When did you decide to be an actor?
It was not my dream to be an actor. I wanted to be a painter when I was a child. As a teenager I discovered that I had a fear of standing in front of an audience. I decided to fight this fear and to defeat it. Of course, the fact that my father was a famous actor was something to look up to.
Your father, Mohammed Bakri, made some hard-hitting political films and documentaries about Israeli oppression, and was sued by the Israeli army after Jenin, Jenin. What type of impact did this have on the family?
It was really hard. My father was persecuted for 10 years by the Israeli government simply because he had made a film showing the other side. First it was censored; after three years my father won and his film was screened. Then Israeli soldiers who had appeared in the film accused him of lying and asked for two million shekels ($500,000) in compensation. It started another few years of persecution. I followed him at all times, went to all the court cases with him, until we finally won again. There were death threats. He got a lot of hate mail. The media also played an important role, talking about him as a liar. They started a character assassination. I think they did this because my dad scared them. He was one of the most talented people in the film business. He could touch an Israeli audience with his Hebrew, his poetic way of speaking, his charisma; he had an impact on an Israeli audience and they wanted to stop this.
Israel calls itself the ‘Jewish State’ even though more than 20 per cent of its population is Palestinian, like you. You’ve received awards from Israel, as an Israeli actor. So are you a Palestinian or an Israeli actor?
I was born a Palestinian and will remain a Palestinian. Israel is not something that I feel any attachment to. It destroyed my life, my father’s life, my family, my nation’s life. And it’s still destroying it. I care about Palestine as a place for everybody, as a place that was never Islamic, Christian or Jewish. Palestine was always a place for everyone, for every religion.
When you win awards, the Israeli press celebrate you as ‘one of theirs’. How do you deal with that?
I opposed it when the Israeli government used my film to make Israel look good, a flourishing democracy. The film The Band’s Visit was my first Israeli film. Since then I have not done any Israeli films, even though I have received many offers. The Israeli government uses films to spread their lies.
Taking such a position could have serious repercussions...
I’ve thought about it a lot, I know it’s going to be very hard. For me as a Palestinian actor in Israel, there is not a lot of work. So I know it is going to be hard to develop my acting, simply to live, rent a home, pay bills. But I want to help change things.
You have appeared in two European films in the last few years. Do you see yourself making more and more films outside of Palestine?
I want to make films in Palestine. I don’t have the privilege of being able to leave my country like Europeans, and be OK with it – it would look as if I were running away from problems. I am not going to run away. I will stay here, but will not give up working in Europe. It’s important for me to know the world and to interact with different people.
It’s harder for people to remain radical when fame knocks at the door. Have you ever thought about this?
Fame will not change me. I will be changed because of my experiences. My latest decision [to stop taking part in Israeli productions] was the result of a lot of experiences. As long as Israel continues to commit such crimes and continues to make it impossible for us to have a normal life and to have a nation, I will not change.