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“No Other Land”: Israeli Director Slams Claims of Antisemitism for Apartheid Comment at Berlinale

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We continue our conversation with Israeli journalist and filmmaker Yuval Abraham about the award-winning new documentary No Other Land, which he co-directed with Palestinian activist Basel Adra, about land dispossession in Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank. While accepting the audience award for best documentary at the Berlinale, Abraham said Israel was practicing apartheid, a comment for which he later received death threats. “You have German politicians who are not Jewish who labeled me as an antisemite. For what? For calling for a ceasefire? For calling for equality between Israelis and Palestinians? For using the word 'apartheid,' which should be common sense to describe these parallel systems of inequality?” says Abraham, who calls for an end to the “apartheid reality” in Israel and Palestine. “If there is no full political equality and really full freedom to everybody who lives in this land, then there can be no future here. We are going to continue to fight to change this.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with Yuval Abraham, the Israeli investigative reporter for +972 Magazine. Yuval is also the co-director of the film No Other Land, a documentary produced by a Palestinian-Israeli collective that looks at Israel’s mass expulsion of Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank. This is the trailer.

BASEL ADRA: [translated] You think they’ll come to our home?

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 1: [translated] Is the army down there?

NEWS ANCHOR: A thousand Palestinians face one of the single biggest expulsion decisions since the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories began.

YUVAL ABRAHAM: [translated] Basel, come here! Come fast!

BASEL ADRA: [translated] This is a story about power.

My name is Basel. I grew up in a small community called Masafer Yatta. I started to film when we started to end.

They have bulldozers?

I’m filming you.

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 2: [translated] I need air. Oh my God!

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 3: [translated] Don’t worry.

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 2: [translated] I don’t want them to take our home.

YUVAL ABRAHAM: [translated] You’re Basel?

BASEL ADRA: [translated] Yes.

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 4: [translated] You are Palestinian?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: [translated] No, I’m Jewish.

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 5: [translated] He’s a journalist.

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 4: [translated] You’re Israeli?

MASAFER YATTA RESIDENT 5: [translated] Seriously?

BASEL ADRA: [translated] We have to raise our voices, not being silent as if — as if no human beings live here.

YUVAL ABRAHAM: [translated] What? The army is here?

BASEL ADRA: This is what’s happening in my village now. Soldiers are everywhere.

IDF SOLDIER: [translated] Who do you think you’re filming, you son of a whore?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: [translated] It would be so nice with stability one day. Then you’ll come visit me, not always me visiting you. Right?

BASEL ADRA: [translated] Maybe. What do you think? If you were in my place, what would you do?

AMY GOODMAN: The trailer for No Other Land, co-directed by Israeli Yuval Abraham and Palestinian filmmaker Basel Adra. The film won the prize for best documentary at the Berlin film festival, the Berlinale, in Germany. This is a part of Yuval’s acceptance speech.

YUVAL ABRAHAM: In two days, we will go back to a land where we are not equal. I am living under a civilian law, and Basel is under military law. We live 30 minutes from one another, but I have voting rights, and Basel is not having voting rights. I am free to move where I want in this land. Basel is, like millions of Palestinians, locked in the occupied West Bank. This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality, it has to end.

AMY GOODMAN: Yuval Abraham received death threats for those comments. I asked him about the film winning the top prize at the Berlinale and what happened afterwards.

YUVAL ABRAHAM: So, you know, we got this award for the film, and we were very, very happy, me and Basel, after we’ve been filming, me and Basel and Rachel and Hamdan — they’re also co-directors — you know, for many years. And it was like a moment of recognition, and we felt that we got the audience award and the audiences were very moved by it.

And the next day, I wanted to fly back, back home, and I took a connection flight in Greece. And then I opened my phone in Greece, and I see that I’m receiving like dozens of death threats for the speech. And I saw that German politicians, including the mayor of Berlin, were dubbing it as like antisemitism, and generally the speeches. Yeah, and this — I decided to stay in Athens, because I was hesitant to go back. And the next day, like, a group of people came to my parents’ house and threatened them. My mother was really scared from it, and she had to leave. She went to sleep with my sister in Jerusalem. And it was very, very scary.

And I felt many things, but, like, one of the things that I felt outraged by was that you have, you know, German politicians, who are not Jewish, who labeled me as an antisemite. For what? For calling for a ceasefire? For calling for equality between Israelis and Palestinians? For using the word “apartheid,” which should be common sense to describe these, you know, parallel systems of inequality? And I felt — I was thinking of my grandparents. You know, my grandmother, she was born in a concentration camp in Libya called Giado. Her father was murdered by Italy, who were working — the fascist Italy, were working with the Nazis. Most of my grandfather’s family in Romania were murdered by Germans. And, like, who are you to label me as an antisemite? And I feel that, you know, this term is very dangerous, because, on the one hand, it’s very, very clearly being weaponized to silence legitimate criticism of the state of Israel, of Israel’s policies, and that’s a big danger. On the other hand, for me, as Israeli, as a Jewish person, you know, if you are labeling everything as antisemitism, you’re emptying it out of meaning. And I think, especially now, when there is a rise in antisemitism, and we are seeing more and more cases of antisemitism, you know, happening everywhere — on the extreme right, on the left, like, we’re seeing it — for me, is even worse that Germany is emptying that term out of meaning like that. And I think that people, you know, like, it’s completely legitimate to label Israel as apartheid. It’s completely legitimate to call for a ceasefire. And it was absurd. And it was — I hope things have changed since. I don’t think they have, but, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: Your co-director, Palestinian Basel Adra, called for the stopping of arming of Israel.

BASEL ADRA: Good evening, everybody. We are glad to be here and grateful. It’s our first movie since many years my community, my family has been filming our community being erased by this brutal occupation. I am here celebrating the award, but also very hard for me to celebrate when there are tens of thousands of my people being slaughtered and massacred by Israel in Gaza. Masafer Yatta, my community, is being also razed by Israeli bulldozers. I ask one thing: for Germany, as I am in Berlin here, to respect the U.N. calls and stop sending weapons to Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Yuval Abraham, that’s your co-director — you’re an Israeli-Palestinian team — Basel Adra accepting the award for best international documentary. Can you talk more about what he said?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Yes. Basel called for Germany to respect U.N. resolutions and to stop the arming of Israel. And he spoke about, you know, the tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza who were killed, and called for a ceasefire.

And just, you know, I want to say one last thing maybe. When I got back home to Jerusalem, I remembered, you know, when we were working on the film, me and Basel, like, Basel told me that when he was a young boy, like, he would always sleep with his shoes on, because he knew that the army can, you know, knock down the door at anytime and arrest him and take his family. And he was so used to it as a child, that he would have shoes on all the time, so he will be ready to run if soldiers enter the village. And when we were sleeping in Masafer Yatta, working on the film, we would always have shoes on, because the army entered and, you know, took the computer from the house and confiscated equipment.

And my house in Jerusalem, after all of these things happening, I was thinking, “You know, I don’t have to sleep with shoes on. There is no chance that a foreign military is going to enter to my home and arrest me and take me.” And I think, again, I felt this apartheid reality, this completely inequal reality, when we are under two systems of law, where only one people in this land have sovereignty and the other people do not. And I think, going forward, again, like, this has to change. We cannot continue to live here like this. If there is no full political equality and really full freedom to everybody who lives in this land, then there can be — there can be no future here. And we are going to continue to fight to change this. And I hope people watch our film, No Other Land, when it comes out in the States.

AMY GOODMAN: And the showing of your film in the occupied West Bank area of Masafer Yatta, the subject of your award-winning documentary, No Other Land, what was it like?

YUVAL ABRAHAM: Yeah, so, you know, people came, and these are people who are living — it’s a community of villages, Masafer Yatta. And every week, you know, Israeli bulldozers come, they pick a house of a family, and they destroy it. And settlers constantly attack this community. Like, there’s a lot of violence that is being placed on by the state to evac — to kick out, to forcibly transfer this community, to erase it from the map. And I was worried. You know, these people are coming to see, you know, quite traumatic events that are happening to them. And what will they think?

And in the end, it was — I think it was a very inspiring, inspiring night. Like, this community, especially Masafer Yatta, is so inspirational, because, you know, these are people that, really against all odds, against really colonial policies and oppression and violence, they are staying on their lands and, like, living, you know, living their lives and raising families, and then going to see the film, you know, and looking at the old archive footage that we have and, you know, laughing at how they were children, actually, 20 years ago. And look, I don’t know. It was a very inspirational night. And, you know, there was a lot of — a big community. There were Israeli activists and international activists and Palestinian activists and a lot of people who are united in, you know, being completely against this occupation and this forced transfer. And yeah, we’re going to have to continue to fight to make a change.

AMY GOODMAN: Yuval Abraham, he co-directed the film No Other Land with Palestinian activist Basel Adra, part of an Israeli-Palestinian collective. They won best documentary at the Berlin film festival, the Berlinale. He’s also an investigative journalist with +972 Magazine and Local Call. We’ll link to his latest piece, an explosive exposé headlined “'Lavender': The AI machine directing Israel’s bombing spree in Gaza,” which looks at how the Israeli military used artificial intelligence to develop a “kill list” in Gaza of tens of thousands of Palestinians who were targeted for assassination with little human oversight. He looks at Lavender, as well as another AI program called “Where’s Daddy?” We’ll also link to Yuval Abraham’s other appearances on democracynow.org.

That does it for today’s program. Tomorrow, on Saturday night, April 6th, I will be speaking in Berkeley, California, at KPFA’s 75th anniversary celebration. It’s at the First Church of Christ Scientist, a landmark building at 2619 Dwight Way. That’s April 6th at 6:30 in Berkeley, California. Tonight I’ll be speaking in Ukiah, California. Go to democracynow.org for more information.

Democracy Now! is currently accepting applications for a digital fellowship. Learn more and apply at democracynow.org.

Democracy Now! is produced with Renée Feltz, Mike Burke, Deena Guzder, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Hana Elias. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to our director Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude, Dennis McCormick, Matt Ealy, Anna Özbek, Emily Andersen and Buffy Saint Marie Hernandez. That does it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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