Why Are Let it Be Morning Actors Boycotting Cannes Festival?
Arab actors who were born in Israel, grew up in Israel, studied in institutes of higher education in Israel, still live in Israel, and work professionally in Israel, played in Let it Be Morning, a film supported by the Israel Film Fund. They are peeved that their film is being presented at Cannes as an Israeli film — I suppose they think it should be categorized as a Palestinian film, just because that is what they have come to call themselves as of about the 1980s. However, they are all Israeli citizens: the main roles are played by Alex Bakri – born in Bi’ina, Juna Suleiman – born in Nazareth, Salim Daw – born in Bi’ina, Ehab Elias Salami – could not find a place of birth for him, and Khalifa Natour – born in Qalansawe.
Sayed Kashua wrote the book behind the script to this movie: Let It Be Morning. I have not seen the film, but the plot is described in a number of different sites (such as here and here). It deals with the identity crisis faced by an Israeli-Arab accountant living in Tel Aviv with his family. They attend his younger brother’s wedding in the town in which he grew up. While there, the town is sealed off and he cannot get back to Tel Aviv. (I can only guess that it must be a neighbourhood in Jerusalem that came under Israeli control after 1967 and mirrors what I learned recently about Ras Khamis. Residents there have a blue Israeli ID card and can apply for citizenship, and a wall went up around their neighbourhood in 2007.) His experiences in his hometown and with his family serve to highlight his questions of identity and to be a metaphor for Israeli Arabs caught between their identity as both Israelis and Palestinians.
Given my experience with Kashua’s work, I would like to see Let it Be Morning. A video promo is at the end of this article.
It is important for all of us to understand the complexities of being an Arab Israeli citizen. However, should the identity issues of Israeli Arab actors (or Israeli-Palestinians, or perhaps just “Palestinians” as they would likely prefer to be called – or even ’48 Palestinians as they are referred to by those not living in Israel) have been played out in this decision to boycott the Cannes Festival? The actors are using this opportunity to make an anti-Israel political statement, and one that is more propagandist than factual.
Is this any different from Arab athletes from other countries refusing to compete against their Israeli counterparts? Perhaps they should have shown the honesty demonstrated by the Arab athletes who packed up and went home without competing against an Israeli – by refusing to have taken part in a movie supported by Israeli taxpayer funds (in fact double the maximum the IFF says they provide) and in which, according to the IFF webpage on this film, all the production staff (except for actress Suleiman, who doubles as casting director) are Jews. So do they really think this movie can be categorized as anything BUT an Israeli film? Seriously?
Kashua (born in Tira) came to my attention when I looked for Israeli Arab TV programmes and films to practice my ability to comprehend the spoken language. One scene from his autobiographical series, The Writer, struck me as particularly poignant. Throughout the series we are given a look at the struggles of an Arab Israeli to fit into Israeli majority society, Jewish society. But then, we see Kateb (the main character) at a conference in Italy for Arab language writers. The conference organizer introduced him to the other participants as “Israeli” and he made it clear that he had to be identified as “Palestinian”. At this point of his development, calling himself Palestinian seemed more for his acceptance among the Arab writers from other countries and not necessarily because that was how he self-identified then. Throughout the series, we see the pain on Kateb’s face as he deals with isues of acceptance, discrimination, hypocrisy and more in his daily life in Jerusalem, his place of residence as an adult. Kateb, like Kashua grew up in an Arab village, but we are not told which one as it little matters.
At the end of the series, Kateb, like Kashua, moves his family to the United States. (As a point of interest, Kashua was first brought to the University of Illinois as part of its Jewish cultural programme in the Israel Studies Project, as an Israeli.).
I can relate to the struggles of Arab Israelis to define themselves in a Jewish-majority society — I resolved my own identity issues as a Canadian Jew by moving to Israel and becoming Israeli. Kashua made a similar decision even if he did not move to an Arab-majority country. In fact, it was he who turned to the Jewish film maker, Eran Kolirin. to write the script and direct the movie made from his book, also called Let it Be Morning.
The actors’ lack of respect to the industry in which they work and which respects their talent is abominable. Their refusal to stand with Kolirin and the rest of the staff who will attend the Cannes Festival is an insult Kolirin does not publicly decry. Perhaps he even agrees with them; I do not know.
I think I will content myself with reading the book and not seeing the movie. I do not like to watch actors who effectively gave Israel the finger.
Feature image credit: screenshot from the Facebook promo for the movie, Let it Be Morning.