Palestinian Filmmakers Question EU Audiovisual Grant

Forty Palestinian filmmakers, including the 2006 Golden Globe winner Hani Abu Assad and 2002 Cannes Festival Jury Prize winner Elia Suleiman, signed a letter to the EU Euromed Audiovisual program questioning the shortlisting of an Israeli-led project. Despite serious indicators of mismanagement, and lack of legitimacy raised about the project, entitled Greenhouse, the Europe Aid office in Brussels decided to go ahead and grant it 1.5 million Euros.

The Greenhouse project is run by an Israeli organization, The New Israeli Foundation for Cinema and Television (NFCT), in partnership with the Ramallah Film Institute and the Institute of Documentary Filmmaking in the Czech Republic. It is to be implemented in the Mediterranean area. The NFCT was founded in 1993 by the Israeli Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport with the assistance of The Israel Film Council; it receives 60 percent of its funds from the Israeli government as stated by its director, Mr. David Fisher. Since its establishment, the NFCT, which has never opposed Israel’s occupation or human rights violations, has supported over 200 films, less than five of which were Palestinian. In 2001, it created a fund for “Films from the Occupied Territories,” which in fact supported projects by Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Ramallah Film Institute (RFI), directed by Mr. Adam Zuabi, is not registered with the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, it is banned by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture from operating in the Palestinian territory, due to its failure to provide audited financial and administrative reports, as required by law. The organization lost its credibility when its initial Board of Directors resigned en masse in protest over its director’s professional misconduct.

Highlighting specific professional flaws in the Greenhouse project and providing documented evidence to support the accusations, the letter by Palestinian film and cultural professionals was sent to the Europe Aid office in Brussels. A central argument raised in it is that the project ignores the political reality of military occupation, indirectly imposing on the Palestinian contenders — as a political precondition — partnership with Israeli organizations to receive the grant. Sixty-seven Israeli film professionals and artists supported the Palestinian protest in a separate statement addressed to the EU. Among other points, they argue: “It is difficult to understand how you who have initiated the project, as well as those who have been chosen to manage it, think that it can be carried out without prejudice when one of its managing organizations is funded by the State of Israel and one of its target groups are Palestinian filmmakers living under Israeli occupation.”

Due to the various concerns raised against the project, two of its initial partners have decided to withdraw from it: Parallel 40 from Spain and the Association of Documentary Filmmakers from Turkey.

Ignoring both pleas and the mounting, irrefutable evidence of corruption, Euromed went ahead and awarded Greenhouse the grant. In a belated letter, Euromed replied to allegations of mismanagement of RFI by saying that NFCT will be responsible for financial and administrative matters of the project. With its headquarters in Tel Aviv, the project will exclude not only Palestinian filmmakers, but at least five of the partner countries in the Euromed region as well. Filmmakers from Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco will not be able to take part as their countries have no diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. Hence, the question arises whether this fund will be mainly for Israeli filmmakers.

The decision by the EU to support this dubious project despite the various concerns and official documents presented, and despite the fact that two of the project partners have decided to withdraw, brings into question the transparency and credibility of the criteria and decision-making employed by Europe Aid in the granting process. A project so contested and with little chances of success should be discontinued.

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