A world redrawn: Israeli director calls for ecological rethink

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Acclaimed Israeli film director Amos Gitai, a critic of extremists in his country, said the coronavirus pandemic should force people to rethink values and their lifestyle's impact on the planet.

"At a time of crisis, it's a good thing to seize the moment to try to find some perspective," he told AFP.

"Maybe the overlying message of this virus to humanity in general terms (relates to) the destruction of the environment."

An award-winning documentary-maker, Gitai has made films exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist opposed to the Oslo peace accords.

Gitai said in an interview via the online video chat service Zoom that he had been in New York to screen some of his work in early March when the city shut down to curb the virus outbreak.

He flew to Paris and remains in the French capital "trying to think what can be done", while striving to write during the lockdown.

Gitai, who hails from the northern Israeli city of Haifa, narrowly escaped death while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War when his helicopter was hit by a Syrian missile.

"We know wars, especially in the Middle East," Gitai told AFP.

But he said the "invisible" threat of the coronavirus marked a new challenge, and required a different response.

"Greed and advanced capitalism destroy... the planet," he added. "Green space is being taken over for economic reasons."

- 'Freedom of culture' -

Gitai is one of 200 prominent artists who co-signed a widely circulated petition headlined "No to a Return to Normal".

The piece -- spearheaded by actress Juliette Binoche and co-signed by Robert de Niro, Cate Blanchett and others -- calls for an overhaul of post-pandemic global values to stave off an "ecological disaster".

For Gitai, the call was intended to force people to rethink consumption habits as a sense of normalcy returns.

Gitai has previously warned that policies pursued by the Israeli right were pushing the country towards "suicide".

He has blamed the assassination of Rabin, a leader of the left-wing Labour party, on an atmosphere of hate he says was whipped up by the right, including by then opposition figure Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu on Sunday extended his record-long tenure as Israeli prime minister when parliament swore in a new unity government.

The terms of the coalition see Netanyahu staying on as prime minister for 18 months, before vacating the premier's office for his election rival, Benny Gantz.

Gitai has accused Netanyahu-led governments of seeking to stifle dissent from those critical of the right's agenda, including its effort to expand Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

He said he has followed political developments at home from Paris and voiced hope Israel "will not be manipulated (and) that there will be freedom of education and culture".

Gitai has also accused the Israeli right of "constant harassment and attempts to silence" peace activists who are trying to strive for a settlement with the Palestinians.