Although a new generation of female Palestinian film-makers have been making their mark — largely because women in the territories find it easier to maneuver restrictions than their male counterparts — Suleiman's success with Divine Intervention is by all accounts a first for the Palestinian community.
But when it comes to matters of categorization and identity of the filmmaker and his film, there are several complex issues at stake.
Although Suleiman spent his early years in Nazareth, a northern Israeli city with the largest Arab population, he came of age in New York City, where he lived for 12 years before returning to Nazareth to make his first film, Chronicles of a Disappearance.
And though he is a citizen of Israel — a minority called 'Arab-Israeli' by most Israelis — Suleiman considers himself a Palestinian.
But the 42-year-old filmmaker, who is also the lead actor in Divine Intervention, has never lived in the West Bank or Gaza, territories under the official control of the Palestinian Authority.
For Suleiman, the ruckus over his second feature film has been particularly troubling. Reached on his cell phone in Paris, where he is currently promoting the film, the director-star said he preferred not to dwell on the controversy.
"I'm outside the terrain of such a discussion," he said. "I myself have not lived in Palestine, but the title of Israeli doesn't fit me — I have nothing of Israeli culture. And aesthetically and culturally, I keep trying to cleanse myself from this political rhetoric. I really stand outside it. I'm resisting it," he said.
Although Suleiman rejects attempts to slot him, the Academy's verbal deterrent to having the film admitted has raised alarm bells that the organization might be operating under double standards in several film and activist circles.
When James Longley, producer-director of the recently released documentary, Gaza Strip, first heard about the fracas through e-mail, he immediately got in touch with the Academy, threatening to return his 1994 Student Academy Award for his earlier documentary Portrait of Boy With Dog unless he was satisfied with the explanation provided by the Academy.
While Longley said he was currently corresponding with the Academy, he maintained that, "if the Academy does not make a statement to the effect that in the future they would accept official entries from Palestine in the same way that they have accepted films from other entities that are not officially recognized as states, I will send back my award."
On his part, Pavlik insisted that it was "not in his place" to provide any reassurances about future Academy decisions.
The Battle Lines Are Drawn
But Longley warns of the political aftershocks of the incident.
"This spins out of the realm of films and into the realm of politics and in this case, very contentious politics," he said. "It brings out all the stereotypes about Hollywood and the whole discussion about to what extent the Academy is a politically motivated body. Because of America's enormous cultural and political influence around the world, it is important that the Academy be perceived as fair and honest, and not just a protector of particular political viewpoints."