Impatient | Israeli filmmakers love freedom of expression, but they love awards more
For the first Samaria Film Festival [Northern West Bank], Miri Regev showed up as a bride on her wedding day to celebrate the victory of her nationalistic time in office. But that isn’t the only problem — all the filmmakers who took the stage and accepted the awards and refreshments took part in the whitewashing of Israeli apartheid.
Freedom of expression, human rights, equality. Oh, how much do the people in the Israeli film industry like to wave these values around. How proud are they that the local industry sanctifies those values. How angry are they at BDS supporters who do not distinguish Israeli films from Israeli politics. But last Sunday night it was enough to see Miri Regev happily and extatically launching a new film festival, to understand that something here has gone wrong. No, this isn’t a misprint, nor are we travelling back in time, Regev left the Ministry of Culture more than two years ago. But she arrived at the opening ceremony of the first Samaria Film Festival on Tuesday as a bride on her wedding day, as a godmother on her name day, to ensure no one forgets whose name is down at the bottom of this foul-up.
“Thank you to the Creator of the world that the revolution I led, is taking shape here in Judea and Samaria as well. Tonight, we celebrate the Picture of victory, literally and figuratively — the first Tammuz Film Festival, a victory for the entire settlement movement,” Regev spoke solemnly. You don’t have to be an exceptional genius to understand that this is a private victory for her, for her and for the mouth-gagging nationalist spirit that she tried — and that it turns out succeeded — in imposing on Israeli culture. It was Regev who decided to establish the Regional Film Fund in Samaria, a fund that distributes state funds to filmmakers according to a clear and simply racist rule, unequivocally: Jews living in the West Bank yes, Palestinians living alongside them — absolutely not.
After several years of discreetly setting up and the start of activities away from the spotlight, the Samaria Foundation decided that this is it, there is no need to hide anymore. They are no longer satisfied with the quiet sorting and distribution of funds processes. Now they can allow themselves to celebrate their activities in the great outdoors: to leave their offices, hold a large-scale festival, invite the pinnacle of the Israeli film world, and award prizes to the best creators. After all, Apartheid policy has been prevalent in this country for many years, it’s an open secret par excellence. So why should a film fund that operates according to the same rules that exclude non-Jewish residents in the territories, keep a low profile?
But the Samaria Fund and Miri Regev are not alone in this story. Many in the local film and culture industry came to the Ariel Cultural Hall to provide patronage for the event. Minister of Culture Hili Tropper stood at the head of the supporters and stated that “this important festival is an expression of diversity in Israeli society”, the producer and owner of the Cinema City chain Moshe Edri announced “we’ll make an effort to bring the Ophir Prize [Israel’s Oscar] here … you are part of the State of Israel”. Rabinowitz Foundation (Israel’s largest film fund) head honchos Giora Eini and Yoav Abramovich also made a point of turning up and displaying their presence; as did the head of the New Israel Film Fund council, Aliza Lavie; chair of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, Gil Omer, and more.
It was even sadder to see that prominent filmmakers and creators also joined the celebration. Nir Bergman, whose beautiful film Here We Are gently and exquisitely embraces an autistic boy, stood smiling on stage in the heart of Samaria to receive an award of NIS20,000, director Ron Omer sent his brother Gil, chair of the Broadcasting Corporation, to receive the award for best documentary film Rain in Her Eyes, and director Avi Nesher sent his film Picture of Victory which purports to look at the War of Independence from an Arab and Egyptian perspective as well, to ceremoniously open a festival for which millions of Palestinians living in this area do not exist.
It is not surprising that terms like freedom of expression, human rights and equality were not mentioned in this ceremony. And there is no point in whitewashing words here: Those who participate in this festival take part in a racist cultural enterprise, based on discrimination against more than 80 per cent of the population in the West Bank. They support the legitimisation of this monstrosity through films, creators, awards and fake glamour (They chose to call their main prize the “Samarian Oscar”, no less). The opening ceremony of this festival was a showcase of cinema-washing at its best.
Translated from Hebrew by Sol Salbe, Middle East News Service