Last week exiled Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf visited Jerusalem Film Festival as the honorary guest. He also screened his last movie, The Gardener, a story about a man who tends to the Bahai gardens in Haifa. This is the first time a famous Iranian artist and a former Islamist revolutionary has visited Israel since the 1979 revolution in Iran.
In his speech, Makhmalbaf talked about his love for the people of Israel and urged for peace. He asked the Israeli government not to attack Iran “for it will only aggravate the situation.” He also predicted that he will face abuse and be labeled as a “Mossad agent” for his appearance in Israel.
His predictions came partly true and soon after his visit more than 150 political activists, scholars and members of opposition groups wrote a letter to the director, criticizing his visit to Israel and voicing their concern that his trip legitimized the “Apartheid policies of the Israeli government.”
This letter caused great friction between the opposition groups, and angered many as they saw it as following the old rhetoric of the Islamic Republic regarding Israel, which doesn’t allow travel to Israel and does not recognize the state of Israel, and continued hate mongering and irrational wartime mentality.
The result was a letter signed by more than 80 members of opposition groups, scholars and human rights activists, in which they commended Makhmalbaf for his efforts towards peace and connecting the nations through art and becoming the first bridge of understanding between two nations that were separated for so long. Here is the full text of the letter and its signatories:
In gratitude for Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s peaceful efforts in Israel
Iranian director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who recently attended the Jerusalem Film Festival to screen his latest film “The Gardener”, received a special award from the festival organizers for “artistic achievements” and “for his long battle and struggle for democracy and freedom” in Iran.
Upon receiving the award, Mr. Makhmalbaf stated: “If politics separates us, art, on the other hand, can heal these rifts and distances and unite us in our peaceful efforts.”
He further mentioned that he wanted to dedicate his award to “artists, politicians, intellectuals and all the people in Iran and Israel who have worked for peace and friendship between two nations and believe in it.”
Mr. Makhmalbaf added in Jerusalem that he likes the people of Israel but an attack by Israel against Iran would only worsen the situation.
He stated that instead of a military attack, Israel should support the “democratic forces” in Iran which struggle for freedom.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf predicted, while making these statements, that he would soon face a wave of accusations, that he would be called a “spy of CIA and the Mossad.”
His prediction has come true in a way. Besides the media that is owned or affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a number of other Iranians inside and outside Iran (under the guise of peace and human rights activists and intellectuals), have published a letter condemning Makhmalbaf‘s trip to Israel “with grave concern” as it “violates human conscience” and stated that his presence at Jerusalem Film Festival was tantamount to support of the “apartheid politics of the Israeli government.”
It is at this juncture of time, and under the circumstances outlined above, we sign this letter to support and applaud Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s bravery for breaking the taboo of visiting the state of Israel and conveying the message of friendship between Iranian people and people of Israel.
We believe that supporting the rights of the Palestinian people is not a sufficient justification to criticize an Iranian director’s professional trip to Israel.
We still remember those Israeli and Iranian citizens who last year launched a campaign of friendship between the two countries and exchanged written and video messages stating that they “loved “ each other just when it seemed that the chances of an Israeli strike against Iran was increasing.
We condemn the politics of war whether it is advanced by officials of the Islamic Regime or some officials in Israel. Instead, we endorse, support and welcome, the position of Mohsen Makhmalbaf that instead of a military attack, Iran’s “democratic forces” should be supported.
Just like Mohsen Makhmalbaf, we are unafraid to stretch out our hands in friendship with the citizens of Israel and believe that art can be a tool that brings people together regardless of people’s racial, linguistic and political differences.
We believe that instead of criticizing Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s trip to Israel, we should call him the ambassador of peace and friendship between the people of Iran and Israel.
Alireza Pir Pour Ali
Fariba Davoudi Mohajer
Mehrdad Seyed Asgari
Sheikh Mohamad Hedayati