Israel Rules That Director Must Return State Funding for Film Presented as Palestinian

Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
'Villa Touma'

Suha Arraf received $150,000 from the Economics Ministry to make 'Villa Touma'

Israeli-Arab director Suha Arraf must repay the state funding she received for her debut feature Villa Touma, an Israeli government committee has ruled, arguing that the film should have been labeled as "Israeli" rather than "Palestinian."

The film, a black comedy about a young girl who goes to live with her three unmarried aunts in the West Bank, had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it was presented as Palestinian. But a backlash followed, with the Israeli economy minister Naftali Bennett in August saying Arraf would have to return the $150,000 she received from the ministry.

The Israeli Film Fund also demanded that Arraf pay back the $330,000 it invested, while the Israel State Lottery claimed she violated the conditions of its $30,000 grant by calling her film Palestinian.

Subsequent screenings of Villa Touma in Toronto and London saw the film not given a nationality.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the committee ordered by Bennett on Wednesday ruled Arraf must pay back the $150,000, but in installments.

Speaking to The New York Times in October, Arraf said: "The story is Palestinian, the actresses are Palestinian, it takes place in Palestine. It's my basic right as a human being to present my film according to the artistic identity of the film. I believe in freedom of art, and this is my issue. The film contains not a single word of Hebrew. Yes, half my crew was Israeli. But so what?"

The issue of a film's Israeli-Palestinian nationality has been an issue for many years. In 2006, Hany Abu-Assad's Oscar-nominated drama Paradise Now was submitted to the Academy Awards as from Palestine, but was later referred to as from the "Palestinian Territories" after the involvement of Israeli authorities. However, the film won a Golden Globe as coming from Palestine.