Elementary, My Dear Schnabel

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Dear Julian,

I am replying to your letter, as a Tel-Aviv resident who demonstrated against the massacre in Gaza, as one who makes critical Israeli cinema, and as a great fan of Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Sa’id. These are all acts you single out for praise — yet I was a co-author of the Toronto Declaration, an act you condemn.

I was born and raised in Tel-Aviv, and I do what I do out of love for my city, not hatred. I do not want Tel-Aviv to be a liberal façade for a brutal occupation regime. The target of our declaration, the Toronto International Film Festival’s spotlight on Tel Aviv cinema, sought to uncritically celebrate my city’s 100th anniversary, without mentioning the settlements, the security wall, the checkpoints and the daily violations of human rights.

After all, one of the most distinct manifestations of Colonialism is a lively, liberal modern city in the heart of the colony which defined by the contrast, the natives of the land as “the Barbarians at the gates”.

I’m pretty sure the overwhelming majority of those who attended the aforementioned demonstration against the massacre in Gaza (many of them, by the way, were Palestinians citizens of Israel) support the Toronto Declaration, and many of them have signed up as its supporters. In contrast, based on opinion polls, at least 90% of Israel’s Jewish citizens supported the war on Gaza. All this provides good reasons to stop turning a blind eye to Israel’s policies. When Palestinians who have chosen the path of non-violent resistance to the occupation issue a call to action to us filmmakers, I try to comply.

You write that Israeli governments are elected, and therefore the derogatory term “regime” does not apply to them. Well, four million Palestinians are not allowed to vote in the elections which decide who will seize their land, who will give them (not enough) water, who will (or will not) let them get through the checkpoint to their workplace or to the hospital, who will decide if they can go abroad to visit their dying parent for the last time (or not). This is not the worst. The elections also decide who will start a full-scale war against them, and bomb them with the most lethal US-Israeli weapons available. So when it comes to the occupation, “the Israeli regime” is a very precise term according to your very own definition of the word “regime”.

The state of Israel is the only state in the world viewing itself as democratic, while seizing in broad daylight, on a daily basis, the land of one ethnic community and transferring it to another ethnic community. This is what going on, the rest is just footnotes. Label it as you wish, But the generic name is apartheid .

You criticize Great Britain and the Soviet Union, but fail to refer to Palestinian suffering caused by a living empire, the United States? So, was that mere patriotism, or perhaps a more calculated move, considering the future distribution of your new film Miral? It looks like you’ve got yourself an alibi in Hollywood now, an industry that loves liberals as long as they are Romantically Humanist but not freedom fighters for Palestinians for example.

I object any kind of boycott of movies and works of art! And it bears repeating: the Toronto Declaration did not call for a boycott of the Israeli films it presented. It should be stressed that even the hardliners in the cultural boycott campaign of Israel (and I am not one of them) are well aware of the fact that there is no cinema made without government support, and they state very clearly , that ensuing work of art should not be boycotted.

Julian, even though you made a film about Palestine, your production office was located in Tel-Aviv, not in Ramallah, for the simple reason that it is nearly impossible to shoot a film in the Occupied Territories of Palestine. A curfew may be imposed at any minute, people out of town may be denied entry, and everything depends on Israeli army permits. Consider a Palestinian filmmaker who wishes to shoot a film in the Occupied Territories. This may be impossible, just like visiting her mother who lives on the other side of the wall built by Israel, or driving on a road paved for Jewish settlers only. This is the constant reality in the Occupied Territories, regardless of the government in power. Apartheid and settlement expansion have been the legacy of all Israeli governments.

As Jews and filmmakers, we should join with all voices of conscience around the world and insist on this principle: let Palestinian filmmakers be free to make their films, and let the entire Palestinian people be free on their land. It does not matter whether this materializes as part of a “one state solution” or a “two state solution”, as long as all human beings in the Middle East enjoy the same rights, regardless of religion, ethnicity and gender. Elementary, my dear Schnabel.

Sincerely yours,

Udi Aloni, filmmaker, Tel Aviv