Award-winning Israeli filmmaker Hilla Medalia is used to her films provoking heated discussion and debate, but she had never before experienced what happened at a screening of her film “Dancing in Jaffa,” at an Israeli film festival in Carpentras, France on October 6.
Just as Medalia and Israeli Consul General in Marseille Barnea Hassid finished making introductory remarks, some twenty audience members stood up and began shouting anti-Israel slogans. Then they threw stink bombs.
“The police had to remove them by force,” Medalia told The Times of Israel upon her return to Israel on October 8.
The screening of the acclaimed film about Pierre Dulaine, four-time ballroom dancing world champion, returning to his hometown of Jaffa to bring Jewish and Palestinian children together through dance, was moved to another of the theater’s auditoriums.
In the meantime, the protesters, joined by approximately 80 additional people, continued to vocally denounce Israel outside. Because the street was blocked off for security measures, the protesters were made to stand some distance from the building.
“We interrupted the screening to denounce the presence of the consul, who represents a criminal state that massacred 2,500 people in 51 days,” a member of Vaucluse (Association France Palestine Solidarité) told AFP, referring to Operation Protective Edge fought between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups in July and August which claimed the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians, at least half of them gunmen according to Israel, and 72 Israelis, 66 of them soldiers.
Abdel Zahiri, a spokesman for the organization, accused Hassid of not wanting to engage in dialogue.
Medalia stayed outside to see what was happening with the protest, which lasted about an hour.
“The police told me their hands were tied and they couldn’t do anything, even though the protesters did not have a permit.”
Worried about her personal safety, Medalia had the police escort her back to her hotel.
“This was very frustrating for me, especially since this film is all about understanding and respecting the other. It’s a film that gives hope that through education and art you can bring change,” the director said.
“I am against any violence, whether it’s the army or whether it is what these protesters did at the film,” she added.
Medalia said that she took the microphone as soon as the protesters started disrupting the event, asking them to stay to view the film and then have a dialogue, but that her request was unheeded.
“There was also a guy in the audience who said he was from Gaza and that he had lost 10 members of his family in this summer’s war, and he told the protesters that this was not the way,” she said.
As shaken as Medalia was to have a filming of “Dancing in Jaffa” disrupted in this manner, she said she would not let the protest deter her from continuing to make films on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Recent events, however, have brought an unfortunate reality in to sharp focus for the director. She said that a sad lesson could be learned from the protest, as well as from Haaretz Palestinian affairs reporter Amira Hass‘s having been asked in September to leave a conference at Ramallah’s Bir Zeit University because she is Jewish.
“It doesn’t matter what work you do or how you present something,” she said.
“In the end, you are in the midst of the conflict and you are considered as being part of one side of it, even if you disagree with it and fight for the other side.”