One doesn’t normally think of boxers as peacemakers. The whole point of their sport, after all, is to beat the living crap out their opponent, regardless of how lovey-dovey we’ve all become about Mohammed Ali and ignoring all that propaganda about how boxing is the “Sweet Science.” Yet, for the first half of director Duki Dror’s frustrating documentary “Raging Dove,” up and coming young welterweight boxer Johar Abu Lasheen appears to be the most unlikely of peacemakers. For when Johar, a young Isræli citizen of Palestinian descent, won his first title, he wrapped himself in the flag of Isræl. He even fought using the nickname, the “Isræli Kid.” This, of course, pleases neither the Isræli’s, who don’t embrace him as one of their own, nor the Palestinians, who simply view him as a traitor.
Trying to leave the inherent nationalistic labels found in the Middle East behind to concentrate on his career, Johar winds up in Johnson City, Tennessee of all places. There, he meets and marries an American woman who becomes his manager. Yet, he quickly learns that such ethnic labels stick harder than he realized. Required to fight again within six months of winning his title to keep from having it stripped from him, Johar finds the task to be impossible. As soon as a prospective opponent finds out he’s an Arab, they back out of the fight.
So far so good for Dror’s film. Unfortunately, “Raging Dove” bogs down quickly when Johar decides to stage a title fight in his home city of Nazareth.
Now, one would think that here is where the film would kick into high gear; that the prospect of a Palestinian-Isræli-American citizen returning to the epicenter of religious strife would make for an inherently riveting documentary. One would be mistaken. To be sure, there are some poignant moments scattered throughout the second half of the film. But for the most part, we’re left watching Johar’s seemingly endless string of negotiations about the fight, meetings about these negotiations, and phone calls about these meetings about these negotiations. “Raging Dove” bogs down like the thirteenth round between a coupla lumbering 280 pound club fighters.
Worse, is watching as Johar falls off his pedestal. No longer a “hero without a homeland,” the idealistic young Palestinian boxer who once wrapped himself up in an Isræli flag eventually allows himself to become the sparring partner for Yassar Arafat’s Palestinian Authority. He sells out in a desperate attempt to get his fight staged, becomes a Palestinian propaganda tool and doesn’t even get kissed after he gets screwed.
In a sense, “Raging Dove” serves as an entirely unintentional, I’m sure, metaphor for peace prospects in his homeland. The film starts out quickly and with noble intentions, only to be sabotaged by the slow bleeding away of any hopes for a happy resolution. Maybe one can’t be a fighter and a peacemaker at the same time after all.