This weekend, I saw the excellent documentary film, “Since We Left” by Mohammed Bakri (an Israeli-Palestinian actor and filmmaker), but was surprised to see that it was not credited in the New York University Alwan Film Festival website and brochure as an Israeli production, at least in part. It was billed as “Palestinian.” Likewise, it was made in Arabic and Hebrew (with English subtitles) but only credited as being in Arabic. Yet the closing credits indicated Israeli funding, and pretty much all the participants — whether Jews or Arabs — are citizens of Israel.
Other films are listed with non-Middle Eastern production cooperation, including: the US, France, Greece, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. I asked three people connected to this festival, whose e-mail addresses were listed, if this was an oversight or a decision to identify the Bakri film as Palestinian but not Israeli. So far, four days later, I’ve received no response.
The film, a personal documentary by this Israeli-Arab writer and actor who got into the news in a way he didn’t anticipate, because his nephew was convicted of killing nine passengers in an attack on a bus (not a suicide attack). He was astounded when he learned that his nephew was guilty. And his brother, the boy’s father, was devastated.
This was virtually on the eve of another controversy involving Mohammed Bakri: the Israeli premier of his film, “Jenin, Jenin,” which documented the Palestinian view of the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp in 2000 — a response to the suicide murder of 30 people at a Passover seder in a Netanya hotel. The UN studied the Jenin incident and ruled that there was no “massacre” of Palestinians, as alleged. But considering how thoughtful his new film is, I’d be curious to see “Jenin, Jenin” — although I doubt that I’d be persuaded to its point of view.
According to the UN, 52 Palestinians lost their lives in that assault (including, most tragically, an invalid in a wheelchair) and the central part of the refugee camp was thoroughly flattened by armored bulldozers; yet it was not attacked from the air as it would have been if the Israelis didn’t care how many innocents died. About half the fatalities were non-combatants, but if I remember correctly, at least 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in combat, because they sent in infantry rather than bomb and shell the buildings to smithereens.
I was struck by Bakri’s friendships with many Israeli Jews, his moderate views in general and his acting role in the Habimah Theater. “Since We Left” shows scenes with his recently deceased father, a veteran Communist (Hadash) politician, which in the Israeli-Arab community is known for advocating cooperation and coexistence with Israeli Jews. He shows his father saying things like “I don’t know who is more foolish, the Jews or the Palestinians,” and “Jews need to learn that their fate is tied with the fate of the Palestinians and the Palestinians need to learn that their fate is tied with the Jews.”
But he put himself out there in the public spotlight as a Palestinian with “Jenin, Jenin” — being subjected to a barrage of invective — even without the nasty matter of his nephew. In particular, he was denounced by right-wing politicians from the floor of the Knesset as a “traitor,” and harangued by at least one television talk show host who insisted on his own version of events, ignoring or distorting everything that Mr. Bakri had to say.