When I heard the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was holding a celebratory “spotlight” on Tel Aviv, I felt ashamed of Toronto, the city where I live. I thought immediately of Mona Al Shawa, a Palestinian women’s rights activist I met on a recent trip to Gaza. “We had more hope during the attacks,” she told me. “At least then we believed things would change.”
Al Shawa explained that while Israeli bombs rained down last December and January, Gazans were glued to their TVs. What they saw, in addition to the carnage, was a world rising up in outrage: global protests, as many as 100,000 on the streets of London, a group of Jewish women in Toronto occupying the Israeli Consulate. “People called it war crimes,” Al Shawa recalled. “We felt we were not alone in the world.” If Gazans could just survive, it seemed that their suffering could be the catalyst for change.
But today, Al Shawa said, that hope is a bitter memory. The international outrage has evaporated. Gaza has vanished from the news. And it seems that all those deaths–as many as 1,400–were not enough to bring justice. Indeed, Israel is refusing to cooperate even with a UN fact-finding mission headed by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone.
Last spring, while Goldstone’s mission was in Gaza gathering devastating testimony, the Toronto International Film Festival was making the final selections for its Tel Aviv spotlight, timed for the Israeli city’s hundredth birthday. There are many who would have us believe that there is no connection between Israel’s desire to avoid scrutiny for its actions in the occupied territories and the glittering Toronto premieres. I am sure that Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s co-director, believes that himself. He is wrong.