An Arab high school teacher in northern Israel has been suspended and faces dismissal for screening an Oscar-nominated Palestinian movie, “Omar,” for his 10th- and 11th-grade students.
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Ali Muasi is a local Balad activist in Baka al-Garbiyeh, but the complaints that led to his suspension did not relate to the film’s nationalist nature. Instead, religious elements argued that the film includes scenes that offend the religious sensibilities and values of Arab and Muslim society.
Muasi is an Arabic-language teacher and the cultural and community coordinator at the Abu Sina school in the Arab city. On January 27, when the teacher’s union called a two-hour strike, he decided to show “Omar” to his students in the school auditorium. Though Muasi has refused to be interviewed, he wrote on his Facebook page that the decision to screen the film was made in consultation with the student council and that the school’s principal knew about it.
Directed by Hany Abu-Assad, “Omar” won a jury prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2014 Academy Awards. It tells the story of the eponymous Omar, a Palestinian baker who is in love with a high school girl he intends to marry. After an Israeli soldier is killed by Palestinians, Omar is arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet security service, which releases him in exchange for his becoming an informer. There is a scene in which Omar is seen naked from the back during his interrogation, and a few scenes with his girlfriend that have no explicit sexual elements.
Muasi said he censored two scenes from the film when he screened it, even though the film was approved by the Education Ministry for the so-called “culture basket” and was screened in several Arab countries without being censored. In fact, it had also been screened at the Baka al-Garbiyeh community center, with many local residents seeing it.
Two weeks after Muasi showed the film, two local residents belonging to the ultra-conservative Salafi movement entered the teacher’s room at the school and began threatening Muasi, even trying to attack him.
Last Saturday, there was a town meeting at which religious officials called on the municipality and school to fire Muasi immediately, because the movie was offensive. Muasi was suspended and has been banned from the school until his pre-dismissal hearing, which is scheduled for Thursday.
Muasi has filed suit in labor court against the municipality and the Education Ministry, claiming the proceedings against him took place without hearing his side of the story and were based on rumors and mudslinging.
“I will not bow to the dictates of a minority that is trying, through intimidation and scare tactics, to hurt me and my reputation,” he wrote his Facebook. His post has been widely shared and generated numerous comments, including expressions of support from friends and acquaintances in Baka al-Garbiyeh, who say his is not the only case of efforts by Salafi extremists to impose their brand of Islam on others.
Samih Abu Mokh, chairman of the Popular Council in Baka and an opponent of the screening, told Haaretz this was not an case of religious coercion. He said numerous parents, students and other local educators believe the film is not suitable for pupils.
“We have no argument with the teacher’s personal agenda, but such a movie has content that isn’t worthy of being screened at school,” Abu Mokh said.
Muasi insists he does not mix his political views into his teaching. Nevertheless, Balad members in Baka al-Garbiyeh don’t rule out that the attack against him is being supported by the establishment because of his political positions.
When asked to comment, the Education Ministry referred Haaretz to the municipality, saying it was his employer. Both the municipality and school refused to comment.