The story of Palestinian-Israeli-American world champion boxer Johar Abu Lashin. Undefeated, he decides to defend his title - first in his hometown of Nazareth, then in Gaza, Palestine - and unwittingly orchestrates his own downfall, as the quagmire of Middle-East politics deals him the fatal blow. Johar Abu Lashin is a Palestinian by birth, an Israeli by circumstance, and an American by choice. As such, not only are none of these identities complete, they also tear him apart. A man in constant battle with himself, the only place where he truly feels whole, or at home, is in the ring. Best Documentary 2002 DocAviv Documentary Film Festival, Best Documentary 2002 Valley Film Festival, Los Angeles, and Certificate of Merit 2002 San Francisco International Film Festival.
A Boxer From Israel Aims for a World Title By NED MARTEL April 13, 2005, NY Times This bruising but illuminating documentary considers how nationalism flattened one young, sure-footed boxer. In "Raging Dove," which opens today at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater, 155 East Third Street, at Avenue A, East Village, the director Duki Dror follows Johar Abu Lashin through his quest for a world title, despite his complicated citizenship. Born in Nazareth to an Arab family, Mr. Abu Lashin wins his first major upset in the United States, where promoters bill him as "The Israeli Kid." But his Arab heritage, he asserts, often makes the media's hero-making machinery grind to a halt. Meanwhile, he and his American wife live in what he sees as a lusher Promised Land, a horse farm in Tennessee. Mr. Abu Lashin tries to stage two big boxing matches, and politics undermine his every step. Mr. Dror's intimate, dedicated camerawork captures the boxer's wrath and dejection, plus some maniacal, sweaty glimpses of a sport that is too often depicted as a ballet with blood. "Sometimes I feel, I'm ashamed to say, a hero without a home," the prizefighter says, with uncharacteristic self-pity. His failures strangely ennoble him, making him stronger without the rah-rahs of a fickle fan base. --NY Times
Dove s Downfall George Robinson - Special To The Jewish Week 04/08/2005 There is a long and checkered history of prizefighters bringing their ostensible political agendas into the ring. On the one hand, you have Muhammad Ali s outspoken and courageous opposition to the Vietnam War and Joe Louis forthright support of the war against fascism in Europe; then there was John L. Sullivan s refusal to fight African-American challengers. It s a mixed bag, but seldom one that advances a pugilistic career. As one of the interview subjects says in Duki Dror s new documentary Raging Dove, a boxer should concentrate on boxing. Circumstance, regrettably, doesn t always leave him that option. Johar Abu Lashin, the subject of Dror s film, is a Palestinian born in Nazareth who fought as an Israeli and lives in the United States. Because he fought as an Israeli, carrying an Israeli flag into the ring, his compatriots called him a traitor. Because he is a Palestinian, he was ignored by the Israeli sports press and viewed with suspicion by Israeli fans. And because he is a foreigner, he received little or no attention in the United States. That turned out to be a lethal three-punch combination that wrecked his promising career as a welterweight in the late 90s. Lashin was a three-time champion as a lightweight and welterweight but was unable to mount title defenses within the six-month time limit prescribed by the sanctioning bodies that dominate (and damage) the sport. But nothing did more damage to his career and his life than his well-intentioned desire to hold title fights in the Middle East. Prior to his departure for his native Nazareth, where he was scheduled to fight American Craig Houk for the then-vacant IBO welterweight crown, Lashin was happily married to a Tennesseean who met him early in his fighting career, and they owned a successful horse ranch in the east of his adopted home state. It was, perhaps, an unlikely career and setting for Lashin but he seemed to be thriving. Dror spends half of Raging Dove setting up this situation and, if the film were much longer, that would be fine. But the chaotic events that took place when Lashin went back to Nazareth and the even greater disaster that took place when he tried to stage a defense of his new title in Gaza as a gift to the newly installed Palestinian Authority should be the focus of the film. But given its sparse 70-minute running time, there just isn t enough time to explore the impact of these decisions on Lashin s life, career and family. And that is unfortunate, because what there is of Raging Dove is acutely observed and very smart documentary filmmaking, and Lashin and Debby, his wife (one presumes now ex-wife), are genuinely likeable folks with a lot of charm that comes through on camera. What Dror makes abundantly clear is the myriad of ways in which the classically inept and self-serving bureaucracies of the region particularly the PA of Yasir Arafat s era loused up Lashin s dreams of a triumphant homecoming and an embryonic sports focus for the nascent Palestinian nation. It s also pretty easy to see the degree to which the obstinately corrupt sanctioning bodies that rule and ruin the fight game whipsawed this kid out of his title belt on more than one occasion. By the time Lashin returns to the States, he has lost not only his boxing title but his ranch and his marriage as well. These events, which should be the heart of Raging Dove, are presented almost matter-of-factly. It is as if Dror had planned for a very different film and had been unable to make adjustments when events betrayed his vision. Like a fighter who comes into the ring prepared for one kind of opponent only to find himself facing a very different nemesis, Dror doesn t adjust in time and, although --The Jewish Week
Friday October 8, 2004 Israeli Arab boxer risks it all in Gaza by michael fox correspondent Professional athletes aren t known for their political sophistication, but the welterweight boxing champ Johar Abu Lashin has a definite worldview. Born in Nazareth, Abu Lashin has Arab parents, an Israeli passport, an American wife and a Tennessee horse farm. Well, once upon a time he had all that. An engaging though superficial 2002 Israeli documentary, Raging Dove introduces Abu Lashin as a successful boxer and ambitious entrepreneur. He has it all clicking until he entangles himself in the quicksand of the Middle East. Raging Dove receives its U.S. television premiere Monday evening, Oct. 18, on the Sundance Channel. The friendly, trilingual Abu Lashin seemingly has no problem adjusting to any culture or setting. Trained as a boxer, the Christian Arab came to the States more than a decade ago as a teenager to fight professionally. He accepted the nickname The Israeli Kid as a way of building a fan base. But since most Americans think Israeli means Jew, Abu Lashin frequently had to correct misperceptions. There were other setbacks. The boxer asserts that ESPN reneged on a lucrative promise to sign him for a televised fight after the network realized that he wasn t Jewish. ( Raging Dove was shot before 9/11, and one can only imagine what sort of hurdles or anti-Arab hostility Abu Lashin encountered afterward.) Israeli filmmaker Duki Dror milks the culture-clash angle, contrasting the dark, rangy boxer with the sharp accent with his Southern wife, his moon-faced manager, down-home neighbors and mid-America fight fans. A living contradiction, Abu Lashin has his home gym adorned with Palestinian and Israeli flags. I feel like a hero without a home, he says. Raging Dove moves into deeper waters when Abu Lashin wins a pair of welterweight world championships and uses his clout to stage his next bout in Nazareth. He s motivated by a mixture of pride at returning to his birthplace a champion and guilt, for the freedom and luxury experienced in America. He also has the urge to show Palestinian youths a positive role model. But the Jewish filmmaker (who attended college in the States but then returned to his homeland) doesn t probe Abu Lashin on this point, or why the fighter didn t bring his American wife along. She was opposed to the whole venture, but her absence seems particularly glaring when Abu Lashin reunites with his parents. The Nazareth bout comes off with few hitches. After the boxer dispatches his opponent flown in from Indianapolis before an enthusiastic crowd, he sets a new challenge: His next bout will be fought in Gaza. A successful title match would provide the Palestinians with an enormous shot of confidence and momentum. But Abu Lashin is betting the farm, because he must defend his title every six months, or risk having it taken away. The fighter lobbies Arab representatives at the Knesset for their help in pulling off the Gaza match, and his celebrity leads to a face-to-face meeting in Gaza where Yasser Arafat promises the Palestinian Authority s help. Perhaps scarce resources can t be allotted to a boxing match. Maybe Arafat is an inept figurehead with no power. Or perhaps Abu Lashin s request was a no-go from the start, but proper etiquette in Arab culture is never to say no to someone s face. Whatever the reason, the Palestinians don t deliver. Whether Abu Lashin is naive or has an inflated sense of his own power is open to interpretation. What s clear is that his inability to make things happen in Gaza, despite his persistence, marks him as another well-meaning casualty of the Middle East. Alas, Raging Dove (a riff on Martin Scorsese s Raging Bull ) squanders --J. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California