Tel Aviv Human Rights Film Festival Pays Tribute to Iconoclastic Peace Activist
The Solidarity Tel Aviv Human Rights Film Festival features three events examining the cinematic works of writer and director Amos Kenan
The Solidarity Tel Aviv Human Rights Film Festival will be held December 5-10 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque. The annual festival, now in its seventh year, raises awareness of the significant human rights challenges facing the country, the region, and the world through the screening of award-winning narrative and documentary films on issues such as the climate crisis, freedom of speech, hunger, LGBTQ rights, racism and anti-Semitism, war, and women’s rights.
The Solidarity for the Arts, Activism and Human Rights Association produces the festival, with major funding from the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality, Tel Aviv Cinematheque, and the Delegation of the European Union to Israel.
The festival offers a vast and impressive array of films from Israel and around the globe. The international program includes 21 films, most of them full-length feature films and documentaries. The Israeli program includes 10 full-length features or collections of shorter films, as well as three competitions, for young filmmakers, student films, and short films.
Three events at this year’s festival are tributes to the cinematic legacy of screenwriter, director, playwright, novelist, satirist, columnist, painter, and sculptor Amos Kenan, marking a decade since the death of this influential polymath.
Kenan’s fertile and restless mind led him in unorthodox directions, unconstrained by convention.
Though a member of the socialist Hashomer Hatzair organization, a young Kenan became active in Yonatan Ratosh’s fascist-influenced Canaanite movement. Kenan later joined the prestate Lehi underground militia, whose politics – a hodgepodge mix of far-left and far-right ideas – seem designed to prove the so-called “horseshoe theory” of political ideology.
For Kenan, Lehi’s extremism, applied to the struggle for Jewish national liberation in British-ruled Palestine rather than the suppression of Palestinian Arab political aspirations, was a virtue. “I joined because it was an anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist organization. … We didn’t fight the Arabs,” he told The Guardian in 1989.
With this background, it’s not surprising to find Kenan in 1952 accused of bombing the home of Transportation Minister David-Zvi Pinkas in protest against a government plan to curtail public transportation on the Sabbath. (Pinkas wasn’t hurt in the blast and the case against Kenan was dropped for lack of evidence.)
Likewise, his unorthodox views made him a natural partner to Ariel Sharon when the unconventional general established his short-lived, ideologically ambiguous Shlomzion party in 1976. The party was named after Kenan’s daughter.
Kenan’s idiosyncratic views, iconoclastic temperament, fearless questioning of political, social and legal norms, active imagination, and profound intellect made him a pioneer in the peace movement. Kenan was one of the first Israelis to call for dialogue with members of the Palestinian national movement as early as the 1950s, and initiated meetings with PLO officials and activists soon after the 1967 war and long before it was legal for Israelis to do so.
Kenan’s dystopian 1984 novel The Way to Ein Harod, which depicts a future Israel under military rule, its Palestinian population expelled from the country, remains a cautionary tale and arguably more relevant than ever.
American director Lionel Rogosin’s 1974 short documentary Arab-Israeli Dialogue features a conversation, shot over two afternoons, between Kenan and the Palestinian poet and PLO spokesperson Rachid Hussein. About his film, Rogosin said, “It was a very simple film, very crude, but very honest and very different from what was being made at the time. It was criticized by extremists on both sides, yet many people liked it because it was different. Public television gave it back to me as if it were a bomb.”
Now, Rogosin’s son Michael has directed a sequel, Imagine Peace. “He’s trying to track what has happened with the peace process since my father and people in the Left of his generation tried to reach out to Palestinians,” Kenan’s daughter, Shlomzion, told The Media Line. “He found out, of course, that the situation is very dire.”
Imagine Peace will be screened in its Israeli premiere on Friday at 2 pm, in the presence of the director.
At 4 pm, two short films that Kenan wrote and directed, How Wonderful and Two Minutes without Hope, and two short video tributes to him, will be screened. They will be followed by a discussion with Tali Shemesh, Orin Morris and Shlomzion Kenan.
Saturday at 9 pm, the tribute to Kenan will conclude with a screening of Rogosin’s Arab-Israeli Dialogue and Yulie Cohen’s short documentary Golden Cage, which depicts a dialogue between Haaretz commentator Gideon Levy and Imad Sabi, an exiled former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
One thread running through many of Kenan’s works as well as his peace activism is the idea that this land does not belong to anyone, but rather, there are people who belong to it. And those who feel they belong to the land are the people who should live on it. This idea, his daughter said, explains why Kenan was “tremendously respectful and in awe of the way Palestinian society approached the idea of place, topos, and thought we [Israelis] had a lot to learn [from the Palestinians].”
If we can live as part of the neighborhood, “being with, not against, this place,” and “not importing or imposing ideas on it but being with it, as children of this land,” then peace and respect for human rights will prevail.
Kenan, however, is not optimistic that her father’s ideas will be internalized, telling The Media Line that “we’re one notch away from dictatorship so it’s ridiculous to even dream about it right now.”
But if a Lehi fighter can become a ground-breaking peace activist, “ridiculous” hopes for human rights may not seem so absurd after all.