The Ramallah municipality over the weekend canceled the screening of the film “The Insult,” by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, in response to demands by activists promoting a cultural and academic boycott of Israel and the group Youth Against Normalization.
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The film was meant to be screened Monday evening at the close of the fourth annual Days of Cinema Festival held in five Palestinian cities. The film chronicles how an argument between a Palestinian refugee and a Lebanese Christian develops into a physical and legal confrontation.
The boycott activists and their supporters viewed the screening of the film at a festival sponsored by the city and the Palestinian Culture Ministry as encouraging the normalization of relations with Israel. This is because five years ago Doueiri shot parts of his last film, “The Attack,” in Israel, and despite harsh criticism never expressed regret for doing so.
The Ramallah municipality said the screening was canceled to preserve public safety. According to Palestinian sources, the Palestinian security apparatus also pressed to cancel the screening, especially when it was learned that a demonstration was planned in front of the cultural palace where the screening was to take place.
Palestinian campaign backtracks under pressure
In a Facebook post by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel that appeared on Saturday, the movement welcomed the holding of the film festival and even congratulated the East Jerusalem actor Kamel El Basha, who won the Best Actor award at the Venice International Film Festival in early September (but did not mention that he won the award for his appearance in “The Insult”).
The post says the current film doesn’t constitute normalization, as opposed to Doueiri’s previous film. “Relating to Israel as if it’s a normal country is the equivalent of participating in its propaganda war,” said the lengthy post, which also called for an open discussion with Palestinian filmmakers on the principles of the struggle against normalization.
After many commenters complained that the post’s position on the screening of the film wasn’t clear enough, the movement wrote another post on Sunday in which it made an explicit demand to cancel the screening, “To prevent the director from exploiting the showing of his film in occupied Palestine to advance normalization in the Arab world.”
Earlier, the group Youth Against Normalization issued a flier whose language was much harsher. “Screening this film at a Palestinian festival is a humiliation for all Palestinians and free people who support the Palestinian cause. It’s embarrassing that while Doueiri has been expelled from Lebanon and Tunis his work will be shown in Ramallah, at a festival that calls for support of ‘resistance cinema,’” said the flier, which apparently gave the impetus to the municipality's decision to cancel the screening, which was announced Sunday afternoon. The festival's organizers were against the cancelation.
According to reports in the Palestinian press, in response to the cancellation of the screening, El Basha said he was boycotting the Palestinian boycott movement and would not respect its decisions. A forceful debate is taking place on Facebook regarding the cancelation, some calling this a victory for thugs and hollow populism.
Filmlab: Palestine, the group that organized the Days of Cinema Festival, said in a press release on Monday that it “appreciates the important and pioneering role of the Ramallah Municipality in supporting the cultural scene in Palestine, which is an inspiring model, not only as a partner for cultural institutions and Days of Cinema, but as a fundamental cultural actor.”
“We also understand the external pressures that the municipality may have been subjected to in adopting this decision in the wake of the wave of statements and threats issued by some parties that demanded the cancellation of the screening claiming a cultural normalization. At the time, Filmlab was in the midst of a meeting with many partners, including BDS, to reach a consensus on this issue, taking into account the protection of freedom of expression and the rejection of intimidation and threats as an alternative to the internal social dialogue, the preservation of the achievements of the BDS movement on the global level, which is appreciated and respected,” added Filmlab.
In an earlier statement, Filmlab said PACBI had informed them that Doueiri's latest film is not subject to the current guidelines of BDS and is therefore not "boycottable."