by Christine Williams
Palestinian propaganda has been ramped up a notch, using the prominent Toronto Film Festivals, in a manipulation of the arts to emotionalize its message. The Sixth Annual Toronto Palestine Film Festival (TPFF) opened on Saturday September 28th, on the heels of the renowned Toronto International Film Festival . Although described as “dedicated to bringing Palestinian cinema, live musical performances, cuisine and art to audiences,” it is more accurately a propaganda fest that promotes Palestinian victimhood and paints Israel as a criminal. The event is promoted by the Canadian Arab Federation, which has been condemned by the Canadian government for its support of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The TPFF was founded in 2008 as a tribute to the 60th anniversary of Al-Nakba, or “Day of Catastrophe,” as the Palestinians call it, to commemorate May 15th, the day after Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948.
The festival begins with the Canadian premier of Abdallah Salem Omeish’s dramatic and vivid documentary: “The War Around Us,” which recounts the experiences of two Al-Jazeera journalists — Ayman Mohyeldin and Sherine Tadros — on assignment in Gaza when Israel broke a four-month ceasefire with Hamas to launch a military strike on November 4, 2008, to destroy a tunnel being dug by Palestinians, through which they plan to kidnap Israeli soldiers posted nearby.
Mohyeldin and Tadros, the only reporters covering the violence, captured emotional and horrific footage of dead and injured civilians killed in the shelling, and claim to catch Israel in an alleged lie that only “surgical strikes” were performed. The documentary displays A UN school as one of the targets.
Toronto’s NOW Magazine described the documentary effects as “nervy but ultimately unnecessary; if the footage alone doesn’t whip up your anger, you’re just not paying attention,” while declaring the whole Toronto Palestine Film Festival as, “almost by definition, a political event.”
Also showcased is one of the most distinctive films from the Arab world in recent years, according to the Toronto Star. “When I Saw You,” by Annemarie Jacir, presents the experiences of refugees fleeing the “Arab-Israeli hostilities” that gripped the region in 1967, through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy in a refugee camp in Jordan with his distressed mother. His frustrations soon turn into acts of rebellion as he joins terrorists preparing to head back across the border.
Another film, “Infiltrators,” by Khaled Jarrar will be presented; it is about “Palestinians going over, under and through “the Wall.” The documentary “This Is My Land… Hebron” displays yet another distressing perspective, painting Israelis as human rights abusers. Directors Guilia Amati and Stephen Natanson take viewers into the city of Hebron, where about 600 Israeli settlers and the soldier guarding them are portrayed as making life virtually impossible “for their 160,000 Palestinian neighbours with random curfews, checkpoints and offensive graffiti.”
In advance of this event, a Reel Palestine panel was held on September 9th at the University of Toronto’s Innis Town Hall. It featured a conversation with Palestinian filmmakers at the TIFF, and was co-sponsored by the university’s Cinema Studies Institute.
The propagandist motive of the festival was alluded to by Jackie Reem Salloum, director of one of the documentaries, who told Al Jazeera, “Hollywood doesn’t know anything about the Palestinian issue.” Salloum further advises Palestinian parents to encourage their children to tell their stories through artistic expression and the media.
The arts have historically served as a powerful tool in shaping a culture, and the Toronto Palestine Film Festival uses the arts to demonize the State of Israel. One publication referred to the festival as a collection of stories that depict the “occupier” as inhumane, deceitful and brutal, while Palestinians develop “funding and talent,” and the courage and determination to fight for survival.