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Have You Heard About the Panthers?

Directed by: Nissim Mossek
110 Minutes, 2002

In the 1970s, a new protest movement burst into Israeli politics. Calling themselves the Black Panthers, this group of rebellious young Mizrahi men was intensely critical of racism and class bias within the Israeli establishment. They embraced Robin Hood-like campaigns such as “Operation Milk,” which stole food from rich areas in Jerusalem and distributed it to impoverished immigrants. Their bold moves captured the attention of the young and disenfranchised while earning the animosity of others (Golda Meir called them barbarians).

Thirty years ago, as a novice filmmaker, Nissim Mossek set out to document the Panthers’ burgeoning movement, following their demonstrations and ferocious confrontations with police. He and the Panthers had no compunctions about waking up families in the middle of the night to ask them to “present their poverty” to the camera, hoping to inform the public about the struggle for equality within Israeli society and incite others to action.

Mossek’s 1970s protest film vanished suspiciously just after completion; for years it was believed to be lost. The recent discovery of a copy in the Jerusalem Cinematheque prompted the filmmaker to investigate the demise of the Panthers. He tracked down surviving members to examine their sometimes surprising trajectories and their deeply conflicted relationships to their shared radical past. Intercutting footage from his early film with his modern-day research, the diverse, volatile and charismatic subjects (including Panthers Charlie Bitton and Sa’adia Marciano) cast light onto a lesser-known chapter in the struggle for equality and justice of Mizrahi Jews, and illuminate issues of disunity that continue to reveal themselves in today’s Israel.


Director: Nissim Mossek

Writer: Ron Ofer