An emotive documentary narrated by Kate Winslet about children killed in Gaza by Israeli air strikes which has been dubbed “propaganda” was made by a passionate Hamas supporter, the JC can reveal.
Eleven Days In May, which is out in British cinemas now, depicts the deaths of 60 Palestinian children in May last year with little context or acknowledgment of the complexities of the conflict.
Co-director Mohammed Sawwaf was presented with an award by Hamas leaders for his work "countering the Zionist narrative".
On social media, he has celebrated the launching of rockets against civilian targets and effectively called for the destruction of the State of Israel, saying that the map of Palestine should extend “from the sea to the river”.
Distinguished British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom is co-director, but did not visit Gaza for the making of the documentary.
Director Michael Winterbottom (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival)
The film, which is being shown in select Picture House cinemas across the UK, omits key facts in its account of the conflict.
Crucially, it fails to include criticism made of Hamas for launching rockets from heavily populated areas of Gaza - effectively turning the civilian population into a human shield.
It omits reports that seven children in Gaza were killed by Hamas rockets that had fallen short of the intended targets in Israel.
Further, the film omits any mention of claims that some of the minors who were killed had been active fighters.
A 15-year-old featured in the documentary, Mohammad Saber Ibrahim Suleiman, who was killed near Jabalia on 10 May, had been featured on social media wearing a Hamas military uniform and receiving weapons training. His father, according to a Gaza children’s rights group, Defence of Children International Palestine (DCIP), was a Hamas military commander.
Kate Winslet attends the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards on September 19, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)
The script, read by Ms Winslet, suggests that Israel “loaded up its fighter jets” with bombs and missiles after “plastic bottles” were thrown at security forces in Jerusalem and just seven rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip.
In fact, Israel’s air response on 10 May began after weeks of intensifying violence.
Dozens of Israeli police officers had been injured by Palestinian extremists throwing rocks around the Temple Mount. By 9 May, at least 76 rockets had been launched from Gaza since the start of Ramadan four weeks earlier.
While seven rockets were fired by Hamas against civilian targets in Jerusalem on May 10, shortly before the airstrikes started, more than 150 were launched against other Israeli cities that same day, after Israel refused to obey a Hamas ultimatum to withdraw from the Temple Mount.
During the 11 days of the conflict that ensued, Hamas and its allies fired 4,360 rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing 13 Israelis, including two children. The film mentions none of this.
Filmmaker Mr Sawwaf attended the Islamic University in Gaza, an institution that Hamas controls. In 2013 he made a documentary which said the terror group was right when it mounted its coup in Gaza against its rival Fatah because of their alleged corruption.
In 2014 the Hamas media department honoured Mr Sawwaf with a special award for “countering the Zionist narrative” and being able to “penetrate European public opinion” through his work.
He was presented with it by Hamas leaders Mushir Al-Masry, Salah Al-Bardawil and Fawzi Barhoum at a gala ceremony at the Haifa Hotel on the Gaza seafront.
Mr Sawwaf was a guest on al-Aqsa TV, the pro-Hamas TV channel, on Tuesday this week, when he talked about his film and the impact he hoped it would have.
In tweets highlighted by media watchdog CAMERA Arabic, he has applauded the launching of rockets by Palestinian forces against Israeli civilian targets.
In 2012, he posted: “Gaza bombs Tel Aviv - Gaza bombs Jerusalem - wow, what do you know - praise Allah - all in all feeling great.”
The same year he said: “Calling 'Allahu Akbar' during Eid - people feel the taste of victory - isn't it enough for us that the alarm sirens were heard again in Tel Aviv, isn't it enough for us that weak Gaza bombed the occupation in its heartland?"
In 2014 he tweeted: “In Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and all of our 1948 lands, when rockets are launched towards them everybody runs to the shelters except their original residents who celebrate them.”
During the May conflict last year, he tweeted that the map of Palestine should be redrawn so it extends “from the sea to the river”.
The slogan “from the river to the sea” is widely recognised as a Hamas chant, and has been taken to mean a refusal to accept the right of the State of Israel to exist within its internationally recognised borders.
He has repeatedly used the hashtag "Hamas".
Sawwaf’s father is Mustafa Sawwaf, who was formerly a member of the Hamas politburo.
Mustafa set up the pro-Hamas news agency al-Jil, where Mohammed used to work, and is currently a member of Hamas’s shura, or religious council.
Oscar-winning writer and director Richard Trank, executive producer of Moriah Films, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s film division in Los Angeles, told the JC: “I am deeply concerned about the fact that nowhere in the film is the point of view of Israelis who were subjected to thousands of Hamas missile strikes coming from Gaza.
“It also appears that Michael Winterbottom relied solely on materials provided to him by known Hamas sympathisers who have repeatedly tweeted support for attacks on Israeli citizens.
“As a documentary filmmaker myself, whose career has spanned some three decades and whose films have often focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is shocking to me that Mr Winterbottom never visited the places that his film is examining.
“I am disturbed that he did not attempt to speak to Israeli parents and Israeli children—both Jews and Arabs—who suffered from the daily bombardment of Hamas missiles. To tell only one side of an extremely complicated story is not documentary filmmaking but propaganda.”
The JC put a series of detailed questions to Mr Winterbottom’s company, Revolution Films, asking whether it was aware of Mr Sawwaf’s support for Hamas and its acts of terror. Its development director, Ben Pearce, refused to answer any of them, saying only:
“Eleven Days in May was made with the families in Gaza who lost children during the bombing last year. In the film they talk about their children who were killed: their hopes, dreams and ambitions. They talk about their love for their children. The things that remind them of their children. The things they miss about their children.
“It is a tragedy when children are killed anywhere. It would be good to think that the victims of war can be remembered with compassion by people everywhere.
“The film is an act of remembrance. In the hope that if we remember those killed during wars it might make war less likely in the future. Although it is a film that deals with war, it is a film about love not hate.”
Eleven Days In May is being exhibited in the UK at the Picturehouse cinema chain, which is owned by the global company Cineworld, the chief executive and deputy chief executive of which are Moshe and Israel Greidinger, both of whom are Israeli. They declined to comment in response to requests from the JC.
The film’s credits say it is supported by Unicef.
In a statement, Unicef said: “Following an approach from Michael Winterbottom and Revolution Films, Unicef provided guidance on how to respect the rights of children mentioned or participating in the film.
"Unicef has had no communication at all with Mr. Mohammad Sawwaf, the film’s director. Unicef did not contribute to scripting or financing of the film, has no formal association with the film, and the views of the film are those of the filmmakers, not of Unicef.”
Ms Winslet issued a statement via her lawyer, saying:
“The director, Michael Winterbottom, invited me to narrate a documentary he was making with the support of Unicef and Oxfam, on the impact of war on children. In this case, the children of Palestine.
“I’ve trusted Michael for over 25 years, so put my faith in him to ensure the final product befitted these admirable humanitarian organisations. The decision seemed simple. I did not speak to anyone else involved.
“I’ve been a supporter of Unicef and Oxfam’s work protecting innocent children for decades and therefore offered my services on a no-fee basis, instead requesting a donation be made to Oxfam.
"That my participation in this film could be interpreted as taking a public stand on the rights and wrongs of one of the world’s most tragic and intractable conflicts never entered my thinking. War is a tragedy for all sides. Children have no voice in conflict. I simply wanted to lend them mine.”