Presented by

The Atlantic Selects

I Signed the Petition, and Now I’m Freaking Out

Feb 11, 2020 | 820 videos
Video by Mahdi Fleifel

In 2017, the Danish Palestinian filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel was asked to sign a petition. As part of an international tour, Radiohead was scheduled to play in Tel Aviv, and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement was urging Palestinians across the world to protest the concert.


“As a filmmaker, I’ve never seen myself as an activist, so I hesitated,” Fleifel told me. “Should I or should I not sign this petition?” And if he did, Fleifel wondered, “what difference does it really make?”


He signed. Immediately after, though, Fleifel began to doubt his decision. Would he be blacklisted by Israel? Would he be denied entry to the country in the future? In a panic, he phoned his friend Faris, a fellow Palestinian, who lives in the United Kingdom.


“You’re trying to articulate that you have some agency,” Faris said over the phone, “whereas in reality, you’re absolutely powerless.”


Their conversation, which Fleifel recorded, forms the basis of his short documentary I Signed the Petition. The friends debate the effectiveness and implications of publicly supporting the cultural boycott of Israel. Ultimately, their anxiety, frustration, and pain are a window into the meaning of Palestinian identity in today’s world.


“[Our] conversation is one that I imagine many Palestinians are having amongst themselves,” Fleifel told me. “Some may agree with what’s said, and some may not. In the end, this is all my personal opinion.”


For Fleifel, the act of making the film itself was a fraught one. “I had to confront my own fears as to whether I could and should be silent in the face of injustice,” he said. Now, after having screened the film at festivals around the world, Fleifel harbors no regrets: “Seeing how people have responded to the film has given me great hope.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.