An Israeli film is to be shown at an Iraqi film festival this week, in what is believed to be the first time an Israeli production will be aired in the country.
The film – called “The Dive” and directed by Israeli filmmaker Yona Rozenkier – will be shown at the Duhok International Film Festival (IFF) taking place this week in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
The festival, which has been held annually since 2011, aims to “showcase innovative films of high artistic value […] made throughout the world” and “create an atmosphere of exchange between different cultures and human values”. On its website Duhok IFF adds that it hopes to “build a bridge between Kurdish film production and worldwide filmmaking [and] create a launch platform for films from Kurdistan”.
The festival’s program boasts a host of productions by international filmmakers, including Armenians, Iranians, Brazilians and of course Kurds. Rozenkier is the only Israeli director to showcase his work at the festival.
Like most Middle Eastern states, Iraq does not recognise Israel’s existence and the two do not maintain diplomatic relations. Iraq also observes the Arab League’s boycott of Israel, which over the years has included a number of films boycotted because they were filmed in Israel. Though Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post reached out to Duhok IFF for comment, it did not offer a statement on the film’s inclusion in the line-up.
However, relations between Israel and the Kurds have strengthened in recent years. In May, Israeli MKs held a debate in the Knesset to examine ways in which Israel could help the Kurds establish an independent state in Syria, Iraq and Turkey. One of the MKs advocating for the debate, the Likud party’s Yoav Kish, explained:
There is a Kurdish minority in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. All these countries are hostile to Israel […] That is why we need to strengthen the Kurds and lead a process that ultimately leads to the establishment of an independent Kurdish state that supports Israel.
This was not the first time that Israel expressed support for an independent Kurdish state. In 2016, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said that Israel supported Kurdish independence, adding: “We feel very close ties with them – both between Kurdish and Jewish people; and between Israel and [Kurdistan]. We wish them well”.
Likewise Kurds have been known to express support for Israel. In September 2016, hundreds of Kurds attended a memorial service in Duhok to pay their respects to former president of Israel Shimon Peres. One of the memorial’s organisers, Baiar Zaweti, told a Kurdish news agency that “Peres was one of the first – if not the only – head of state who openly showed support for Kurdish independence and we are here to remember him as a friend”.
However, in 2017 the head of the foreign relations department in the Kurdish Regional Government, Falah Mustafa, denied reports that the Kurds had sought assistance from Israel for their independence aspirations or flown a delegation to Israel to discuss such cooperation.
In September 2017 Iraqi Kurds held a referendum on declaring independence from the state of Iraq. The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government announced that the “yes” vote had won, after around five million people turned out to vote. Iraq has refused to consider Kurdish independence and the referendum was met with unease from neighbouring Turkey and Iran, both of which are also home to sizeable Kurdish populations.