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Palestine: 'Smuggled sperm' backlash prompts film director to halt screening

Families of Palestinian prisoners and rights groups condemn the film Amira saying it misrepresents the plight of those in Israeli prisons
Amira has been chosen as Jordanian entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the 94th Academy Awards in 2022 (Screengrab)

The Egyptian director of Amira has announced that "any screenings of the film will be stopped," after it was lambasted by activists and rights groups over its portrayal of the practice of smuggling the sperm of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

The film, which has been chosen as the Jordanian entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the 94th Academy Awards next year, follows the life of a 17-year-old Palestinian, Amira, who the audience learns, was conceived from the smuggled sperm of her father who is incarcerated in an Israeli prison.

'We consider Palestinian prisoners and their feelings to be our priority and our main issue, so any movie screening will be suspended,'

- Mohamed Diab, director

When Amira’s parents decide to try for another baby, it is discovered that her father is and has always been infertile, and as such cannot be Amira’s biological dad.

Eventually, it is revealed that the smuggled sperm by which Amira was conceived belonged, in fact, to an Israeli prison officer.

Social media users rallied online, launching a campaign using the Arabic hashtag “Withdraw Amira Film” to express their criticism of the film as well as urging for it to be pulled from consideration at the upcoming Academy Awards.

Meanwhile, the head of the Palestinian Commission of Detainees Affairs, Qadri Abu Bakr, said the film's story is "not based on sound facts."

"The process of smuggling sperm is carried out properly, and with the approval of the two families, the prisoner's family and his wife."

Abu Bakr pointed out that "DNA tests were conducted for all cases."

“The film Amira is offensive and distorts the issue of prisoners and the children of smuggled sperm,” Sanaa’ Salama, the wife of detainee Walid Daqa told Quds Network.

Juliet Awwad, a Jordanian actress and heroine of Al-Taghreba al-Falastenya, a 2004 Syrian drama considered to be one of the most widely viewed works about the Palestinian cause, commented on the film saying, “Amira was written with a purely Israeli script, and the producers and those who worked on marketing it deserve to be punished.”

Meanwhile, others took it upon themselves to engage in more immediate action, attempting to tarnish the film by giving it one-star reviews on the online film database IMDB.

Some social media users decried the film's depiction of sperm smuggling by sharing images of a young girl named Milad, who was born to the imprisoned Walid Daqqa as a result of the technique. 

https://twitter.com/meerahani0/status/1468335082163294211

Translation: "The child Milad Walid Daqqa, the daughter of the captive Walid Daqqa. Milad was conceived through smuggled sperm."

Despite the call to action, not all of the film's reviews are negative. One person on IMDB wrote that it is "a powerful and gripping drama," which is "beautifully narrated".

"Waiting for more and more. It reflects the reality of many," commented another user. 

The film has also prompted reactions from the Palestinian government. 

In a statement to Palestinian news agency Quds News Network, the PA Ministry of Culture said, “The [Jordanian] Royal Film Commission was contacted and clarified that the film constitutes abuse and prejudice to a sacred cause, and circulation of the film will have serious repercussions on the issue of prisoners.”

Middle East Eye approached the film's social media team for comment but has not received a response at the time of publication.

According to Addameer rights group, there are 4,550 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails as of 6 December 2021.

Palestinian detainees and their families resort to conception through smuggled sperm as the only means available to those held in lengthy or indefinite prison terms, with restrictions on family visits.

Some Palestinian prisoners are reportedly permitted conjugal visits where they can be intimate with their partners, however many decide not to opt for this option due to a lack of trust regarding privacy issues.

The wives would bring the sperm to a doctor using anything from bottles to plastic cups, smuggled secretly from prisons. A specialist told the BBC in 2013 that the sperm can survive for up to 48 hours before it is frozen so that in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment can be carried out.

Since 2012, at least 99 babies have been born via smuggled sperm, according to the Palestinian Centre for Research on Detainees. 

Filmmaker defends Amira

Following the critical reactions to the premise of the film, its director Mohamed Diab published a statement on his Facebook page on behalf of the film crew, denying allegations that it sided with the Israeli occupation.

https://www.facebook.com/Mohamed.A.Diab/posts/10165886389780370

"The consensus has always been that the film depicts the prisoner's case in a positive and humane way and criticises the occupation clearly," wrote Diab.

"We understand the anger that many people thought the film was an abuse to the prisoners and their relatives, and we understand that this is a national anger."

Diab announced his intention for a "special committee" to be established, made up of Palestinian prisoners and their families who will watch the film and discuss it.

"We consider Palestinian prisoners and their feelings to be our priority and our main issue, so any movie screening will be suspended," the statement read. 

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.