Best Israeli Television Actress Winner Protests Awards Ceremony on Nakba Day

‘Every day I experience dilemmas in choosing the roles and projects I take part in, and through refusing utterly to accept roles that hurt me, my people or my humanity,’ Ruba Bilal Asfour says

Itay Stern
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Ruba Bilal Asfour in 2016.
Ruba Bilal Asfour in 2016. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Itay Stern

The winner of this year’s award for best Israeli television actress has given up the prize to protest the decision to hold the awards ceremony on the day Palestinians commemorate the Nakba (literally, “catastrophe”) of Israel’s establishment.

The ceremony, hosted by the Israeli Academy of Film and Television, took place on Wednesday, when Israel celebrated Independence Day and Palestinians observed Nabka Day. Ruba Bilal Asfour won the award for her role in the series “Our Boys,” which focuses on the 2014 murder of teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jews seeking to avenge Hamas’ kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens the previous month.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Bilal Asfour wrote that in the series, produced by HBO, she portrayed “the mother of the martyr Mohammed Abu Khdeir. In this role, I effectively tried to give the viewer a picture of the Palestinians’ perpetual pain and suffering, as well as the injustices of the Israeli occupation.

“The academy decided to award the prizes this year on the day Israel’s Independence Day was celebrated. As is well known, for me this is a sad day, a day of historic injustice, of the events of the Nakba of the Palestinian people, which is still ongoing.”

Later in the post, she wrote, “Personally, I experienced indescribable pain during the filming of the martyr Abu Khdeir’s story. I would return to my children and be unable to embrace them because of the terrible injustice that Mohammed and his family suffered, the same injustice that is happening today to [Palestinian] children who are prisoners or martyrs.

“As a Palestinian activist artist, every day I experience dilemmas in choosing the roles and projects I take part in, and through refusing utterly to accept roles that hurt me, my people or my humanity. This isn’t particularly easy when we live in an Israeli expanse that is constantly busy gagging people who call for peace and an end to the occupation.”

Finally, she thanked the academy for choosing her as best actress. “I played a small role, one with human value, in bringing the story of the martyr Al-Fajr, ie. “the dawn” (as Palestinians call him) to the world, and for me, this constitutes appreciation on the highest level. I’m aware that my decision carries a heavy price, and I’m used to it, but on the other hand, I’m proud that I carry my Palestinian struggle, my human struggle, my political statements and my choice, which I see as the right one, with me.”

The academy said in a statement that Bilal Asfour was chosen as best actress by the academy’s members, who thereby “expressed their appreciation of her excellent acting. We respect her decision to waive the prize.”

Hagai Levi, who co-wrote the series and accepted several awards on its cast’s behalf, said in his acceptance speech that he understood Bilal Asfour’s decision and agreed that holding the awards ceremony on Independence Day was insensitive. He urged the academy to consider holding it on a different day in the future, out of consideration for Palestinian actors.

Co-creators of "Our Boys", Hagai Levi, Tawfik Abu Wael, and Joseph Cedar, Tel Aviv, August 11, 2019.
Co-creators of "Our Boys", Hagai Levi, Tawfik Abu Wael, and Joseph Cedar, Tel Aviv, August 11, 2019.Credit: \ CORINNA KERN/ REUTERS

Bilal Asfour, who was born in Nazareth, is a well-regarded actress. She had previously won best actress at the Ophir Awards, Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars, for her role in the film “Sand Storm,” as well as a major prize at the Sundance Festival.

When she won the Ophir, she refused to ascend the dais with the film’s creators, shouting from the audience that she would not share a dais with Culture Minister Miri Regev. Elite Zexer, who wrote and directed the movie, said in her speech that she respected Bilal Asfour’s decision.

Bilal Asfour’s first role was in “Thirst,” directed by Tawfik Abu Wael, who was also a co-director of “Our Boys.” In addition, she has appeared in several theatre productions and in the television series “The Writer” by Sayed Kashua.

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