Hmmm. An Open Letter?
The Anti-Hate Declaration: An Open Letter to the Toronto Palestine Film Festival
September 25, 2009
Let me state for the record that I am merely expressing my opinions and I do not advocate a boycott against TPFF. This is merely a protest letter.
I have been inspired by the letters of protest and boycott against the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival and have come to realize that as a member of the international internet, film, culture and media arts communities, I am deeply disturbed by the Toronto Palestine Film Festival’s decision to host a celebratory film festival in 2009 with an emphasis on certain types of Palestinian films. I protest that TPFF, whether intentionally or not, has become complicit in the Palestinian propaganda machine.
In 2009, Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, was accused by the UNHRC’s Goldstone Report of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. In response, a Hamas minister announced to the press that the Palestinians were using “primitive rockets” and were actually aiming at army bases. This disingenuous response after the launching of 8000 rockets at Israeli civilian centers, including towns as far as Ashdod and Beersheva is clearly unsatisfactory and serves as no defense.
Not to be outdone, Fatah, the main party behind the Palestinian National Authority headed by Salim Fayyad and Mahmoud Abbas, held their Sixth Congress, in which they voted to maintain the right to “armed struggle:”
“The Fatah movement clings to the Palestinian people’s right to resist the occupation by all legitimate means, including the right to implement the armed struggle”
and especially to implementing:
“activities for escalating the international campaign for boycotting Israel, its products, and its institutions, utilizing the experience of South Africa.”
Fatah also voted to confront Israel if negotiations failed by
“the development of the struggle against apartheid and Israeli racism.”
Conveniently, the Palestinians are refusing to hold negotiations with Israel, as per the statements of a senior Palestinian official who divulged that Abbas plans to freeze talks with Israel because the Palestinian leadership believes this will cause a crisis with the US and bring down Netanyahu’s government within 2 years.
Perhaps even more disturbing than this intended campaign to equate Israel with South African apartheid as part of a strategic propaganda push at a time when both sides should be negotiating for peace, is Fatah’s vote to keep Palestinian refugee camps open. These are camps that have been around for 62 years and have seen 3 generations of people living in destitution and to a large extent on UN funds and donations. Importantly, this is also the only group of refugees on the planet whose refugee status extends beyond the first generation as per the UN’s own UN High Commission for Refugees. As the vote shows, these camps could be shut down, but they are not going to be and Fatah explained why: propaganda.
“Fatah considers it essential to preserve the refugee camps until the [refugee] problem is resolved, so that they will serve as fundamental political evidence…”
Using “refugee camps” and claims of “apartheid,” it is evident that Fatah and its political child, the Palestinian Authority, intend to pursue an international strategy of using propaganda modeled after the struggle against South African apartheid to attack Israel and promote the Palestinian cause. This will certainly deflect valid criticism of the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s offers of peace in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and continued reluctance to negotiate. Instead the idea seems to be to refocus the media and public opinion on “refugee camps” and “apartheid”- even if the refugees could move elsewhere and Israel has no apartheid.
Infuriatingly, this propaganda plan could well be a mere stop-gap in a larger endeavor to destroy Israel as Fatah spokesman Fahmi Al-Za’arir stated recently:
“It is not possible to rule out or to marginalize the military option…We know that every warrior has a [period of] rest – and also we know that this does not mean the end of the national battle, but only a wait to obtain the goals, and to give the leadership sufficient opportunity for political activity.”
Fatah violence against Israel was endemic after Israel’s peace offer of 2000 and aborted peace offer of 2001. Some reports at the time indicated that Fatah was responsible for more attacks against Israelis than all other Palestinian groups combined.
It needs to also be noted that the recent allegations by the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Report that the attacks from Gaza against Israel may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity may also refer to Fatah since many of these attacks took place under Fatah rule of Gaza.
All of this is relevant to Toronto in September 2009 when the second Toronto Palestine Film Festival is scheduled to launch. On the Festival’s Advisory Board are Richard Fung and John Greyson who protested and boycotted (respectively) the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. Their reasons, stated in separate letters and interviews, strangely echo Fatah’s propaganda efforts. Specifically, comparisons between South Africa and Israel are made, as is the charge of apartheid against Israel.
Also on the TPFF board are members of CAIA, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, at least two of whose publicly listed members, Mazen Masri and Jenny Peto, have been involved in the protest and boycott against the 2009 TIFF and its City to City program which highlighted Tel Aviv cinema. CAIA has been active for Palestinian causes in Toronto, often with another organization called Palestine House which “conceived” the TPFF. Both appear to advocate or at least support a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict which would likely eliminate Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
On its website, TPFF states that it,
“welcomes audiences of all backgrounds to experience the vibrant heritage, resilience and culture of the Palestinian people, while celebrating film as an art form and means of expression.”
Yet surface claims such as this are contradicted by John Greyson, who, in his Open Letter to the TIFF, gave an entirely different explanation of the intent of a screening which he helped organize for TPFF. He wrote,
“I’m helping organize a screening in September for the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival…that profiles Ezra Nawi, the queer Israeli activist jailed for blocking army bulldozers…a strategic, specific choice, and one that has triggered many productive discussions.
What kind of conversations would those be? Are those the conversations that would make Israel into a state that has no Jewish identity? In the same letter, Greyson stated that the fight against Israel reminds him of the fight against South Africa. A filmmaker who boycotted a film festival for showing Israeli films as part of a program about an Israeli city, and who earlier boycotted a gay and lesbian film festival in Tel Aviv because of its location, makes a “strategic, specific” film selection for TPFF that depicts Israel critically. This is the same individual who writes in his letter that he is moved to act against Israel because of similarities to South Africa. Isn’t this exactly what Fatah sought in voting to “escalat[e] the international campaign for boycotting Israel…utilizing the experience of South Africa.”
TPFF’s mission statement states that the festival seeks to “celebrat[e] film as an art form and means of expression,” but this seems to be an empty statement given the absence of certain types of films. Films boycotted and protested by TPFF Advisory Board members at this year’s TIFF’s City to City program presented views critical of Israel, Israeli society and the conflict between Arabs and Israelis. However, there appear to be no films presented at TPFF that present Palestinian violence against Israel from a critical standpoint or that positively show or depict Israeli peace efforts and offers of a state to the Palestinians.
Also seemingly absent are films that seriously depict challenges faced by minorities in Palestinian society, unless the blame is placed on Israel, and despite the thousands of terrorist attacks by Gazan Palestinians against Israeli civilian communities over a period of the last 8 years, attacks that have been accused by the UNHRC’s Goldstone Report of allegedly amounting to severe human rights violations including war crimes and crimes against humanity, the films at TPFF that discuss Gaza are almost exclusively critical of Israel.
The TPFF states that it was “conceived to introduce Toronto audiences to the richness and diversity of Palestine and Palestinians” and yet this frame for its films ignores not only the suffering of thousands of Israelis who have endured thousands of rocket attacks for many years, but its 2009 program seems to also avoid films about Palestinians inside Gaza who were made to suffer severely – including torture and death – by Hamas, or films about the tragedies of many Christian and gay Palestinians who live in challenging conditions or have left to other countries because of intimidation or violence directed at their own communities by other Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. There also appears to be no mention of the Jordanian decision to revoke the citizenship of their Palestinians citizens. At TPFF there is apparently only one enemy to the Palestinians: Israel.
The TPFF’s programming emphasis on films that attack Israel while minimizing or eliminating films about topics such as challenges for minorities in Palestinian society, Palestinian actions against Israeli civilians, Palestinian demonization of Israel and its supporters, and the harsh realities for some Palestinians because of Hamas rule in the Gaza strip, is like rhapsodizing about the beauty of the beaches or the superb cuisine in Cuba without acknowledging the corresponding despotic and sometimes brutal regime that governs the island.
I do not protest the individual Palestinian filmmakers included in TPFF, nor do I in any way suggest that Palestinian films should be unwelcome in Toronto. However, especially in the wake of the past 8 years of brutal assaults and alleged war crimes on Israel from Gaza and the West Bank, as well as dozens of successful suicide bombings (and many more attempted ones that failed) against Israeli civilians from Fatah-affiliated groups, as well as the intense international demonization of Israel which often blends into demonization of Israel’s supporters, particularly Jewish ones, and the ongoing efforts to ignore serious peace overtures that have been made to the Palestinians by Israel, and especially the glossing over of the difficulties facing Palestinian minorities in their own society, it would appear that the frame TPFF has created for Palestinian films knowingly or unknowingly has politicized its entire festival and is playing Fatah’s and the Palestinian Authority’s propaganda cards.
That is disturbing because it makes me think that they are forcing audience members to cross an imaginary line that hovers between authenticity and integrity on the one side and propaganda on the other. TPFF, by selecting films that reveal only a segment of Palestinian life, by putting on a face of that society that selectively exposes only part of a larger picture, and by having advisory board members who have attacked the Tel Aviv program at TIFF while promoting films for TPFF (John Greyson’s mention of the Nawi film in his first Open Letter) has made their festival into a political forum mere months after Fatah voted to keep the refugee camps open and Hamas conducted operations continuing attacks against Israeli civilians culminating in a war launched by Hamas (Operation Oil Stain) against Israel that drew an inevitable and expectedly strong Israeli response.
What comes to mind are the words of Mahmoud Dahlan who protested the death of a 5 year old Palestinian boy killed by errant Palestinian rockets aimed at Israeli civilians, “What took place…is a national scandal… We should put an end to this by any means, by force, or by pursuing and convincing.” Force or pursuit may be appropriate for a Palestinian strongman but not for people who seek peace and justice in North America. Convincing is the way to act! The TPFF must be convinced through this protest to present an even-handed depiction of Palestinian society and the violence it has used against Israel and sometimes even other Palestinians in furtherance of its own goals.
[Based on the “protest” and “boycott” letters to the Toronto International Film Festival]
For more Jewlicious.com reading about this:
The PA did not change its charter as per their Oslo obligations. This was recently publicly confirmed before the Fatah conference by two of Fatah’s leaders including Dahlan.