The Baka al-Gharbiyeh municipality has fired a local high school teacher for showing an Oscar-nominated Palestinian film that hardline Islamists claimed “violated Islamic values.” Last week, Haaretz reported that the municipality had suspended Ali Muasi and summoned him to a pre-dismissal hearing. The hearing took place on Thursday, and on Saturday, February 27, he was fired.
At his hearing, Muasi disputed the claim that the movie offended religious sensibilities since it included scenes “inappropriate for high school students, including some with partial nudity.” He noted that the film Omar was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar and was recommended for high school students by a Culture Ministry program that subsidizes cultural performances for students. He also said he had censored the nude scenes and a few other scenes liable to upset students. Nevertheless, the municipality decided to fire him.
“This is a patently illegal and unjustified decision,” said his attorney, Ahmad Raslan, adding that Muasi would challenge it in labor court. He said Muasi is also planning legal action against two residents of the town, both members of the hardline Islamist movement, who assaulted him at the school last week. Muasi, an Arabic language teacher who also served as cultural coordinator for the Abu Sina high school, screened Omar for tenth- and eleventh-graders in the school auditorium last month during a two-hour strike called by the teachers union. Three weeks later, the two Islamists attacked him, and the local Islamic movement began agitating for his dismissal.
Omar, which also won a jury prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, tells the story of the eponymous Omar, a Palestinian baker who is in love with a girl he intends to marry. After an Israeli soldier is killed by Palestinians, Omar is arrested and interrogated by the Shin Bet security service, which releases him in exchange for his becoming an informer. The scene in which he is seen naked from the rear takes place during his interrogation. The scenes with his love interest, Nadia, in contrast, are completely chaste.
Muasi’s suspension and dismissal aroused much criticism in the Arab community in Israel. Hadash, published a statement of support for him. And former Hadash MK Mohammed Barakeh, head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, spoke out on the issue during a demonstration in Haifa on Saturday that was originally called to protest government policy toward Palestinian Arabs in Israel. “Alongside our criticism of the government, we must be critical of ourselves,” the leading Communist activist Barakeh said. “We must respect each other’s opinions and internalize the fact that we’re a pluralistic society, and we can’t turn everyone who doesn’t share the other person’s opinions into an infidel or a traitor.”
The film’s director, Hany Abu-Assad, also published a statement of support for Muasi on his Facebook page, saying the film’s opponents hadn’t understood its message or his attempt to highlight what he termed Israel’s policy of exerting physical and psychological pressure on young Palestinians.