Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri was briefly detained by his country’s authorities for a trip to Israel he made six years ago where he filmed one of his movies.
He was detained on Sunday night as he arrived at Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport. He was interrogated for 90 minutes and appeared the next day before State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr.
Doueiri had stayed in Israel between 2011 and 2012 where he was filming “The Attack,” a movie that was banned by Lebanon and most Arab states.
Lebanon and Israel are in a state of war and Beirut bans its citizens from visiting Israel or having business dealings with Israelis.
“The Attack” is about a Palestinian surgeon living in Tel Aviv who discovers that a suicide attack in the city that killed 17 people was carried out by his wife. The movie was filmed in Israel and featured several Israeli actors.
Paris-based Doueiri, director of the award-winning civil war film “West Beirut,” had visited Lebanon several times since traveling to Israel.
Doueiri told reporters after three hours of questioning at the military court in Beirut Monday that authorities found that he has “no criminal intentions against the Palestinian cause.”
His latest film, “The Insult,” opens in Lebanon this week, after winning the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival earlier this month.
Doueiri said that Kamel al-Basha, the Palestinian awarded best actor at the Venice Film Festival, spent two years in Israeli jails. He said some journalists are trying to undermine him ahead of the film showing in Beirut, which begins on Thursday.
Lebanese journalist Pierre Abi Saab, who is opposed to any dealings with Israel, wrote a column in the daily al-Akhbar last week titled “Ziad Doueiri, apologize for your Israeli slip.” He said that Doueiri spent months in Israel to film “The Attack,” spending money there and speaking to Israeli media defending his movie amid criticism in Lebanon.
“Today, Ziad Doueiri is coming on a white horse from Venice with a new movie expecting us to carry him on our shoulders and welcome him as a conqueror,” Abi Saab wrote. “We will not accept that the crime be covered,” he wrote, referring to Doueiri’s visits to Israel.
Doueiri lashed back against critics who accused him of normalization with the Jewish state, saying Monday that his work is for the good of Lebanon and the Palestinian cause.
Speaking to reporters outside the military court, Doueiri said he was well treated by Lebanese security agencies during his brief detention but blasted journalists he refused to name “that are fabricating things to block the new movie.” He said they used “dirty words against some people and accused them of being Zionists.”
“My mother breastfed me Palestinian milk and the Palestinian cause. Members of my family were killed while fighting with the Palestinians,” Doueiri stated.
When a journalist asked him a question about normalization of relations with Israel through art, Doueiri responded angrily “I struggled for the Palestinian cause before you were born.” He then told the journalist that he will not respond to his questions.
Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury tweeted in Arabic that “Ziad Doueiri is a great Lebanese director who has been honored around the world. Respecting and honoring him is a must #Lebanon.”
Doueiri’s lawyer, Najib Lyan, told reporters that after three hours at the military court his client was released without charges. He said some people envy Doueiri’s international fame.
He said that in court, Doueiri was told that he visited Israel without permission from Lebanese authorities. Lyan asserted Doueiri had told authorities at the time that he planned to visit Israel for a movie he is working on, but never got a response.
“The Insult is the pride of Lebanon’s industry. We in Lebanon do Hummus and Shawerma well, and we do very good movies as well,” Doueiri stressed referring to national dishes.
“Ziad is against normalization and he supports the Palestinian cause. The Attack was filmed in Israel to expose the practices committed against the Palestinians,” his mother and lawyer Wafiqa Mansour told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“Is a person who blows himself up in Israel a resistance fighter or someone who has normalized ties with it?” she asked.
“Ziad went there on a mission to expose Israeli practices as demonstrated by their displeasure with the film. Some even asked how he was even allowed to shoot there because he was tarnishing their image,” she added.
She questioned the timing of her son’s brief detention, noting that he visited Lebanon during the past five years.
“This reveals that some sides are bothered by his international success. They do not deserve a reply from us,” she stressed, saying that their actions stem from spite and jealousy.