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The escalating conflict between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which has seen Israel launch daily aerial bombardments on Hamas targets in Gaza City and Hamas fire nightly rocket barrages at Israeli cities across the border, is beginning to impact film and television production in the region.
Israeli warplanes on Monday launched what appeared to be the heaviest airstrikes yet on Gaza City, just 24 hours after raids in which 42 Palestinians were killed — the deadliest single attack since the latest cycle of violence began. Across the border in southern Israel, air-raid sirens have sounded for the past week as Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza launched rocket attacks into the country.
The death toll on both sides continues to rise, with 200 Palestinians, including 59 children, killed, according to health officials in the territory, and 10 people including two children killed in Israel.
In the face of such human tragedy, the disruption of film and TV shoots is both insignificant and trivial. But even in a region sadly accustomed to conflict, the recent spike in violence — the greatest seen since 2014 — has shaken up the local industry.
“These have been a crazy few days; we’re tired physically and emotionally,” Danna Stern, managing director at Israeli production company Yes Studios, told The Hollywood Reporter in an email Friday. “The pain caused by both sides is unbearable and futile. My only hope that this escalation brings expedient and meaningful negotiations — and the acknowledgment that we have to find a way to live next to and with each other.”
While Yes Studios is not currently in production on any series — the fourth and final season of its global hit Fauda is set to begin shooting late fall — Stern said “a couple of shows” put production on hold “for a few days” after the Shavout holiday, which ends at nightfall Tuesday, May 18.
Studio-based productions, including news and sketch-comedy shows, as well as kids programming, have continued more or less uninterrupted. Stern notes that most of the rocket attacks against Tel Aviv — where the majority of Israeli’s television and film industry is located — have been at night, with only one attack last Thursday during normal work hours.
“Any show that is being shot at a studio has a ‘safe room’ nearby in case there is a siren. In the situation there is a siren, all crew and cast go inside until it’s safe to go out (around 10 minutes after the siren ends) and continue shooting,” says Hadas Mozes Lichtenstein, founder and head of international at Tel Aviv-based ADD, Israeli’s leading content agency. “It sounds crazy because it is. But this applies to every other aspect of living during these times and not just TV … Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, and more unfortunately it’s unlikely [to be] the last time working in this environment.”
Outside of studio productions, Lichtenstein says location shooting is still possible north of Herzliya, a city just north of Tel Aviv and out of the range of the rockets being fired from Gaza.
Within Gaza, the situation is much more severe. Media companies in the occupied territories are more vulnerable, lacking both Israel’s robust infrastructure and the protection provided by the country’s Iron Dome antimissile defense system to intercept airborne attacks.
Israel’s airstrikes have leveled a number of buildings in Gaza City, among them the structure housing the Associated Press Gaza office and those of other media outlets. AP’s executive editor Sally Buzbee has called for an independent investigation into the airstrike on Saturday that destroyed The AP’s office and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Sunday asked the international criminal court to investigate Israel’s bombing of the building as a possible war crime.
In an email to The Hollywood Reporter, Wisam Al Jafari, the Palestinian filmmaker whose short Ambience premiered at Cannes’ Cinefondation competition in 2019, spoke of another local production company within Gaza that had its offices bombed in the Israeli airstrikes, though THR has not been able to independently confirm this.
Even far from the bombings, increasing violence between groups within Israel is heightening tensions.
“I live in [the northern Israeli city of] Haifa and here it is totally insane,” says Palestinian director Annemarie Jacir (Wajib, Salt of the Sea).”There are armed supremacist thugs roaming the streets and lynching Arabs. Our friends [and] our families are terrified, hiding indoors, shutting down their businesses. Our friends have been injured in the peaceful protests we have been staging against the aggression in Sheikh Jarrah and now Gaza.”
Late last week, Jacir says soldiers from the Israeli Defense Force, or IDF, broke into her family home, which she has converted into an artist-run cultural space called Dar Yusuf Nasri Jacir for Art and Research.
“The IDF broke into our property and destroyed the urban garden which has been an ongoing project with the kids from the refugee camp next door to us, as well as damage to our olive trees,” she says. “Currently the army is stationed in front of the house and no one can get in or out.”
In a separate incident, Palestinian actress Maisa Abd Elhadi — who starred in Hulu’s Baghdad Central and 2020’s Venice-bowing feature Gaza Mon Amour — was injured after allegedly being shot by Israeli police during a demonstration in Haifa on May 9.
Even before the latest round of violence, production had all but stopped in the Palestinian areas because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. While Israel has been among the most successful worldwide in vaccinating its populace, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been much slower in the occupied territories.
Notes Farah Nabulsi, producer of the BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated short The Present (which shot before COVID-19): “To be honest, because of COVID and no vaccine, there hasn’t been much going on regardless.”
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