Cinema: at Middle East Now festival, a documentary on sex abuse in Palestine

Arab-Israeli director makes steps in bringing issue out in open

09 April, 13:10

    The poster for Duma The poster for Duma

    (ANSAmed) - FLORENCE, April 8 - A documentary by an Arab-Israeli writer turned director has succeeded in bringing the galling and unspoken issue of sexual abuse against women in Arab countries to light. Directed by Abeer Zeibak Haddad, 'Duma' tells the stories of four Palestinian women who have broken their silence about their experiences of sexual violence.

    Shown at the "Middle East Now" film festival in Florence, which wrapped Monday night, the film, shot in 2009, sparked debate in schools and universities across the Territories and Israel where it has so far been screened. Haddad explained the origins of the film to ANSAmed in 2006: "I put on a puppet show, 'Chocolate', in which I told the story of a young girl who had been raped", she said. The show was put on at the Haifa Children's Theater Festival where it picked up four prizes, but shortly after, explained Haddad, was boycotted. "From that moment on noone wanted to stage it - the issue was too outrageous and for the sake of social peace it was easier to ignore it".

    It was then that the Nazareth born playwright decided to turn 'Chocolate' into a film. "When I first started talking about it a lot of people gave up on me. They said I would never find women willing to talk about their experiences on camera". But in 2009 she started filming the documentary, crossing from north to south of the Palestinian Territories. Part of the funding for the project came from Israeli TV, part from 'the Greenhouse Project', a film institute in Tel Aviv which trains young documentary filmmakers from the Mediterranean and Middle East.

    Of the four stories that appear in the documentary, three are still shrouded in secrecy. "No one to date from their families knows that they've decided to come out in the open about the shadow hanging over them," says Haddad.

    "For the sake of social peace and of family, some of them haven't uttered a word about it for decades, and never did from the off. They were abused by relatives or family friends." It is the type of scandal that would cut to the heart of Palestinian and Arab society and because of this Haddad says it has been tough getting her documentary shown in schools and universities. "In certain villages in the territories we still haven't been able to show it. In others, by choice, I preferred not to do so, in order to protect these courageous women and avoid them being recognized by someone." Haddad is having similar problems presenting the film in other Arab countries.

    "The Arab public isn't ready to face up to these types of issues", she says. "The fact that it was produced with the support of Israeli poses additional problems".

    That said, at least in the Territories the film has sparked debate. "That's why I've decided to carry on", says Haddad. "The project I'm working on now tackles another hot topic: honor killings in the Arab world." (ANSAmed).

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