Opinion |

Israeli Filmmakers Love Freedom of Expression but Don’t Hate Apartheid Enough

Miri Regev attended the first official film festival in the West Bank’s Samaria region to reap the fruit of her labor as former culture minister. Filmmakers who accepted awards are whitewashing injustices against Palestinians

Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman
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Former Culture Minster Miri Regev, in 2021.
Former Culture Minster Miri Regev, in 2021.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Nirit Anderman
Nirit Anderman

Freedom of expression, human rights, equality. People in Israel’s film industry love to brandish these principles, to boast about how the industry holds them high. They love to rage against the supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, who don’t distinguish between Israeli movies and Israeli politics.

But it was enough to see Miri Regev inaugurate a new film festival in an ecstasy of joy Sunday evening to realize that something went wrong here. That wasn’t a typo, or time travel; yes, Regev really did step down as culture minister more than two years ago to become transportation minister. But she came to the first film festival in the West Bank’s Samaria region like a bride at her wedding to make sure nobody forgets whose signature is on that mistake.

She gave “thanks to the Creator of the world that the revolution I led is taking shape here in Judea and Samaria as well. Tonight we are celebrating a literal picture of victory – the first Tamuz film festival, a victory of the entire settlement enterprise.”

Well, you don’t have to be a genius to read between the lines and realize that this is a private victory for her and her ultranationalist gagging effort – a successful one, it turns out – against Israeli culture. It was Regev who decided to set up the Samaria Film Fund, which allots state funds to filmmakers according to a clear and simple racist formula: Jews living in the West Bank, yes; Palestinians living there alongside them, no.

After a few years of establishing their organization and operating far from the spotlight, the people at the controversial Samaria Film Fund – whose creation and activities have drawn a great deal of protest – decided that there was no longer any point in hiding. They wouldn’t bother to do their selection process and distribution of funds quietly anymore.

The current culture minister, Chili Tropper, at the opening ceremony of the Samaria Film Festival in Ariel, West Bank, this week.

Now they were ready to tout their efforts for all to see, to come out of their offices, stage a large festival, invite top figures from Israeli cinema, and award prizes to the top filmmakers. They figured: This country has featured an apartheid policy for years – it’s quite the open secret – so why should a film fund that operates under the same rules and excludes the West Bank’s non-Jewish residents have to keep a low profile?

But the Samaria Film Fund and Miri Regev are far from the sole players in this story. Many people from the local culture and film industry came to the culture hall in the West Bank city of Ariel to support the event. Culture Minister Chili Tropper was a key supporter. He declared: “This important festival is an expression of the multifaceted nature of Israeli society.”

Moshe Edery, the film producer and owner of the Cinema City theater chain, announced: “We will try to bring the Ophir Awards ceremony here. … You are part of the State of Israel.” Giora Eini and Yoav Abramovich, heads of the Rabinovich Foundation, the largest film foundation in Israel, also made a point of attending, as did Aliza Lavie, the new chairwoman of the Israel Film Council, and Gil Omer, the chairman of the Israel Public Broadcasting Corporation.

Worst of all was seeing prominent Israeli artists and filmmakers joining in. Director Nir Bergman, whose lovely 2020 film “Here We Are” embraces an autistic young man with great gentleness and beauty, happily took the stage in the heart of Samaria to receive a 20,000-shekel ($5,680) prize.

Miri Regev. She gave "thanks to the Creator of the world that the revolution I led is taking shape here in Judea and Samaria as well."Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

Omer was sent by his brother, director Ron Omer, to accept the award for best documentary, “Rain in Her Eyes.” And director Avi Nesher launched his film “Image of Victory,” which purports to look at the War of Independence from an Egyptian and wider-Arab viewpoint as well. It featured at the festive opening of a festival that essentially negates the existence of millions of Palestinians who live in the region.

It’s not surprising that things like freedom of expression, human rights and equality weren’t mentioned at this ceremony. There’s no point in mincing words here: Anyone who takes part in this festival is taking part in a racist cultural project based on discrimination against more than 80 percent of the population of the West Bank.

They’re supporting this appalling situation with films, awards and false glamor – they had the audacity to call the top award the Oscar of Samaria. The opening ceremony was an ostentatious display of cinema-washing at its finest.

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