It was supposed to be an evening of celebration, a gala presentation of a movie which won its star, Palestinian Kamel El Basha, the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival last month.
The screening of “The Insult,” at Ramallah’s showcase Cultural Palace, would bring the curtain down on the fourth Palestinian “Days of Cinema” film festival, the biggest and most successful to date.
Instead, the talk now is of censorship and shame, after the festival’s organizers were told by city authorities to pull the film.
The reason given by officials was that they could not guarantee security at the screening, after a series of threats against the festival and against El Basha himself.
He was due to be recognized for his Venice award – the first time an Arab actor had been given the accolade – with a ceremony at the conclusion of the film Monday evening.
“The Insult” is a movie that focuses on a dispute between a Palestinian construction worker and a Lebanese Christian car mechanic that evolves into a courtroom thriller touching on questions of guilt and honor.
And yet, ironically perhaps, “The Insult” is not the real cause of the hostility. Instead, the anger comes from an earlier film, “The Attack”, which examined the aftermath of a suicide bombing and was made by the same Lebanese filmmaker, Ziad Doueiri.
“The Attack” was mainly filmed in Israel, and led to accusations by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that Doueiri was normalizing relations with Israel.
The BDS movement aims to generate economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.
BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti told CNN that Doueiri has yet to apologize for his past movie-making in Israel, and that screening the film served only to condone Doueiri’s behavior.
“This film was made by a filmmaker who has crossed our nonviolent picket line,” Barghouti told CNN. “We ask filmmakers to stay away from Israel until it respects international law,” he added.
The BDS movement had added its weight to a campaign on social media that had been building pressure on the festival for weeks, using a slogan which translates into Arabic as #itwillnotbescreened.
CNN has tried to reach Doueiri for comment but has so far been unsuccessful. He has not written anything on his Facebook page in response to the screening’s cancellation.
Festival director Hanna Atallah had maintained he was mindful of BDS criteria when selecting “The Insult” to close the festival program.
The film itself had not been made in Israel and so did not, he argued, break BDS rules.
“We are very proud that we don’t have censorship of films in Palestine,” he told CNN, but admitted that the order to pull the film was a worrying development that could make censorship on political or religious grounds more likely.
“Every Palestinian citizen [should have] the right to watch a product and decide whether it is good or not,” Atallah said.
El Basha told CNN he was furious and ashamed at the decision to cancel the screening.
“I have grown up under occupation,” he told CNN. “I am fighting all the time … struggling against the occupation, struggling against Arab regimes, preventing me from living a normal life.”
Referring to the BDS movement, he added: “There is a bunch of people, a small group of people that have succeeded in forcing their opinion on the municipality of Ramallah … to censor our movies and our job. It is a catastrophe for our struggle and for our life.”
Correction: This story has been changed to reflect BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti’s views on calls to boycott “The Insult”.