PARIS – When bestselling Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul discovered the Arab League had asked its 22 member states to boycott the award-winning film based on his book, “The Attack,” he says, he wasn’t at all surprised.
To the 58-year-old, who publishes under the pen name Yasmina Khadra, the Arab League’s attitude is emblematic of “how ridiculous the Arabic political elite can be.”
“While Syria is going up in flames, Iraq is suffering from countless suicide bombings, and Libya is sinking into disarray, the Arab League is taking it out on an artist,” Khadra said to The Times of Israel this week after the movie’s French premiere. “Isn’t that the height of obscenity?”
The Arab League boycott prompted a public outcry in France. Mid-May, Yamina Benguigui, minister for French-speaking countries — herself a well-known filmmaker — came out in support of director Ziad Doueiri and said she would attempt to convince Lebanese authorities to allow the screening of the film there. No progress has been reported.
Because he shot parts of “The Attack” in Israel and stayed there for 11 months, the 49-year-old Doueiri, who also holds American citizenship, broke a 1955 law prohibiting Lebanese citizens from traveling to Israel. He could face three years in prison.
As the director told the Times of Israel in March, “No Lebanese government is going to execute me for going to Israel, but they can screw things up for me.”
“I have had enough of this intellectual terrorism that commands me to portray Israelis as Darth Vader and Palestinians as Care Bears,” Doueiri told the French newspaper Le Figaro on May 28. “There isn’t an ultimate villain on one side and victim on the other.”
“The role of a filmmaker is to ask questions,” he added. “The Arab world ought to be self-critical: The most ferocious criticism of Israeli politics comes from Israel itself.”
Critically acclaimed by the French media, the film was also praised by the country’s Jewish press.
“It has sounded the alarm over fanaticism and `blind hatred,” the French magazine Tribune Juive wrote on June 3. “The book, written by an Arab author, is everything but an anti-Israel diatribe.”
“It is a beautiful film, courageously directed by a Lebanese man… Let us welcome him as he deserves,” it added.
Due for release in this month in the United States and in July in Israel, “The Attack” features Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian actors including Ali Suliman, Reymonde Amsellem, and Uri Gabriel.
Warmly received at a number of film festivals, including in Marrakesh and Dubai, “The Attack” received three awards at the 17th COLCOA French film festival in Hollywood in April — the audience award, the “Coming Soon” award and a special jury prize.
‘I’ve never managed to stumble across human pain without taking a bit of it with me’
Published in 2005 in France, “The Attack” sold more than 750,000 copies, earning national attention and igniting domestic debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It tells the story of Arab-Israeli surgeon Amin Jaafari, whose life falls to pieces on the day his wife Sihem is killed in a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv — an attack that it turns out she perpetrated.
Following her death, Jaafari embarks on a perilous search for answers, torn between grief and betrayal.
“I’ve never managed to stumble across human pain without taking a bit of it with me,” author Moulessehoul said. “I’ve experienced war, I’ve felt it in my bones and in my mind, and I know how valuable life is.”
“‘The Attack’ is a cry that seeks to make people think,” he added. “I didn’t intend it to be polemical or politically biased — the book speaks for itself, it just says what we refuse to admit.”
Asked about why he decided to write about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Khadra replied that the subject was dear to his heart, and that he never once feared how his readers would react to it.
Unequivocally condemning the Arab League’s announcement, Khadra said he found it “ironic” that the only time the 22 member states actually agreed on something, it was to censor a work of art.
“It [the Arab League] is a brotherhood of depraved men and predators, without culture nor legitimacy,” he said. “It doesn’t read any books, ignores what a museum stands for, and considers cheap soap opera as cinema.”
“Its attitude only demonstrates its incompetence and obsolesence,” he added.
However, he was also quick to point out that the Arab League was not at all representative of the Arab people.
“The Arab League only speaks for itself,” said Moulessehoul. “It has no influence whatsoever on our people, and it has no credibility.”