Political skirmishes over the Israel-Gaza war that have played out at an international gathering of documentary film-makers in the Netherlands have led to a walk-out by the Palestinian delegation.
The gala opening last week of the festival in Amsterdam had been interrupted by a group who stormed the stage and called the Israeli action on Gaza “a genocide”. Orwa Nyrabia, director of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), outraged some Israeli film-makers by applauding the group as they left the stage.
There were cheers from the audience as well as apparent approval from Nyrabia when the group, from an organisation called workersforpalestine.nl, spoke of their action as linked to pro-Ukraine protests before shouting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
Sixteen prominent Israeli film-makers wrote an open letter to the IDFA to express their “uttermost dismay, disappointment and concern” at the interruption of the opening of the 12-day festival. “We see this as a personal attack against us,” they said. “We call on the director of IDFA, and on its board of directors, to clearly and resoundingly distance themselves, reject and denounce these calls for violence and withdraw any platform from those who knowingly incite for the annihilation of Israel, instigating violence and giving rise to antisemitic sentiments against Jews everywhere.”
When the IDFA apologised for the “hurtful” slogan shown by the activists, the Palestine Film Institute was incensed. On 13 November, it issued a statement saying the IDFA announcement ”unjustly criminalises Palestinian voices and narratives”. The PFI then withdrew from all IDFA market participation.
The man in the middle, Nyrabia, knows a thing or two about war. He is a native of the city of Homs, a rebel stronghold that was subjected to a three-year siege from 2011 to 2014, during Syria’s civil war, and was briefly detained in Damascus in 2012.
After the opening-night interruption, the respected producer and director of the Damascus-based documentary festival DoxBox was finally able to make his speech. Nyrabia, who took over the helm of ADFA five years ago and who has said that no festival can escape the fact that it is also a political activity, referred to what he called “a massive disaster like what’s happening now in Gaza and Israel”. The festival director continued: “Film has been telling us that oppression feeds extremism, that the lack of hope breeds anger and violence, that violence breeds violence.”
With five more days of the festival to run, organisers will be hoping hostilities are at an end.
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