Palestinian advocates of a cultural boycott of Israel have been demanding that a documentary about Jerusalem be called off, saying that the participation of Israeli co-producers in the film constitutes "normalization of the occupation."
Twenty Palestinian directors -including citizens of Israel- have cancelled their participation in the German-led film, "24 hours in Jerusalem," due to pressure from various Palestinian organizations and social media networks. The filming, which was slated to take place on September 6, has meanwhile been halted.
Opponents claim that the film, which includes dozens of Palestinians and Israelis from Jerusalem, treats Israel as a "normal" state by whitewashing its role as an occupying entity.
"24 hours in Jerusalem" is based on the movie "24 hours in Berlin," which was filmed over the course of a single day in September 2008. Eighty Berliners were filmed in one day, and their stories edited to fit a 24-hour long movie that was screened one year later on Arte, a Franco-German television network, and other prominent European television channels.
The movie's success prompted the German production company ZERO 1 to search for another city whose residents' stories would arouse international interest, which led them to Jerusalem. According to the German production company, the goal is to "enable Palestinian participants in the movie to depict their pain, their hopes and their suffering and ambitions by revealing their daily lives in their city."
ZERO 1 has signed two separate contracts – one with Kuttab Productions, Ltd., the Palestinian East Jerusalem company headed by Bishara Kuttab (son of journalist Daoud Kuttab) – and one with Israeli producers Mosh Danon and Talia Kleinhendler.
The Palestinian company is responsible for selecting the Palestinian directors (from the West Bank and Israel) and selecting the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to take part in the film. It is also responsible for editing the footage.
Participants were chosen over the course of the last month and include activists from Silwan, the Shuafat refugee camp, a member of parliament from Hamas whom Israel expelled from Jerusalem, and a man whose house was divided by the separation barrier.
The Palestinian crews are funded entirely by foundations supporting German public TV channels, among them Arte, as well a Finnish TV station. Some of the funding for Israeli producers comes from the Jerusalem Development Authority's Jerusalem Film and Television Fund.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel published an open letter ten days ago on behalf of the "Organization of National Operations in Occupied Jerusalem," calling on Kuttab Productions to withdraw from the project. According to the letter, the joint German-Israeli-Palestinian project is partly funded by a foundation serving the "occupation municipality," a fact the directors were not originally aware of.
Critics have said that the project "whitewashes" the occupation and its violent acts of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem, and thus directly contradicts the principles established by the founding meeting of the Israel boycott movement in 2007.
Similar, yet even harsher criticism was sounded across social media networks. Last week, several Palestinian journalists and directors in Ramallah published a public letter condemning the project and demanding that Palestinian participants withdraw.
In response, Daoud Kuttab published an article in the Palestine News Network complaining that critics published condemnations without being aware of all the facts. He also voiced regret that the Palestinian producers were not informed prior to the publication of the letter.
Kuttab said the project provides an opportunity for Palestinian Jerusalemites to expose their reality under occupation in a film broadcast by numerous prominent television networks. He added that a movie on Jerusalem cannot exclude Israeli participants.
"As is known, the official Palestinian position is that the capital of a future Palestinian state will be in East Jerusalem – in other words there is no attempt to erase the other side," Kuttab specified. He blamed the project's critics for acting like bullies and for launching "intellectual terrorism," writing that they prompted hysterical threats on all those who are related to the movie.
In the article, Kuttab noted that he met with Palestinian Authority and PLO officials, representatives of the union of journalists, Jerusalem fieldworkers and others, who all said they found the project to be excellent. However, when one of the directors called the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, he was informed that the Ministry opposes the film.
"Is it appropriate that one group would pressure citizens and force their agenda on the entire public?" Kuttab asked. According to Kuttab, those who stand to lose are the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who will miss the opportunity to share their reality with a wide European audience.
Representatives of the German production company are due to visit Jerusalem next week to try and thwart the project's cancellation.