I am on my way to Israel, knowing that a lot of people are boycotting this country – culturally, academically and commercially. At the film festival DocAviv in Tel Aviv, I sit down with the artistic director, Sinai, to talk about this. He cannot show me any Arab director in the programme, because Arabs boycott this Israeli festival – and they would really get into trouble in their home country if they did not.

Due to this, the politically critical films in DocAviv are made by Israeli and other international directors and focus on power, injustice and human fates. Although the festival gets financial backing from the government, I find the program selection somewhat critical of the “apartheid” politics of the Israeli occupation. So why do they boycott the festival? Sinai shakes his head, he does not understand. That’s just how it is – participating Arabs would probably be accused of supporting the Israeli state.

Boycotting is also the topic of tonight’s film: Under the African Sky by American director, Joe Berlinger, shows how the musician Paul Simon broke the UN’s cultural boycott of South Africa 25 years ago. Simon went to Africa and recruited black musicians for the album Graceland.  Here, on an enormous outdoor screen under the black night sky at Tel Aviv Harbour we witness Simon’s message of happiness and reconciliation. He also brought the band all over the world – to symbolise co-operation between whites and blacks. 25 years ago he was harshly criticised for breaking the boycott, part of what was described as the UN’s just fight against apartheid. The film shows the band on tour, and later the contemporary memorial concert in Johannesburg. As Simon tells us today, he saw no reason to doubly punish black people. We also witness how this challenging work revitalised Simon as a human being and artist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOaWuNiEId4

From where I sit, surrounded by around 1000 people, I witness the audience get to their feet at the end and start dancing to the music – a mixture of Western pop and African rhythms.
To me it looked like Sinai had chosen reconciliation as a topic for his programme – in one of the world’s most irreconcilable spaces – because the next film I see here also touches on this topic.

After seeing One Day after Peace I reached out my hand to the row behind and took hold of the hand of the old woman sitting behind me. I had realised she was the protagonist of the film and I was moved, and wanted to show it. Robi Damelin squeezes my hand before the light comes back on in the theatre, where a packed audience is giving the film a standing ovation. What is special about Damelin is that she has chosen to reconcile with the Palestinians who killed her son, an Israeli soldier. A Palestinian sniper killed him at one of the many checkpoints.

The Israeli brother and sister Erez and Miri Laufer followed Damilin on her trip to South Africa to learn from the Truth Commission’s work. In the film we see archival footage of a white mother openly forgiving four young killers for taking her small daughter away. To be confronted with such forgiveness makes these guys uneasy – but seems to teach them a lesson. And we witness how Bishop Tutu and the Commission work to provoke reflection in the perpetrators. Reconciliation between the opposing sides takes away the thirst for revenge. Several of them burst into tears where they are met with love. It wasn’t easy, as Tutu very emotionally tells us in the film.

one-day-after-peace
One Day After Peace

Interestingly we hear African music as Damelin travels around meeting Palestinian mothers who share the same destiny, who have also lost children. Can they all learn from South Africa?

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