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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

New York City based Claus Mueller reviews film festivals and related issues and serves as a  senior editor for Society and Diplomatic Review.

As a professor emeritus he covered at Hunter College / CUNY social and media research and is an accredited member of the US State Department's Foreign Press Center.



LIFE SENTENCES, Israel 2013, Nurit Kedar and Yaron Shani


It has frequently been suggested that the creation of a reasonable identity is more difficult in postindustrial society. After all we experience the decline of collectively shared value systems, the weakening of family structures and the decay of supportive communities, to mention just some of the factors that provided stability in the past. In our times identities seem to have become flexible, if not temporary, and the sense of self has become precarious.

In this context, the documentary Life Sentences offers compelling insights into coping with a contradictory context which precludes acquisition of a stable identity. One wonders about the survival mechanisms of an individual who has grown up in these conflicting settings. After all, identities are socially constructed, and precarious identities may emerge.

Kedar and Shani received the best documentary award for Life Sentences which premiered last November at the Other Israel Festival in New York. Living in Israel, Nimer and his sister were born to  Fawzi al Nimer who fell in love with his Jewish mother, an alliance strongly opposed by Arabs and Jews. The father engaged in terrorist attacks and was condemned to numerous life sentences when Nimer was very young. Upon his release in 1985, Fawzi left for Tunisia and became a close friend of Yasser Arafat and a senior member of the PLO. He ended up living in Gaza.  After his imprisonment his wife sent her children to a Jewish boarding school in Israel and moved to Montreal where the family settled in an ultra-orthodox community. They maintained contact with the father though were not allowed to talk about him.. They returned to Israel where mother and sister embraced the ultra-orthodox community. Declining to participate in the documentary, their faces are blacked out in the pictures shown.  Nimer stayed in touch with his father until he died of Alzheimer in 2013 and became the principal character of the documentary, using Hebrew in the probing interviews of the film.

In the Jewish community his name is Shlomo. His life meanders between different worlds. He was raised in an ultraorthodox community while his father was imprisoned in Israel. He was unable to articulate his origin and was considered a Jew in the Jewish world and an Arab in the Arab world. His life seems to be characterized by running away from temporary settings, using airports as his doorway to escape.  He married his first cousin Hadil when visiting his father’s family in Accra. She was burdened by his frequent absences, but gives him an anchor of stability that he has  needed his entire life, an anchor he accepts

Nimer cannot escape his past and is imprisoned by the life sentences his father and mother bequeathed him. He cannot root his identity in being Israeli or Arab, in belonging to the orthodox Jewish or Muslin faith or in his disjointed family despite the strong emotional attachment.  As he suggests at the end of the film, the outside can try to dictate the identity of being a Muslim or a Jew, but he cannot accept such religious or political identity.

Claus Mueller


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