Mr. Avner Faingulert
Director, Cinema South Film Festival
I am really sorry for the delay in relaying to you my decision about partaking in this year's Cinema South Film Festival, and chairing the Jury; this was a difficult decision to make, one of the most difficult I ever had to take. I have decided to set out my reasons in a clear and open manner, and would ask that you share this letter with my colleagues (alas...) on the Jury, Roger Clark and Jean Peret, who I respect very much, and who I am sad that I will not be able to join. Please apologise to them in my name. I suggest that you also might share this letter with the filmmakers at the festival.
"I feel that this refusal to partake on the part of the Arab and Palestinian colleagues and friends is a way of sending a subtle message to Israel and its cultural elite: "You can rule us, you can brutalise us, you can occupy us with the massive might of an army supported by the strongest power on earth, but you cannot make us speak to you, as long as you do all that."
Firstly, this festival is not alien to me, after all. I have set up the Cinematheque in Sderot after many years of work, and the Cinema South idea was hatched some years ago, before my departure from Israel, and the Cinematheque. My connection to Sapir and Sderot is a deep one, as you well know, and my admiration of the excellent job you have done in following up on those ideas is known to you too. I would like nothing more than the chance to see it all working so well, believe me. This success story is one I feel some small responsibility for, and would have loved to take part in its continued existence, and meet my many friends and colleagues, not to mention see the many films and the filmmakers who made them.
Secondly, I would love to see the vast and long overdue retrospective of Jad Neeman's films, and to meet with him again; Jad is one of the most astute and principled of all Israeli filmmakers, with a long commitment to dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has courageously produced some of the most innovative and daring films in Israel. When one adds to this his central and crucial role in setting up and leading the first and most successful academic film school in Israel - a task to which he has devoted his whole career - I would dearly love to take part in this important event, when Jad is honoured by the festival.
I would also be very interested to meet my friends and colleagues Nizar Hassan and Eyal Sivan, two important and courageous filmmakers, whose films have many times plunged them into political difficulties, but who have stuck to their guns (I mean, their cameras...) and said what they felt they must say, in their own particular and inventive ways. I mention here just two of your many colleagues, as they are ones who always deal with the conflict in their films, whatever the subject and the format they choose.
For all those reasons, I not only wanted to accept your kind invitation, but which I am honoured, but would like nothing more. I have agonised about this for some weeks, have spoken to friends and colleagues here and in Israel and Palestine, and found it very difficult to decide. The reasons for my difficulties were the following:
• Hardly any Palestinian filmmaker has agreed for their films to be included, in this, the 38th year of the occupation. Indeed, the festival starts a couple of days after the anniversary of the 1967 war. In all those years there difficult periods and easier ones, naturally; never before have the Palestinians faced a more brutal assault on their rights, aspirations and existence than in the last few years, with the building of the Apartheid wall, and the continued rejection of any real withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, from all the territories, as demanded by the UB resolution on many occasions. As I write those lines, a starvation of the Palestinian population is instigated by Israel and the USA. The Palestinian filmmakers are part and parcel of their communities, and feel that those of us who believe in there rights and equality, should stand with them in their hour of need.
• Hardly any Arab filmmaker has agreed to partake in this festival. I do not blame you or your colleagues for this fact - I know well you have tried your best for many months, and this is not due to lack of effort; some will say, probably, that this proves that Israel has no one to speak to. They will just be proving that the only dialogue they like is with themselves. To conduct a dialogue there ought to exist some equality and some basic agreement on the rules of the game. Most Arabs do not feel Israel as state and as a society are really at the point of dialogue with their Arab neighbours, and I tend to agree with their reservations. Israel sees itself as part of the west, rather than the middle east, and has continued to represent political and cultural discourses and policies which are alien and offensive to most Arabs, including the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. As I am writing this, the Supreme Court of Israel has passed what I consider (and I am not alone) is a racist ruling, one which will plague the system for many years to come. It is the Israeli polis, not just the army and the state, which are offensive to many if not most Arabs in the Middle East. Future lasting peace will be built on understanding and sharing, not on force and military might. This festival should become an important vehicle of sharing such understanding, and I am sure that under your leadership it may well do so. This year, it cannot be seen to do that yet.
I feel that this refusal to partake on the part of the Arab and Palestinian colleagues and friends is a way of sending a subtle message to Israel and its cultural elite: "you can rule us, you can brutalise us, you can occupy us with the massive might of an army supported by the strongest power on earth, but you cannot make us speak to you, as long as you do all that". Only when this message is fully internalised, can change towards a future of coexistence, and that is not forthcoming in today's Israel. When I agreed to partake, many months ago, I had some hopes for the future which have been shattered by events, making it just about impossible for me to accept your invitation, however much I regret having to take this decision. This pains me especially due to my long friendship with you as a filmmaker, a teacher and a close friend, whose friendship I especially value.
I apologise for not being able to join you, and am sure that the festival will be a lively and successful event in many ways, if not in the ways I describe above, which are, of course, the most important and urgent tasks it can achieve, and hope that one day it will. I am genuinely sorry if my refusal causes any difficulties, but am sure those could be overcome..
Yours, with friendship,
Prof. Haim Bresheeth
Chair of Cultural and Media Studies, Director of Research,
School of Social Sciences, Media and Cultural Studies
University of East London
4-6 University Way
London E16 2RD
In a letter sent out by Prof. Haim Bresheeth and published on the PACBI website, where he announced his withdrawal from heading the jury at an Israeli film festival, he writes: "I would also be very interested to meet my friends and colleagues Nizar Hassan and.....," which might have given the impression that Mr. Hassan would be participating in the film festival. Mr. Nizar Hassan, a Palestinian filmmaker, wrote in an email to PACBI that since 2000 he has decided not to participate in any Israeli film festivals.
Posted on 20-05-2006