Israel’s movie-funders ban recipients from calling themselves Palestinian

Suha Arraf attending the Venice Film Festival, where she insisted her work was Palestinian. (Facebook page for Villa Touma)

Israel’s two largest movie funders have banned recipients from identifying their work as Palestinian, the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz reported this week.

The Israel Film Fund and the Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation have taken these measures following the decision by Suha Arraf, a Palestinian director with Israeli citizenship, to register her movie Villa Touma as Palestinian at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. As Haaretz put it, “Arraf sees herself as a Palestinian artist and views Villa Touma, which deals with Palestinian characters in a Palestinian setting, as Palestinian as well.”

The movie was bankrolled by the Israel Film Fund, the economy ministry and the national lottery.

After news of Arraf’s registration of the film as Palestinian, Israel’s culture and sports ministry demanded that the Film Fund return its share of the money, while the economy ministry — headed by ultra-right-wing politician Naftali Bennett — called on Arraf to repay the funding from it directly.

In response, Arraf told The Electronic Intifada that “They want to view me as a ‘good Israeli Arab director’ or a ‘nice Israeli Arab … The moment you say Palestinian, though, you become the enemy.”

The economy ministry stated in December 2014 that Arraf would have to repay the 600,000 shekels ($150,000) which she received from it. The Israel Film Fund was told to repay 1.4 million shekels ($350,000).

“Lack of understanding”

In the wake of the Villa Touma controversy, the Rabinovich Foundation — which was not involved with Arraf’s film — has apparently added a clause to its contracts stipulating that directors must declare that: “I, the director of [name of film], view myself as an Israeli creator of an Israeli creation. I promise I will present, register and identify myself as such in every forum and in every medium in which there is a reference in any manner to the film, its creators or its producers.”

The foundation’s director general was quoted in Haaretz as saying that “I am not prepared [to be penalized 1.4 million shekels] because of some idiot whose film we supported, who then decides all of a sudden to declare that he has no nationality. Therefore we tell him up front: ‘Please declare, sir, that you are Israeli and that you will display all of the logos in your film as required.’”

The Israel Film Fund is also said to have changed the conditions which it places upon film-makers, who must now label their films as Israeli at overseas screenings.

But the new stipulations have not been greeted with universal approval by the Israeli film community. One producer, Nadav Lapid, described the rules as “nationalistic, dark” and as an illustration of the lack of “altruism, self-confidence … and understanding” in Israel.

In a separate incident, Israeli director Guy Davidi, who was nominated for an Oscar for the film Five Broken Cameras, which portrayed the struggle of the West Bank village of Bilin against Israel’s apartheid wall, has also been denied government funding.

According to a December 2014 piece on the website Mondoweiss, Davidi was denied funding for his upcoming film after he suggested that an economic boycott was a legitimate way for campaigners to challenge the Israeli occupation.




This is how the only democracy in the Middle East defends free expression and treats all of its citizens equally. Just that some are less equal than others.


I'm not sure if your jewish too, but as children, we were brainwashed into believing, that all Arabs are "others". When I went to Occupied area in 85, I started to have questions. As I got older, formed my opinion, based off the hidden history of Israel "won" that land. Their fascists to me, and view Palestinians as the Nazis viewed us, and they teach their children the same ideals, that were taught to me. These are truly sick humans, funded by a powerful military-industrial complex. I pray that my God handles them when the leave this earth.
Jane Zacher, In the Occupied area of Turtle Island.


As someone who's interested in films that portray Palestinians' experiences (and someone who opposes Israeli hegemony in culture/media), I continue to be puzzled by the EI's stance on Palestinian/Israeli films. While I can only imagine the struggles Palestinian filmmakers go through to get their works funded, if they accept funding from Israeli state and nationalist institutions, don't their films qualify as Israeli films, and therefore deserve to be boycotted, etc.? Thank you.


This is how all such grants work, when they're by a national government. The French government doesn't provide a grant so that a German film can go to the Oscars. The reason they fund it is for the PR of a "French" victory.

Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.