Ali Suliman, who was born and raised in Nazareth, is considered the greatest Palestinian film star. Alongside his Hollywood appearances, he participates in the Jordanian drama “Amira,” which caused a stir and her nomination was removed from the Oscars. In the interview, he talks about the intentions behind the film and explains why, despite the proposals, he will not star in an Israeli production: “What exactly do I represent? The occupation? The apartheid? Here I raise my hand”
This is the reality of an Israeli journalist who wants to take part in a day of interviews with the international media to promote a film made in Arab countries. A politician with no political awareness may confirm your participation in a meeting with the creators, but will then update by email that the director’s and actors’ schedules are “completely full” (so suddenly) and apologize for having to cancel the interview. To her at film festivals around the world.This was also more or less the situation I had the opportunity to attend ahead of the interview day for the acclaimed Egyptian film “Saying” by the acclaimed Egyptian director Muhammad Diab at the Venice Film Festival.
The Swiss publicist confirmed in advance my participation in the meeting. But then, a little while before the event, she informed me that the diary of director Diab and lead actress Tara Aboud was “completely full” (so suddenly). Instead she suggested that I join a group interview with actor Ali Suliman with the participation of three other journalists. But in retrospect, it turned out that the other three journalists did not want to share a table with a colleague from Israel, and so I found myself in a one-on-one meeting with the Palestinian actor, a resident of Israel, who greeted me happily and kindly. “We all live together, so who will we talk to if not each other. Despite all the shit we eat, who will we tell about it if not the Israelis,” he said.
Two and a half months after the interview, Suliman and his partners in creating “Amira” experienced for themselves the sour dish from the boycott movement’s menu. Although the film was chosen to represent Jordan at the foreign Oscars, it met with strong opposition from the sector it claims to represent: Palestinian security prisoners and their families. But Diab’s bold screenwriting choice was to tell an intimate story of a young Palestinian woman (Aboud), the daughter of a terrorist who spends his days in an Israeli detention facility, and the surprising revelation about their relationship following a sperm smuggling operation outside the bars. There was great outrage from the Palestinian Authority leadership and the prisoners’ organizations who claimed that the film despised them. In addition, social activists launched a network campaign and demanded that the Jordanian leadership deny the film, and indeed shortly afterwards the order was issued to stop showing it in cinemas in Amman and Diab himself announced that he was stopping the screening round out of consideration for the prisoners’ feelings. At the same time, the Royal Film Council announced that it was removing the “Amira” nomination from the race for the foreign Oscar.
Diab and his team, who apparently wanted to do good with the Palestinian prisoners, have discovered that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and there are no 72 virgins waiting for them, but angry public figures operating with ideological fervor tainted by opposition to the film, without watching it. Personally for Suliman, the character of the security prisoner who insists on continuing a family life against all odds was the challenge that attracted him to the production, even though his role is relatively modest in terms of minutes and on-screen activity. “This is what I was asked to do, and this is the reality of the character. He is in prison and he knows he will spend the rest of his life there. This is the reality that many experience in Israeli prisons, without knowing what day it is and what time it is, and without meeting their family members,” says the actor. 44, which appears throughout the film in the closed spaces of the prison, inside the prison cell, between the bars or during meetings with his wife and daughter as they chat through the telephone earpiece with glass separating them.
“This is my character’s world inside the prison, and for me the feeling was to imagine that I had to present it through a window, and through that window you can see everything – the world he lives in, the beauty that leaves him positive and the hope of being free in the future. To freedom. There is a buffer between you and those you love on the other side. You can see them, but not touch them, or hug them. So basically you have to limit yourself to verbal interaction and it’s different. It was not simple, and also quite intense. You have to express Emotions and on the other hand being vulnerable, not in front of the enemy who oppresses you, but in front of family members who come to visit you.It is very intimate when you are with your family members but you are not alone because around you are other prisoners and other family members and lots of noise.This intimacy becomes public. Not to mention the surveillance of the authorities.”
“He was passionate about telling this story”
In Diab’s film, which won praise for his excellent political thriller Clash (which deals with a clash between protesters from both ends of the political spectrum in Egypt), Suliman plays Navar, a security prisoner who is the father of the statement. She was born after his arrest by the Israeli security forces, but she adores him and makes sure to visit him with his wife Warda (Saba Mubarak) or without her at Megiddo Prison. Nawar knows he is expected to end his life in prison and he is not trying to escape from it. He is determined to smuggle a sperm out in order to become a father a second time. An operation that succeeds with the help of a biased IPS man, just like the one 17 years ago that led to the birth of his only daughter. , Among others, Warda, who is suspected of being in the West Bank, is abducted by her relatives for the purpose of an investigation reminiscent of a GSS investigation. In the meantime, Amira and Nawar need to re-adapt to a father-daughter relationship that is not dependent on blood ties.
Suliman says that although Diab came from Egypt, he paid attention to the processes in Palestinian society and was willing to learn about it, which in retrospect would not have been satisfactory in view of the exposed wounds he had touched and led to harsh reactions against him. “I only got five days of filming, but those were five very intense days because Muhammad shoots a lot of takeaways, I’ve never worked like that. One more time, one more time,” the actor says. “I trusted him, and saw how committed he was to the story. He was passionate about telling this story. And he was very attentive because he wanted to learn as much as possible.
He listened to my comments, and when he did not accept them, he simply asked me to trust him. Although I was not on many photo days, I felt like I spent months with him. And when I first saw the film I told myself it was just inconceivable that my whole part was filmed in five days. During the filming I felt like the part of my character was marginal and suddenly I see myself on screen as the main character. It’s something I felt while reading the script, but during the five days of filming it did not feel that way. It was a real pleasure to work with such a talented and humble filmmaker who knows how to build trust with his actors. This is the most important thing for a director. When you gain the trust of the people you work with, you can do anything. ”
However, Suliman says he had reservations about the scene in which Amira is killed while trying to infiltrate Israel in order to carry out a revenge attack. In this scene, the protagonist manages to penetrate the separation fence, but returns to her criminal intentions. Unfortunately, Israeli soldiers recognize her and call her to stop. When she escapes for her life they shoot her in the back and kill her. “The original scene in the script was much more extreme, but we talked about it and filmed several versions. It’s not necessarily what I would do, but it’s up to the director and it’s his right,” says Suliman, who recently appeared in a tiny role in another Jordanian production, “Farha” Jay. Salam, in which there is a much more difficult and scandalous scene: the execution of a Palestinian refugee family by IDF soldiers. He praises Amin Naifa, whose film “200 Meters” was Jordan’s Oscar nominee last year, in which he played the father of a family torn on both sides of the separation fence. “Precisely because it was his first film, he was open to other opinions.”
Another controversial issue that must have contributed to the displeasure between those who watched “Amira” is the attitude of Palestinian society towards Nawar’s wife who is suspected of adultery and as mentioned abducted by family members who conduct an impromptu investigation into the identity of Amira’s biological father. When the mystery is solved and it is revealed that it is the IPS man who was hired at the time to smuggle Navar’s sperm, but replaced it with his own, this is the daughter who is at stake. She has always been committed to the Palestinian people By her friends and associates and suddenly her life is in danger. It is doubtful if this was the director’s intention, but from this plot vortex is exposed severe racism as it takes place in Palestinian society. The local girl who grew up Palestinian, Its biological lineage.
“I understand where this feeling came from, that there is racism here. But I think it can not be defined as racism, because it all stems from the occupation,” he states. “When we talk about the occupation of the West Bank, all the Palestinian residents know is the IDF soldiers. The director of ‘200 Meters’ has never met an Israeli. All he saw were soldiers, so for many an Israeli means an IDF soldier – not a human being. And so the false impression is created that these are monsters, not humans like you. They come in contact with him. ”
Even the greatest racists among Israelis find themselves logical explanations for xenophobia in general, and the Arabs in particular.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this issue, and it’s not that I personally have to accept that perception because it’s not a documentary. We made a feature film here. So Muhammad has a right to present the story in whatever way he chooses and from whatever point of view he wants. But I’m not willing to define it as racism. The crisis is not about race. And in the real world it is completely different. The most prominent example is the mother of Giuliano Marr, who was Jewish and at the same time more pro-Palestinian than me. What she did for the Palestinians in Jenin “What I did as a Palestinian. And the truth is that we do not have these problems with each other. The problems arise in front of the army and the people who express the occupation itself, not against Israelis as human beings being human beings.”
Speaking of human relationships, there is nothing more humane and sensitive than mixed couples, and there are more and more of these in Israeli society, and with particularly great exposure in the cultural arena. For example, in the case of journalist Lucy Aharish and actor Tzachi Halevi, director Meislon Hamoud and set designer Arad Shawat, actor Yosef Swede and presenter Adi Shilon. These systems were met with harsh reactions against a racist background from elements on the Israeli right (especially remembered the relationship between actor Amir Khoury and actress Daniela Saar, the daughter of the Minister of Justice), and the film “Amira” echoes similar reactions on the Palestinian side. “Reality is very complex. It’s not just about love, it’s more than love. It has to do with your background and where you come from,” he tries to explain. “This is the reality we live in. I would be lying if I said that such a relationship would go smoothly and be beautiful. But unfortunately it is not so. It is so sad that this is the case. We can find so many things in common and we can be so close, but there is “Things that are bigger than us. It has nothing to do with us personally.”
“The Israeli establishment has destroyed our culture”
Suliman is the biggest Palestinian movie star today, and he is also the busiest of the Israeli actors – if you insist on defining him as such. There is hardly a Palestinian film, or one that deals with Palestinian society, that does not boast of the actor’s appearance. But no less, Suliman, who currently lives as a repairman in his hometown of Nazareth, is the most successful actor to leave the State of Israel in recent years. Alongside the countless notable films in Arab countries that he leads (such as “The Living Room of Huda” by the Palestinian Hani Abu-Assad who also cast him in “Paradise Now”, or “The Attack” by the Lebanese Ziad Duiri who got involved in the garden with the authorities in his country) – Suliman broke into Hollywood , Where he is regularly cast in a variety of notable roles such as the first season of the “Jack Ryan” series starring John Krasinski, the “High Towers” series with Jeff Daniels, Ridley Scott’s spy thriller “The Body of Lies” (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe), in director Peter Berg’s war dramas “The Kingdom” (alongside Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner) and “The Last Survivor” (alongside Mark Wahlberg) and will soon play Jacob Ben Halfi in Terence Malik’s period-religious film Through the wind. ”
In the past, Suliman has participated in many Israeli productions, including Eran Riklis’ films “The Syrian Bride”, “Lemon Tree” and “Olive”, as well as “Harmony” by Uri Sivan. However, he declares that this episode is behind him and has no intention of joining blue-and-white projects anytime soon. “I no longer make films in Israel because there is a political problem and also because today Israeli funds have an agenda, whether they are interested in it or not. It has come to an extreme with the flow of fascism. This is what is seen in Israel culturally today. Politicians try to control it. And the problem I have with the artists in Israel is that they did not stop this fascism in real time. As an artist you have to keep an open mind to someone different from you and you have to be more advanced than the simple person and distinguish between truth and false. “The fascist. This is a problem for me. And I refuse to be a representative of Israel around the world, because what exactly do I represent? Do I represent the occupation? Apartheid? Here I raise my hand.”
Suliman’s main complaint concerns the regulations of the local film funds, according to which the films that receive support must be nationally associated with Israel – an affiliation that he cannot stand behind. These allegations are also heard from the Israeli filmmakers themselves, and this problem intensified with the affair of the Palestinian actors’ protest of “Let There Be Morning,” and director Eran Kolirin backed them up. Suliman says that in the past, Kolirin approached him to take part in the film and he refused in advance. “Eran and I have talked about this movie before, and he wanted me to play it. I told him not this time,” he recalls. “I told him I know who he is, and I know his opinions and I know his ideology, but after all he operates within the Israeli system. So I can not. I love Eran, I love his films. I love his intellect and way “His thinking. And also Nadav Lapid. There are a lot of directors that I really appreciate, real artists. But the problem is that everything takes place within the same system. And they also suffer from it. This is also their tragedy.”
Do you think Israel has contributed to you in any way, even culturally?
“The Israeli establishment has destroyed our culture. We had a lot of beautiful things in our culture. Today when I travel all over the world and then come home, I ask where our culture has gone. It has gone. It has become material. And this is a result of what Israel has done to Palestinians living in Israel. They just go after the money and the material things. They no longer have an interest in culture. And that is exactly what the Israelis have been working for 75 years – to erase our identity. But they failed. When the demonstrations in the Arab sector broke out, just before Netanyahu went where he went, everyone was shocked “The old generation would die and the younger generation would forget. They were shocked, no one prepared them for it. They were sure the younger generation of social networks did not know where they came from and what their source was. And when that happened I admit I was surprised but at the same time it was a very big event.”