Award-winning Lebanese Film Director Briefly Detained in Beirut Over Israel Visit

Ziad Doueiri questioned by Lebanese military for three hours, blasts those who accused him of normalization with the Jewish state: 'My mother breastfed me Palestinian milk'

French-Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri talking to journalists outside the military tribunal in Beirut, September 11, 2017.
ANWAR AMRO/AFP

Lebanese film director Ziad Doueiri, detained briefly on Sunday for previous visits to Israel, has blasted the people who accused him of normalization with the Jewish state, saying his work is for the good of Lebanon and the Palestinian cause.

It was not clear why the Paris-based Doueiri, director of the award-winning civil war film "West Beirut," was detained Sunday night, as he has visited Lebanon several times since traveling to Israel in 2012.

Beirut bans its citizens from visiting Israel or having any business dealings with Israelis.

Doueiri told reporters Monday after three hours of questioning at a military court in Beirut that authorities found he has "no criminal intentions against the Palestinian cause."

Doueiri's latest film, "The Insult," won the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival last week.

Doueiri said that Kamel El Basha, the Palestinian awarded best actor at the Venice Film Festival, spent two years in Israeli jails. He said some journalists are trying to undermine him ahead of the film opening in Beirut this week, starting on Thursday.

Doueiri's previous film, "The Attack," was banned in Lebanon and most Arab countries. The movie is about a Palestinian surgeon living in Tel Aviv who discovers that a suicide attack in the city that killed 17 people was carried out by his wife. The movie was filmed in Israel and featured several Israeli actors.

Lebanese journalist Pierre Abi Saab, who is opposed to any dealings with Israel, wrote a column in the daily Al-Akhbar last week titled "Ziad Doeiri, apologize for your Israeli slip."

He wrote that Doueiri spent months in Israel to film "The Attack," spending money there and speaking to Israeli media defending his movie amid criticism in Lebanon.

"Today, Ziad Doueiri is coming on a white horse from Venice with a new movie, expecting us to carry him on our shoulders and welcome him as a conqueror," Abi Saab wrote. "We will not accept that the crime be covered," he wrote, referring to Doueiri's visits to Israel.

Speaking to reporters outside the military court, Doueiri said he was well treated by Lebanese security agencies during his brief detention, but blasted journalists he refused to name "that are fabricating things to block the new movie."

He said they used "dirty words against some people and accused them of being Zionists."

"My mother breastfed me Palestinian milk and the Palestinian cause. Members of my family were killed while fighting with the Palestinians," Doueiri said.

When a journalist asked him a question about normalization of relations with Israel through art, Doueiri responded angrily "I struggled for the Palestinian cause before you were born." He then told the journalist he would not respond to his questions.

Joelle Touma, Doueiri's ex-wife and co-writer of "The Insult," told reporters that Doueiri had come to Beirut for the film's opening. She said he was stopped at the airport, where he was questioned for about 90 minutes before authorities confiscated his Lebanese and French passports.

Doueiri was allowed to leave on condition that he appear before a military court the following day for further questioning, she said.

Lebanese Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury tweeted in Arabic that "Ziad Doueiri is a great Lebanese director who has been honored around the world. Respecting and honoring him is a must #Lebanon."

Doueiri's lawyer, Njaib Lyan, told reporters that after three hours at the military court, his client was released without any charges. He said some people envy Doueiri's international fame.

He added that inside the court, Doueiri was told he visited Israel without permission from Lebanese authorities. Lyan said Doueiri had told authorities at the time that he planned to visit Israel for a movie he was working on but never got a response.

"'The Insult' is the pride of Lebanon's industry. We in Lebanon do hummus and shawarma well, and we do very good movies as well," Doueiri said, referencing two local dishes.