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memri
January 22, 2018 No.
7292

Palestinian Journalists Come Out Against BDS Movement, Ramallah Municipality For Banning Lebanese Director Ziad Doueiri's Film In Ramallah

In recent months, the Palestinian media has been debating the activity of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement in the territory of the Palestinian Authority (PA), in the context of the prohibition issued by the Ramallah Municipality against the screening of the film The Insult at the "Days of Cinema" festival that was held in Ramallah on October 23, 2017. The film, directed by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, deals with a legal dispute between a Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee. The film was banned following widespread protest by Palestinians on social media, who called ban it because its director maintains relations with Israel that may be classified as normalization. These claims are based on the fact that in 2012, Doueiri filmed his previous movie, The Attack,[1] in Israel. [2] The protesters even created a #Won't Be Screened hashtag on Twitter and expanded the protests to the universities.[3]

Following these events, the Palestinian BDS movement published an announcement expressing solidarity with those calling for the ban, in which they wrote: "In order to prevent the director from benefiting from the screening of his film in occupied Palestine and disseminating normalization in the Arab homeland, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel calls on the management and partners in the Days of Cinema festival to avoid screening the film The Insult... until new criteria are determined for the banning of and struggle against normalization that will deal with the problem in consultation with the society and with prominent cultural figures."[4]

As a result of this pressure, the Ramallah Municipality decided that the film would not be shown in the festival.[5] The Palestinian Ministry of Culture published a diplomatic response, expressing support for freedom of expression on the one hand, and understanding for the position of the BDS movement on the other.

For its part, the festival management expressed regret about the decision and stated that it violates freedom of expression.[6] Doueiri himself responded to the decision in a clip he posted on his Twitter account, in which he said that in the past he had ignored accusations levelled at him about normalization, but that now he had chosen to respond because the star of the film, Kamel Al-Basha, who had served time in an Israeli prison, could not be suspected of lack of patriotism. Al-Basha himself also responded to the accusations, saying that they were a personal vendetta against Doueiri, and declared that he was boycotting the boycott movement.[7] The director of the Venice Film Festival condemned the ban as well, in a message that he sent to the Palestinian Authority.[8]

The banning of Doueiri's film sparked a debate among Palestinian journalists. Most were ambivalent: on the one hand they stressed the importance of the BDS movement to the Palestinian struggle, but on the other hand they criticized the censorship of the film by the Palestinian cultural establishment and the Ramallah Municipality, saying that such censorship makes art and culture subordinate to criteria of normalization.


Call to boycott Doueiri's film The Insult

The following are excerpts from the articles:

Palestinian Journalist Criticizes the Boycott And The Ramallah Municipality: The Rules of the Boycott Don't Apply to Doueiri's Film

Muhannad 'Abd Al-Hamid, columnist for the Palestinian Al-Ayyam daily, stressed the importance of the BDS movement against Israel, but claimed that its rules don't apply to Doueiri's film and that some of its rules are too severe and even harm the essence of the boycott. He wrote that the BDS movement should focus on opposing more significant moves toward normalization, such as those of Arab regimes vis a vis Israel, rather than punish the director Doueiri because his previous film, The Attack , was filmed in Israel. He wrote: "First and foremost, we must stress the importance of the struggle [against Israel] by means of the boycott... and there is no doubt that every achievement and every extension of the boycott, which reinforces the struggle of the Palestinian people for the land in all the regional and international forums, grants hope and [strengthens] the belief in the possibility of coercing the occupation state to withdraw [from the Palestinian lands]... The fact that there is pluralism, differences of opinion, extreme positions and moderate ones among the 170 bodies that made the first historic call to boycott Israel, is natural. And while the criteria determined by the Boycott Committee[9] are relevant and correct, still the operational aspect of the boycott is rife with errors that must be corrected, for they damage the idea of the boycott and its essence. In this context there are several examples of implementation of the boycott in inappropriate ways, such as the expulsion of Israeli journalist Amira Hass from Birzeit University; preventing [the historian] Ilan Pappe from participating in a lecture; opposition to Arab Members of the Israeli Knesset; preventing a Tunisian lecturer from completing his lecture at the American University in Jenin, and perceiving everyone who comes to Palestine [i.e., to Israel] in the framework of cultural activities, not only from among the Arabs, but even from among the Palestinians, as contributing to normalization with the occupation.

"There are those who set severe conditions and criteria, such as demanding of any Israeli who wants to be a friend or ally of the Palestinian people to leave Israel and divest himself entirely of the Zionist idea, or opposing permitting Palestinians who hold other citizenships to enter Palestine by way of the [Allenby] Bridge or the airport at Lod. Those [who make these demands] are getting into details that are causing damage to a just cause [i.e. the demand to boycott Israel]...

"Preventing [the screening of] the film The Insult is one of those measures that have no influence, for the idea dealt with in the film has no connection to normalization, and banning it is a punishment of the director who had normalizing connections [with the occupation] five years ago in the context of [another] film, The Attack. The decision to prevent [the screening of the film] disregarded the fact that the Palestinian actor [who appears] in the film received the Best Actor award [at the Venice Film Festival], the fact that the film deals with [important] issues, [such as] victims who engender victims, barbarity during wartime which is not spoken about, and mistakes made by the victim which [also] cannot be condoned.

"The BDS committee wanted to prevent the possibility of recurrence [of an act of normalization such as Doueiri committed in the past], despite the fact that the director Ziad Doueiri defended his previous error... saying that the professional demands of his work obligated him [to film in Israel], and that he doesn't deal with politics. Of course these are not convincing arguments, but they show that Doueiri is not an advocate of normalization like those advocates of normalization whose interests bind them to the occupation state.

"There is a weighty type of normalization, more influential and damaging, such as the Oslo Accords, that include aspects of security coordination and economic cooperation that derive from a situation of immense dependence, like [that of ] the contractors' sector, the large-scale merchants, the agents and agencies and owners of enterprises that work in partnership with their Israeli counterparts or distribute Israeli products within and outside of Palestine, or like the labor of more than 60,000 workers in the settlements... Weighty normalization is also Arab-Israeli relations that have reached the level of alliances and economic, military and security cooperation. This type of Palestinian normalization must be dismantled and a new oppositionist plan must be consolidated. And most importantly, this must be the focus of discourse, propaganda, and actions...

"This is the first time that I felt some measure of embarrassment and a lack of commitment toward the Boycott Committee, which had the last word on the subject of preventing [the screening of] the film, when the rules of the boycott do not apply to it. For the first time, the words of the Boycott Committee were not convincing...

"Ramallah's position was surprising when it announced the cancellation of the screening of the film [on the grounds of] 'preserving public welfare.' It is not the responsibility of the municipality to preserve public welfare, for it is the political parties that do this, the PLO, the police, and the judicial, legal and cultural systems. Likewise, the position of the Ministry of Culture was even more bewildering when it made do with a discussion of principles, as if it is a legal arbitrator and not an entity that deals with cultural activities and the removal of every obstacle [in their path]."[10]

Editor of Palestinian Magazine: The BDS Movement Is Not The Guardian Of The Palestinian People

Palestinian-Syrian journalist Saleem Al-Beik, editor of the online Palestinian culture magazine Rumman, criticized the film that was banned, saying that it contains anti-Palestinian propaganda, but at the same time came out against the BDS movement, saying that notwithstanding its importance to the Palestinian struggle against Israel, it doesn't have the right to call for the prohibition of artistic activity. He wrote: "The boycott movement must be responsible for every word published in its name and must know how to guide its activists, who are enthusiastic, radical, and often irritating young people. The responsibility of the movement – as a public activity and not as an organization – derives from its being the most powerful activity with which the Palestinians and their friends around the world fight the Israeli occupation, its institutions, and the international companies that support it.

"Therefore, the greatest responsibility rests on this movement, on condition that it doesn't view itself as a patron, or judge, or policeman of the [Palestinian] people, [which would] provoke loathing toward it on the part of the citizens... [Nor does] this movement [or any] other have the right to call for the prohibition of any artistic or literary activity. It is allowed to call for the boycott of any activity, as much as it likes, or to inform the public about what it may not know, but it must leave the decision [in this matter] in the hands of the people and the society and not in the hands of an organization or movement, and especially not [in the hands of] a security, governmental, or municipal element...

"It's true that the film is hate propaganda against the Palestinians, and this should be taken into consideration in Ramallah before the director's record with respect to normalization. These two reasons justify settling scores with those responsible for bringing the film [to Ramallah]. As for the Boycott movement, I am full of hope that [its members] won't cause people to hate it because of its outspoken discourse, and that it will understand that it is not and never will be the patron of the Palestinians.[11]

Palestinian Journalist: The Criteria For Boycotting Films Should Be Related To Their Content

Asma Al-Ghul, a Palestinian journalist from Rafah who lives in France, also sharply criticized the content of the film, but claimed that the criteria for banning it should be based mainly on its content and not on the details that surround it, such as the director's origins or the countries where he works. She says that, although the Boycott is the future ammunition of the resistance, the leaders of the Boycott campaign should examine the banned content, rather than other criteria. She wrote:

"My criticism is of this statement by the Boycott movement and its unstrategic [move]  in this particular case... which implies that, if the film The Attack – on the basis of which Doueiri is accused of normalization [with Israel] – had not been filmed in Tel Aviv, and if [Doueiri] had not been assisted by Israeli actors, he wouldn't have been banned, according to the current criteria of the boycott. But what about the content? What will he be accused of [if the content is problematic]? [In order to determine] whether or not it is an instance of normalization, one shouldn't only check the location where the activity took place and the citizenship of its perpetrators, but one should also discuss the content, for reliability and falsity do not have specific citizenship...

"This debate has led to several important, embarrassing reflections as to the reasons for the banning [of the film] and the limits of normalization. If the ban is some kind of punishment of the director, then many see it as publicity for the director and his films. If the intention is to protect the public, then it constitutes a kind of supervision of the public taste in literature, film, and art – [supervision] that is not acceptable even to the boycott activists themselves, as some of them declared that the objective of the ban is to encourage other directors to avoid perpetrating acts of normalization. Here too we are essentially playing the role of Big Brother in that we don't have confidence in the creator's understanding, his choices, and his patriotism.

"The banning [of the film] has become the end in itself, and we do not present even one strong, logical context for the banning of [this] cinematic, cultural product. I imagine that the context [for banning films] must be consistent, continuous, and more powerful than [the claims] that 'a previous film of the director's was shot in Israel,' or that 'the screening of a film [unconnected to] normalization by a director who normalized relations [with Israel] in the past will encourage a continuation of that [behavior].' There must be strategies and criteria to measure the propaganda content in Arab and international literary and artistic activity that accentuate the Israeli 'right' to get rid of the Palestinian...

"An Arab citizen, Palestinian or Western, should not avoid normalizing relations [with  Israel] because he is anxious about provoking the anger of boycott supporters and activists, or their accusations. [He should avoid this] because he is convinced there is an ideological, national, or legal [reason to avoid normalization]. And so, we must always discuss the ideas, rights, and imperialist plunder, no matter how obvious they may seem.

"Another issue has to do with the definition of normalization in the context of artistic activity..., for this case is different from that of commercial products, where it is sufficient not to purchase them in order to take a stand. We are talking about art that touches the global conscience and remains in cinematic memory. Therefore, I think that it is important that there be ongoing examination of  [the activity] of the boycott campaign and its activists against dozens of films created by directors around the world and in Israel, or [of directors] who have made films [that could be described as ] normalization. We should discuss their content, catalogue them, and create lists that should be published on a single platform, in order to define the framework [of the boycott] with no connection to ethnic geographic criteria that are only applied to Arabs or Palestinians. With respect to a film like The Attack, beyond the fact that the director is a Lebanese Arab who worked with an Israeli in the past, the opposition to him should also be because the film is very misguided, biased, opportunistic, and distorted...

"I believe that our future weapon against the Israeli occupation will be based on the boycott much more than it is at present, [because boycott] is what hurts it the most, and that is why Israel utilizes large forces and considerable funds and professional advertising to fight the BDS Movement. However, this in no way means that one shouldn’t criticize [BDS] when there is a need to do so, for it has big problems trying to subject art, music, cinema, and literature to the criteria of [preventing] normalization..."[12]


Poster for the film The Insult (Source: Al-Hayat, London, September 10, 2017)

Palestinian Blogger Rejects The Restrictions On Freedom Of Thought And Expression In The PA; Calls To Screen Doueiri's Film

On October 25, 2017, 'Ali Khater, an activist and blogger from Ramallah, published an article in a similar vein on a Palestinian portal. He stressed that he opposes normalization with Israel and sides with the activity of the Boycott movement against it, but takes issue with the criteria according to which it determines what constitutes an act of normalization. He says that the director Doueiri should apologize to the Arabs for his first film, which was shot in Israel, but that his new film should be screened so as not to deny Palestinians freedom of thought and expression. He wrote:

"The campaigns to boycott the film [The Insult] began because its director is also the creator of the film The Attack, the production of which was categorized as an act of normalization, which also made his new film a target for boycott, according to the directives of the BDS movement. Their justification for this is that a failure to boycott [Doueiri] will encourage others, directors and actors, to treat the normalization lightly... This stand is essentially correct, and is the raison d'être of the boycott movement, as [reflected in the] targeting of companies like HP because the occupation army uses its products in its military equipment, and the targeting of companies that have some investments in the settlements... and a call to boycott them, and that is [also] what happened with Ziad Doueiri.

"However, the Boycott movement's significant role in opposing the occupation and the corporations that support it should not transform it into an institution that operates in a religious manner, and which determines what is permitted and what is forbidden based on personal criteria that are not open to argument or change. Because in that case we will find ourselves in a whirlpool from which we will never emerge in one piece, hurling indelible accusations at one another...

"In the past, we had long debates about the ban of the novel Crime in Ramallah.[13] The justification at the time was that it threatens decency and morality and 'could harm the public,' and in no time that excuse began to appear [again and again]..., including an attempt to justify punishing a journalist who filmed the Prime Minister's motorcade.[14] This was followed by the electronic crimes law,[15] intended to strengthen prohibitions and the curtailing [of freedoms] and make them into laws that cannot be challenged. Next we found ourselves in a situation where the mayor of a city banned a film in the interest of 'preserving public safety' – is this not ridiculous?

"Where are the technical and ethical committees, to examine what is wrong with the film? If it contains something unacceptable, where are the institutions that specialize in the boycott and the criteria for boycott? They published worthless and unconvincing statements, that are not worthy of the caliber and stature of their pioneering role in situations such as these. And why did the head of the government civil authority ban [the film] on a security pretext?...

"What would have happened if Ziad Doueiri had produced a film that attacked Israel and glorified the resistance? Assuming that this film depicted the barbarity of the occupation in the most reliable manner, as well as its violations and crimes against our Palestinian people, would we agree that it be screened?... If we oppose the hypothetical film [described above] because its director is normalizing relations [with Israel], then that is right on the one hand, but on the other hand a different question arises – what is a director, actor, producer, or any other person supposed to do if he has sinned against Palestine or the Palestinian issue, so that we will absolve him of his first mistake? Or will he ever be absolved of that mistake?...

"We must re-define some terms – such as normalization, resistance, boycott, policy, and supreme national interests – in such a way that they will safeguard the interests of the people and the [Palestinian] cause. There is nothing wrong with changing our mind about positions that do not serve our current purposes or adopting positions that were not acceptable to us in the past, in order to realize [our] supreme interests. None of this happens overnight and it cannot go on forever, since on each day [that passes] we lose something of our cause because we cannot agree about basic things… It's true that dispute may be beneficial up to a point, but it must not become an ineffectual dispute that leads to the collapse of our cause.

"The director Ziad Doueiri must apologize to the Palestinian people and to all the Arabs for his first film, and we must screen the film [The Insult] in Ramallah and do two things – first, point out that the director was mistaken in his positions and statements in his first film; and second, stress that there is no [intention to] control anyone's mind [or opinions] regarding issues that are subject to debate, to interpretation, and to decision, particularly because we do not want to create an authority for the preservation of public morality [i.e., a religious police like the one in Saudi Arabia]...

"Let us imagine what would have happened if the film had been screened in Ramallah and the invitees had been all the intellectuals, the activists, and the senior officials from among the Palestinian people who could come, and that after the film there would have been a discussion about the boycott, and normalization, that might have even continued for several days… and several opinions would have been reached and brought to [the attention of] all the participants, and they would have been the ones to choose [the preferred opinion]. This is how peoples advance and their awareness is heightened.

"It is important to mention that I completely oppose normalization… and that the BDS movement is one of the strongest weapons that the Palestinian people possess within and beyond Palestine. We must respect this and understand it well, and [know that] disagreement with them [the boycott officials] about one point or other is a disagreement about the path, but not about the desired goal."[16]

 

 

 

[1] The film The Attack, which was filmed in Israel in 2012, is about an Israeli Arab doctor who discovers that his wife perpetrated a terrorist attack in Israel.

[2] In September 2017, Doueiri was arrested at the airport in Beirut for filming The Attack in Israel. The reason given for his arrest was that he "visited occupied Palestine without clear authorization from the authorities in Lebanon." For more information, see Al-Hayat (London), September 10, 2017.

[3] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi (Egypt), October 26, 2017.

[4] Facebook.com/BDSmovementarabic, October 22, 2017.

[5] Al-Hayat (London), October 23, 2017.

[6] Facebook page of the PA Culture Ministry, October 23, 2017.

[7] Al-Watan (Egypt), October 23, 2017; https://twitter.com/ZiadDoueir, October 24, 2017; lebanonews.net, October 26, 2017.

[8] Palestinetoday.net, October 27, 2017.

[9] The reference is to the National Palestinian Boycott Committee that operates within the framework of the global boycott movement – BDS, which was established in 2008 and claims to be the largest coalition in the Palestinian civil sector. For more information please see https://bdsmovement.net/ar/bnc 

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), October 31, 2017.

[11] Rommanmag.com, October 26, 2017.

[12] Rommanmag.com, October 25, 2017.

[13] The PA banned the distribution of the novel in the West Bank on the grounds that it contained offensive expressions. For more information see MEMRI Report https://www.memri.org/reports/palestinian-authority-pa-criticized-restricting-freedom-expression-after-banning-novel March 28, 2017.

[14] The reference is to the arrest of Palestinian journalist Jihad Barakat in July 2017, after he filmed the Palestinian Prime Minister's motorcade while it was being checked at an IDF road block. For more information, see alaraby.co.uk, July 7, 2017.

[15] The reference is to a law enacted in the PA in July 2017 that limits the activity of journalists and freedom of expression. For information about the controversy that ensued in the PA see arab48.com, August 13, 2017.

[16] Ultrapal.ltrasawt.com, October 25, 2017.