Some 20 Israeli and Palestinian film makers, writers and academics met in Stockholm with a group of Swedish and Danish colleagues this fall to discuss Palestinian and Israeli films and other cultural issues. Organized by the Swedish Film Institute, and sponsored by the Swedish International Development Agency and the Swedish Institute, the seminar was held two weeks after the signing of the Israeli-PLO Declar¬ation of Principles, and this was clearly reflected in the dis¬cussions.
The Palestinian¬-Israeli dialogue had already entered a new phase, and several Palestinians ex-pressed the wish to be left alone to develop an independent cultural infra-structure, without constant Israeli scrutiny, however well¬-meaning. At the same time, a number of participants called for finding new ways of cultural communication to strengthen the peace process.
It was pointed out in the discussions that Israelis felt a strong need to take a sympathetic look at Palestinian society and its suffering under their occupation. This could be seen as a way of calming a bad conscience, and even indirectly justifying the occupation; but this did not change the basic situation. Now that the basic situation has changed - or at least seems likely to be changed ¬some Palestinian participants argued that the time had come for Palestinians to examine Israeli society, in the same way that Israelis show interest in Palestinian society. Only when Birzeit University has an Institute of Israel Studies will the sit¬uation be normal, they suggested.
At the same time the quick changes in the current situation give rise to a sense of insecurity on both sides. The Palestinians see that their hopes are not being immediately fulfilled, while for the Israelis things may seem to be moving too fast. Whatever the reasons for the anxiety, several participants expressed the view that the interim period can be described as one of emptiness, or vacuum, which should be filled with different forms of ritual behavior. The various forms of art are very important in order to create the basic patterns for these new kinds of ritual behavior.
An important feature of the seminar was the screening of the films and the subsequent discussions. The Palestinian films screened and discussed were Sahar's Wedding by Hannah Musleh, Shelter by Rashid Mashrawi, Wedding in Galilee by Michel Khlefi, and Homage by Assassination by Elia Suleiman. The Israeli films were Lookout by Dina Zvi-Riklis, The Woman Next Door by Michal Aviad, Through a Veil of Exile by David Benshetrit, and Avanti Populo by Rafi Bukai.
Possibilities of co-productions, professional training of film makers, and the development of a Palestinian infrastructure for film and television were considered. The discussion about what the film medium, and culture as a whole, can do to change perceptions of "the other" in a situation of rapid political change only began during the seminar; but the current political changes will no doubt be reflected in the arts in the years to come.