Nakba Film Festival in Haifa Canceled After Mayor Declines Funding

Mayor Yona Yahav agreed to have the event held at the city’s Cinematheque, but the sponsoring organization, Zochrot, wanted the city to pay the rent on the hall.

Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman
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A recent Google Street View of the Haifa Cinematheque. A film festival at the center, focused on the fate of the Palestinians during the Israeli War of Independence, has been canceled. The city and the festival organizers disagree on the reasons.Credit: Haifa Cinematheque / Google Street View
Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman

A Haifa Cinematheque film festival dealing with the nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe” and the term Palestinians use to refer to their fate when Israel was founded in 1948, has been canceled, with the city and the organizers disputing the reasons.

The group Zochrot, which organized a similar event at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque in November, said it had arranged to have the Haifa Cinematheque festival in April, just prior to Israel’s Independence Day.

Zochrot, which aims to make Jewish Israelis more aware of what happened to the Palestinians during the War of Independence, says Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav last week withdrew a commitment to fund the festival.

But city officials say the idea of holding the event at the Haifa Cinematheque never got past the discussion stage.

As mayor, Yahav is chairman of Ethos, a municipal corporation that promotes art, culture and sports in the city and sponsors the Haifa Cinematheque. Yahav agreed to have the event there on condition that Zochrot rent the facility.

The similar event at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque was initiated by Zochrot. A few days before it was to take place, however, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat asked the Finance Ministry to cut off support for the Tel Aviv hall because of the planned festival.

“It’s not reasonable ... that an entity supported by the state would permit the holding of an entire festival on its premises devoted entirely to preaching that the day on which the state was founded should be a day of mourning,” Livnat wrote.

“It is intolerable for the state to bear the cost of funding of an entity that encourages discourse over what the Palestinians call the Right of Return.”

The Tel Aviv festival went ahead, with Livnat’s opposition prompting heavy media coverage.

Afterward, Zochrot approached Haifa Cinematheque director Avishai Kfir about holding a similar event at his facility.

“He was enthusiastic and suggested doing it around Independence Day and in the same format as what was done in Tel Aviv: a two-day festival of short and full-length films,” recalled Liat Rosenberg, director of Zochrot. But Kfir made clear that he needed approval from the mayor in his capacity as chairman of Ethos.

Kfir passed along the details to Yahav and recommended that the event be held. But on Thursday, Rosenberg said, Kfir said Yahav had decided that the festival “would not take place, but if we wanted, we should rent the Cinematheque hall ourselves.”

Renting the hall for an evening would’ve cost about 2,700 shekels ($725), and Zochrot determined not to proceed with the festival.

For his part, Kfir said that before Yahav decided the matter, a Zochrot representative provided him with a list of requirements for the event and he promised to have management look at them. But he said the two sides never reached an agreement.

“Nothing had been finalized,” Kfir said. “I said that I would pass along the material along with my recommendation that the event be held.”

Nimrod Shine, a senior assistant to the mayor, said that from the beginning, the intention was that Zochrot would rent the facilities. And he said Yahav’s decision was not politically motivated.

“We don’t rent out the Cinematheque based on the height, background or skin color of the person requesting it,” said Shine. “It’s a public space designated for the entire public. We are not culture commissars, so we don’t decide what is legitimate and what isn’t.”

Shine asserted that Zochrot was also required to rent the Cinematheque in Tel Aviv, but the director of the Tel Aviv theater, Alon Garbuz, denies this.

“I saw to it that it would be a Cinematheque activity that would not cost [Zochrot] money,” Garbuz said. “When there are controversial matters, I don’t believe in [bypassing the issue].”

With regard to Livnat’s efforts to cut off funding for the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, Garbuz said the institution ultimately received all its funding.

Zochrot’s Rosenberg says the Nakba festival in Tel Aviv attracted capacity crowds.

In an apparent reference to the large number of Arab residents of Haifa who were displaced by the War of Independence, Rosenberg added, “It’s actually in a city such as Haifa that it is appropriate and important to hold such a festival, first of all as a promise not to forget and not to push the disaster that struck the Palestinians in 1948 to the side, turning 70 percent of the Palestinians into refugees. ...

“[Yahav’s intervention] is not to the point and is mostly regretful. It is based on panic and fear, and it’s proper for the Haifa public to protest the decision.”

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