandatory service in the Israeli army, routine medical tests expose that he is not his parent’s biological son, revealing the hospital staff’s grave mistake, and sending both young men and their families reeling through a reexamination of identity, prejudices and political alignments.

All parties must come to terms with the fact that their bloodlines exist on “the other side”.

Their mothers receive the news with uncanny grace, while their fathers clumsily adjust to the truth. Both Alon, an Israeli-born army commander, and Said, an engineer who’s not allowed to work outside of his village, initially wish to keep the truth from their sons in fear of “what the neighbors might think.”

Yacine and Joseph are the engines of maturity and openness even though the news brings heart-wrenching repercussions for both of them.

The Silbers and Al-Beezars receive the news. (Photo courtesy of Cohenmedia)

Joseph is told he is no longer Jewish and barred from his eagerly anticipated military service. Yacine is rejected by his intensely anti-Zionist brother. Yet both young men venture across borders, reaching out to each other and to their respective biological families.

We are born to the lines drawn by our fathers. The Other Son gives us a moving and optimistic take on what can happen when lines are crossed and our inherited beliefs forcibly reexamined, when connection begets acceptance.

Levy’s film undercuts socio-political jargon and gives us a clear and deeply personal look into the rigid divisions of Israel-Palestine without elevating or demonizing the people who inhabit either side.

That’s no easy task.

Neither of our US presidential hopefuls pulled it off in Monday’s foreign policy debate.

Israel was a star of the show, receiving at least 31 mentions (Syria scored 28, Afghanistan took 21), mostly in reference to increasing tensions with Iran. Palestine squeaked in with only one brief call out from camp Romney, making the Israel-Palestinian peace process, a major concern for the region, seem like a non-issue for both candidates.

It may have all but disappeared from national view, but at least we have a thoughtful film like The Other Son to keep the conversation going on a human level.