In 2004 the 20th Haifa International film festival established a section for “New Palestinian Cinema” in cooperation with Masharaf magazine in Haifa. Several Palestinian film makers were invited to present their films at this festival. A number of us at Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) contacted some of these filmmakers to urge them not to participate in that festival.
There were two main reasons for that: the first was that the film festival was sponsored by the Israeli government and held under the patronage of Limor Livnat a minister in Sharon’s government and a member of the Likud party, well-known for her racist and Zionist positions and actions.
The second was the fact that a boycott of the festival had been started in 2002, two years earlier, by “Gaslight,” the producers of a British documentary Sunday. In their withdrawal letter to the festival, Gaslight wrote:
“… of the many lessons that flow from the story of Bloody Sunday, key among them is the ethical political and long-term military folly of governments attempting to impose military solutions on civil and human rights problems.”
“We take this action in support of the Palestinian people and in solidarity with Palestinian artists and filmmakers. It is also done in solidarity with those within Israel (both Israelis and Arabs) who are speaking out and acting (e.g. refuseniks) against the government’s murderous policies against the Palestinian people.”
PACBI’s position was that on the one hand, boycotting the festival would fortify an international position with a Palestinian one, and on the other set a precedent that would hopefully spread to other cultural events in Israel. Thus a cultural boycott of Israel would become the norm, as it was in the apartheid South Africa case.
A few filmmakers withdrew their films; several others decided to go on with their participation in the festival and put forward the argument that it was a chance to present Israelis with the Palestinian side of the story.
Therefore the question that remains to be answered is: why do we really need to tell our story to the Israelis?
Because it’s not enough that 80 percent of adult Israeli males have served or will serve at an Israeli checkpoint?
Because it is not enough that a large percentage of those have shot or will shoot at a Palestinian, at one point during their military service or yearly reserve duty?
Because not enough of them have flown in F16s or apache helicopters, that not more than a few thousand have been in tanks or bulldozers that have destroyed Palestinian homes?
Because not enough of them have sat in meeting rooms or occupied Palestinian homes planning invasions, attacks, arrests and extra-judicial killings?
Because they do not really know that they are caging us in when they drive by next to the Wall their government is building?
What is it that they do not understand after almost forty years of occupation that a film or ten will get them to understand?
That we are in fact human beings, so that if an Israeli soldier is unable to have any sympathy for children carrying school bags in real life, he or she will, with our help, be able to reconnect to his or her humanity while watching that scene on a detached screen?
Since when has it been the duty of the occupied to educate the occupier? Or for the colonized to raise the colonizer’s awareness?
Is it our sense of superiority? Or our confidence in our ability to reform and convert anyone to our “religion”? Or a naive belief that if only they knew we were like them they would actually see how they have done us wrong?