The demonstration is set for 2 p.m. local time outside the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, one of the main hubs of IDFA. The PFI emailed festival attendees late Sunday advising them of the demonstration, which comes amid Israel’s continuing siege of Gaza following the devastating October 7 surprise attack on Israel by Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza. In the early morning raid, Hamas militants killed an estimated 1,200 Israeli civilians and seized more than 240 hostages. Israel’s retaliatory bombing and invasion has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
In its announcement of the demonstration, the Palestine Film Institute wrote, “While unspeakable violence keeps raining down on Gaza, while the Israeli occupation continues to murder Palestinians by their thousands, while genocide is unfolding before our very eyes, we cannot continue business as usual.”
The statement added, “We ask you to join us to gather, express solidarity, and join the demand for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the genocide, and an end to the occupation of Palestine. The platform will be open to all to express their solidarity, their pain, and their hope. Stay warm and bring umbrellas.”
Controversy erupted at IDFA’s opening night ceremony last week when three pro-Palestinian demonstrators interrupted remarks by the festival’s artistic director, Orwa Nyrabia. The protestors displayed a banner bearing the controversial slogan, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.” That slogan, which has been widely condemned, is considered by some Israelis and Jewish groups abroad as a call for Israel’s destruction and an incitement to genocide.
Nyrabia applauded after the demonstrators chanted “Ceasefire now!” and applauded as the demonstrators left the stage. He later clarified that he had not seen the words written on the protesters’ banner.
“I apologize for not paying attention to the banner in the moment,” Nyrabia wrote in a statement issued on Friday. “I clapped to welcome freedom of speech, and not to welcome the slogan. I only learned about the slogan on the banner from the team as I went backstage when the opening film started.” He said the slogan “is a triggering statement and an offensive declaration for many, regardless of who carries it. It does not represent IDFA, and was and will not be endorsed.”
The festival itself also apologized for the incident. It wrote, “IDFA would like to clearly state that we understand that the slogan was hurtful, and sincerely apologize for how this happened. There are many ways that people use or read this slogan, and that various sides use it in opposing ways, all of which we do not agree with, and we believe that this slogan should not be used in any way and by anybody anymore. IDFA does not endorse or agree with any of that.”
After IDFA made its apology, the Palestine Film Institute rebuked the festival, and announced it would cancel activities at the IDFA Market in response.
“With hearts weighed down like the rubble in Gaza, the Palestinian Film Institute (PFI) announces its withdrawal from all organized activities at the IDFA Market,” the group wrote in a statement. “This includes the presentation of three poignant documentary projects capturing the supposed ‘essence’ of the Palestinian experience. While recognizing the attendance of many, we, as programmers, filmmakers, and audience members, assert our refusal to collaborate with a festival engaged in institutional violence and censorship.”
The PFI statement continued, “For five weeks, IDFA remained silent in the face of the ongoing genocide perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians in Gaza. Over 11,000 lives lost, 1 million displaced, and 3,000 missing; a grim picture of the atrocities against Palestinians. Moreover, journalists and documentarists bravely documenting war crimes were targeted and murdered, with 41 killed in the last 36 days by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
“In response to IDFA’s silence, three activists seized the Opening Night stage, holding a banner that displayed the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” An iconic slogan of solidarity that envisions a unified, equal land for Palestinians of all faiths, reminiscent of pre-Nakba times.
“Even though the above-mentioned slogan is legally protected and considered non-discriminatory under Dutch law, in a damaging statement released on the 10th of November, IDFA decided to condemn this slogan, overshadowing the activists’ plea for solidarity and liberation. IDFA eventually issued a belated statement on the same day, calling for a ceasefire only after the vilification of Palestinian voices.”
For very different reasons, the apology from IDFA and Nyrabia angered some prominent members of Israel’s film industry. They issued their own statement on Friday suggesting IDFA was supporting calls for Israel’s destruction.
“Allowing and applauding a sign which states that ‘From River to the Sea Palestine will be Free’ is a call for the eradication of Israel, the Jewish homeland and of Jews in general,” said the statement signed by 16 leading members of the Israeli film community. “Applauding and cheering the protesters on, was the festival’s director, Mr. Orwa Nyrabia, which allows us to believe that this is IDFA‘s official and reprehensible stance towards Israel and towards Jews.”
The statement continued, “These are undeniably terrible times for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are suffering daily, as they are for the citizens of Israel, in the wake of the atrocities carried out by Hamas on October 7th, and for the 240 hostages who are still being held by the terror organization.
“We are at a crucial and critical time in history and words matter- Nyrabia’s muted and pale official response to the event “IDFA… distances itself from the slogan stated on the activists’ canvas” further iterates that he is fully aware of the horrific meaning of this slogan, the hate it mongers and the antisemitism it invokes.”
IDFA runs until November 19 in the Dutch capital. Two hundred and fifty films are being screened at the festival.