The Ramallah municipality was forced to cancel the screening of a Lebanese film for which Palestinian actor Kamel El Basha won a prestigious international award. The screening of “The Insult” by Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri, scheduled for Oct. 22, the final day of the Palestinian Days of Cinema film festival, was canceled on the orders of Ramallah Mayor Musa Abu Hadid after protests against Doueiri. The cancellation denied a planned celebratory homecoming for the Jerusalem-born Basha, who won the coveted Best Actor Award at this year’s Venice Film Festival in September.
The protests — instigated largely by a small, ad hoc group called Youths Against Normalization — centered on Doueiri having previously produced a film in Tel Aviv, working with Israeli actors and crews. The group rationalized its protest as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The BDS appears to have put itself in a bind over “The Insult.” While it issued a statement that clearly says the film does not violate its guidelines, it also said the director’s previous film, “The Attack,” released in 2012, does violate them.
After the cancellation of the Ramallah screening, Basha told a crowded press contingency, “BDS does not represent me.” Later speaking to Al-Monitor, Basha explained that although he has always supported calls for boycotting Israel, he has been calling on BDS for years to revisit some of its guidelines that have infringed upon or otherwise hurt the ability of Palestinian artists to work or develop their talents.
Meanwhile, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti criticized Doueiri to CNN. According to the network, Barghouti complained that Doueiri “has yet to apologize for his past movie-making in Israel, and that screening the film served only to condone Doueiri's behavior. This film was made by a filmmaker who has crossed our nonviolent picket line,” Barghouti was quoted as saying. “We ask filmmakers to stay away from Israel until it respects international law.”
In a detailed statement released Oct. 24, BDS emphasized that it had not called for “The Insult” screening to be canceled: “At no time did BDS call to ban or stop the film, but we were involved in various groups including the festival organizers and Youth Against Normalization in order to avoid an escalation on the one hand and to avoid providing a Palestinian fig leaf to the normalization of Doueiri,” it stated. “The Attack” is about an award-winning Palestinian surgeon shocked to discover that his wife was responsible for an attack that killed Israelis.
In a Sept. 27 interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Doueiri said, “[‘The Insult’ looks at] our deep wounds that we do not talk about since the end of the [Lebanese] civil war in the 1990s. … The story of this film is about a clash between a Palestinian and a Christian Lebanese in Beirut. When they go to the court, the bitterness of the past haunts everyone.”
Basha, who plays a Palestinian construction worker in Lebanon in “The Insult,” conducted marathon consultations in Ramallah with various artists, the festival organizers and the Youth Against Normalization with the hope of finding a solution to allow the screening of the film to proceed. He told Al-Monitor that with the help of leading Palestinians artists, an agreement was reached whereby those opposed to the screening would present a statement to the audience asking them to boycott the film, after which audience members could decide for themselves whether to watch the film or leave.
“The agreement was a civilized compromise that preserved both the right of the audience to see the film and at the same time allowed those calling for a boycott to express themselves,” Basha said. The compromise failed within minutes, however, as BDS called for the screening to be postponed until new guidelines could be agreed upon, and pressure continued to mount on the municipality to cancel the event.
Basha said that the film's opponents never sought to reach a solution. “They wanted to artistically assassinate Ziad Doueiri through this move,” he contended.
Doueiri, speaking to Al-Monitor by phone from Spain, where “The Insult” was being screened, could not contain his anger. “They have produced lies and distortions to prevent the screening of the film in Palestine,” he said. “I am angry at Palestinians for denying their own actor, who was the first Arab to win this prestigious award, from enjoying his creative success among his people.”
Doueiri cited lies, rumors and innuendo that incorrectly stated the facts. “The film was not banned in Tunis, and I didn’t receive any money from Israel for the previous film shot in Tel Aviv,” he said. “The money came from Qatar and Belgium.” Doueiri noted that many Palestinian filmmakers use Israeli crews when they film in Israel, and they are not singled out as normalizers. As for filming in Israel, the Paris-based Lebanese director, who used his French passport to enter Israel, reeled off a number of other filmmakers who have done what he did without any problem.
“It is not my actions that angered them, but the content of my films, which does not please left-wing Lebanese and some left-wing Palestinians,” Doueiri told Al-Monitor. “[‘The Insult’] is a positive film that talks about reconciliation after 40 years.”
As to BDS principles generally, Doueiri is an advocate. “Of course, I am supportive of the boycott of Israel until it adheres to international law and respects human rights,” he said, explaining that going to Palestine and working there is, in his mind, not a violation of the boycott's principle. “I need to go to Palestine and be with my people. The boycott calls should not stop supporters of Palestinians from visiting Palestine.”