Open Letter

Elia Suleiman

"Lord, forgive them, for they know what they do!"

Karl Kraus

To whom it may concern, I hereby suspend my signature from the petition of Palestinian and Lebanese artists, which calls for a boycott of, what was supposed to have been, all cultural activities participated in and sponsored by the state of Israel. I signed and vehemently supported this petition against the barbaric Israeli war of destruction of Lebanon and it's continuing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

My suspension comes in protest of the practices of certain artist petitioners who recently participated in cultural activities around the world. Such practices involved the boycott of filmmaker (individuals) known to these petitioners as (individual) artists who strongly support Palestinian and Lebanese resistance, align themselves with these struggles in political and cultural domains and whose artistic work testifies to nothing but that; artists whose moral and intellectual stands and artistic production haunt segregation walls and promote and engage in Palestinian and Arab culture around the world.

Yet these filmmakers have been boycotted, ordered away, deserted as people of the plague because they happen to carry the Israeli identity.

Whether misguided by anger and frustration due to the latest episode of Israeli military's monstrosity, by nationalist sentiments, or even by sheer ignorance, I am nevertheless appalled that these Palestinian and Lebanese artists, themselves victims of Israeli military policies and layers of occupations, can turn at such ease and mimic the power of authority of their own oppressors and conduct exclusionist policies, excommunications and random intellectual lynching, all of which is tinted by chauvinism and other heresies that stem from the dark side of nationalism.

If the involved artist petitioners suffer from a short sightedness that reaches only the frontiers of identities, they should be aware that they now themselves have commenced putting up checkpoints and demanding IDs to select who goes in and who goes down on his or her knees blindfolded and facing the wall.

Given who these Israeli artists are and the nature of their political work, in the name of whom and for what sacred collective cause did the respected petitioner artists and filmmakers line their fellow Israeli artists and filmmakers on the wall for a cultural execution?! And after the easy to reach easy to frame 'comrades' are sacrificed and gotten rid of because of who they happen to be, one cannot but wonder who will be next on the witch hunting list?!

I wish that the suspension of my signature will not itself become the centre of debate or finger pinpointing. I also wish that I am neither approached nor reproached for my decision by my fellow petitioners.

I rather hope that the suspension can raise questions and initiate an evaluation of the text of the petition and the course of it's application.

And rather than an immediate response for my decision, I call upon the petitioners to take time and reflect upon themselves the issues raised here. I call upon them as I will call upon myself to enter a process of self evaluation enhanced with a critical approach of one's own consciousness as to what composes the red lines of moral and political boundaries.

I say this because I believe that should one extend his or her sight beyond one's own checkpoints, and should one's vision pierce through the walls he or she reincarnates for him or herself, she or he might find that it is not at all a question of identity that one should uphold in the quest for truth and justice. It is instead a question of identification. It is a quest coated inside out with the pleasures and pains which extend and communicate our individual humanity with the rest of humanity. Isn't that after all what art is all about?

Elia Suleiman




Elia Suleiman, born July 28, 1960 in Nazareth is a Palestinian-Israeli film director and actor. He is best known for the 2002 film Divine Intervention (Arabic: Yad Ilahiyya), a modern tragic comedy on living under occupation in the Palestinian territories which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. Elia Suleiman's cinematic style is oft compared to that of Jacques Tati and Buster Keaton, for its poetic interplay between "burlesque and sobriety".1

Early Work

Between 1982-1993, Suleiman lived in New York, where he directed two short films: Introduction to the End of an Argument and Homage by Assassination, that won numerous awards.

Homage to an Assasination is a "diary film" that critiques the 1991 Gulf War via the juxtaposition of multilayered personal anecdotes. The film offers a lucid portrait of what Ella Shohat and Robert Stain have termed "cultural disembodiment," manifested in "multiple failures of communication," that reflect the contradictions of a "diasporic subject."2

Pedagogical Work

In 1994, Suleiman moved to Jerusalem where he began teaching at Birzeit University. He was entrusted with the task of developing a Film and Media Department at the university with funding support from the European Commission.3 He has also guest lectured in universities around the world.

Feature Films

In 1996, Suleiman directed Chronicle of a Disappearance, his first feature film. It won the Best First Film Prize at the 1996 Venice Film Festival.4

In 2002, Suleiman's second feature film, Divine Intervention, subtitled, A Chronicle of Love and Pain, won the Jury Prize at the Festival de Cannes and the International Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize, also receiving the Best Foreign Film Prize at the European Awards in Rome.5

Other Film Work

In 2000, Suleiman released the 15-minute short film Cyber Palestine which follows a modern-day Mary and Joseph as they attempt to cross from Gaza into Bethlehem.6

In his 1998 film, The Arab Dream ("Al Hilm Al-Arabi") Suleiman autobiographically explores issues of identity, expressing that: "I don't have a homeland to say I live in exile... I live in postmortem... daily life, daily death."7

Suleiman was part of the nine person jury for the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.



  1. Elia Suleiman. Cannes Film Festival.

  2. Richard Porton. Notes from the Palestinian Diaspora: an interview with Elia Suleiman. Cineaste.

  3. Elia Suleiman. Cannes Film Festival.

  4. Elia Suleiman. Cannes Film Festival.

  5. Ron Holloway (Fall 2002). Cannes 2002: Special Report. Kinema.

  6. Cyber Palestine (1999) 106 minutes and (2000) 15 minutes running time

  7. Amina Elbendary (2 - 8 May 2002). Passion Shared. Al-Ahram Weekly.