Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi wants to “export a different image” of Gaza

Palestinian director Rashid Masharawi wants to “export a different image” of Gaza, on the occasion of the eighth edition of the Aswan Women’s Film Festival, in Egypt, which this year has “resistance cinema” as its theme.

Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip on October 7, voices have been raised in the Arab world calling for all cultural activities to be suspended in solidarity with the Palestinians. But the Aswan festival, in southern Egypt, decided to present six Palestinian short films.

President of one of the juries, Mr. Masharawi is known internationally for having been the first director to wear Palestinian colors at Cannes with his film Haifapresented in the official selection of the festival in 1996.

Born in Gaza to refugee parents from Jaffa, the 62-year-old man who now lives in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, told AFP “that he does not consider art and cinema as purely entertainment.”

“If film festivals do not play their role when large-scale disasters occur, like what is currently happening in Palestine, then why do they exist? », he asks.

Among the six Palestinian films presented at the festival between April 20 and 25 is the 14-minute documentary Silk threads of director Wala Saadah, killed last month in Gaza. The film looks at the meanings of the embroidery that adorns traditional Palestinian dresses.

The five-minute short film will also be screened I am from Palestineby director Imane al-Dhawahari, which tells the story of a Palestinian-American in the United States, shocked to see her country absent from the maps presented to her at school.

The 16-minute documentary film A Cut Off Futureby director Alia Ardoghli, tells the daily life of 27 young girls under Israeli occupation.

” Self-defense ? »

In his next film, a documentary currently in production, Mr. Masharawi says he is working to deconstruct what he calls Israel’s “lie of self-defense.”

“The occupation [en référence à Israël] Blasted an artist’s studio in Gaza with paintings and statues. Where is self-defense when we kill artists and intellectuals by calling them terrorists? “, he asks himself.

The war in Gaza broke out after the unprecedented Hamas attack on Israeli territory on October 7 which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mainly civilians, according to an AFP count established from official Israeli data.

In retaliation, Israel launched an offensive which left 34,183 dead, mainly women and children according to Hamas.

Two months after the start of the war, Mr. Masharawi devoted himself to a new project: the creation of a support fund for cinema in the small besieged territory.

By the initiative Films from distance zerohe helps Gazan directors, who, he recalls, live “under the bombing” of the Israeli army, to produce their film.

The female directors are active in the project, with Mr. Masharawi saying: “always in the most difficult times, we find the Palestinian woman on the front line.”

Around 2.4 million Palestinians live in the impoverished Gaza Strip, which has been under a strict Israeli blockade since Hamas seized power in 2007.

“Make the truth prevail”

In Gaza, cinemas closed in the late 1980s during the first Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel, and reopened after the creation of the Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.

But the coming to power of Hamas changed everything, the Islamist movement considering cinema as contrary to the traditions of Islam.

However, a few months before the war, an open-air festival took place “taking into account the customs and traditions of the territory,” a Hamas official said at the time.

For Mr. Masharawi, now more than ever, it is necessary to support cinema and give a different image of Gaza to, in particular, “make the truth prevail in the face of the lies of the Israeli occupation”.

At the heart of his work: identity. ” It is difficult [pour Israël] to occupy our memories, our identities, our music, our history and our culture,” he explains.

Israel is “wasting a lot of time on a project doomed in advance to failure and which will kill many of us,” he is indignant, referring to the ongoing war in Gaza.

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