Let audiences be the judge of Palestinian theatre on UK tour
(NB this original text differs slightly from the version published by the Daily Mail on May 8)
As theatre practitioners in Britain, we are alarmed that the Daily Mail is attacking the Arts Council and the British Council for supporting a UK tour by a Palestinian theatre company.
Your piece, with its inflammatory title UK taxpayers fund ‘pro-terrorist’ play, cites “concerns” from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation with a shocking record of acting to suppress both cultural and academic events which explore the bitter reality of Palestinian existence. Only last month the University of Southampton succumbed to demonisation and threats and banned an academic conference on the legal status of Israel.
Neither the Daily Mail nor the Board of Deputies has seen Freedom Theatre’s play The Siege, yet both somehow feel qualified to suggest that it is “promoting terrorism”. Not for the first time, Palestinian voices are in danger of being drowned out by a vociferous pro-Israel lobby that smears all Palestinians as terrorists and antisemites. This lobby wants us to believe that theatre-goers in the UK cannot be trusted to hear these voices and make their own judgements.
The Palestinian West Bank, where the Freedom Theatre is based, has been under illegal Israeli military occupation since 1967. We endorse the words of British playwright Howard Brenton, an honorary director of the Freedom Theatre, who writes of the forthcoming tour:
“This is real political theatre, performed out of the both terrible and inspiring experience of a struggle for freedom and justice. [The Freedom Theatre] are living proof that telling stories and entertaining audiences are powerful acts of resistance to oppression. Do go and see them, they have news for us.”
April De Angelis
NEWS RELEASE FROM ARTISTS FOR PALESTINE UK
Actors, writers and directors denounce demonisation of Palestinian Theatre
London, May 10
– Rylance, Lan, Churchill, others, say pro-Israel lobby aims to silence Palestinian theatre
– Theatre figures defend public funding for tour of Bethlehem siege play
Leading theatre practitioners have leapt to the defence of the Palestinian Freedom Theatre, about to start its first tour of the UK, after an article in the Mail on Sunday accused supporting arts organisations of funding “a pro-terrorist play”.
The Mail on Sunday piece, written by Nick Craven, charged Arts Council England with giving £15,000 of taxpayers’ money “to producers of an unashamedly one-sided drama based on accounts from the gunmen and bombers of Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade.”
It cited “extreme concerns” from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and quoted the Israeli Foreign Ministry saying the play used testimony from “men with blood on their hands.”
Neither Craven nor the critics he quotes have seen the play – The Siege – based on dramatic events in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 2002. Its tour opens in Manchester on May 13.
A dozen prominent actors, directors and writers said in a letter published in the Daily Mail on May 8:
“Not for the first time, Palestinian voices are in danger of being drowned out by a vociferous pro-Israel lobby that smears all Palestinians as terrorists and antisemites.”
The letter, signed by Wolf Hall star Mark Rylance, Young Vic artistic director David Lan and playwright Caryl Churchill among others, continued:
“This lobby wants us to believe that theatre-goers in the UK cannot be trusted to hear these voices and make their own judgements.”
It noted that the Board of Deputies has “a shocking record of acting to suppress both cultural and academic events which explore the bitter reality of Palestinian existence. Only last month the University of Southampton succumbed to demonisation and threats and banned an academic conference on the legal status of Israel.”
A report in the Jewish Chronicle quoted others who have frequently joined in attempts to silence Palestinian voices:
A Zionist Federation spokesman, while admitting that they had not seen the play, denounced it as “white-washing of the Second Intifada” (Palestinian uprising against Israeli military occupation) and said they would distribute protest leaflets at performances.
Sussex Friends of Israel tweeted that it “glorifies and justifies murderers and terrorists.”
Writer and performer Mark Thomas, one of those who signed the letter defending the Freedom Theatre, said:
“Free speech for Palestinian artists is increasingly threatened, more often than not by supporters of Israel’s apartheid occupation. Palestinian voices not only have a right to be heard, we have duty to listen to them.”
The Siege is due to be performed in 10 locations nationwide by a cast of 10 from the Jenin refugee camp where Freedom Theatre is based.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
For further information contact: Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter signatories may be available for interview by arrangement with APUK
THE SIEGE TOUR DATES
May 13-14, The Lowry, Manchester
May 16, Lakeside Theatre, Colchester
May 19–23, Battersea Arts Centre, London
May 26 May, The Hub, Leeds
May 28, St Mary in the Castle, Hastings
May 30, The Merlin, Frome
June 4-6, The REP, Birmingham
June 10–11, Nottingham Playhouse, Nottingham,
June 13, The Cut, Halesworth, Suffolk
June 17-20, The Tron, Glasgow
About the Freedom Theatre
Guardian report “Jenin’s Freedom Theatre: from death and destruction, a message of hope. Three years after the theatre founder Juliano Mer Khamis was assassinated, his West Bank company brings its tales of trauma and change to the UK.”
Freedom Theatre website Working to “break the cultural isolation that separates Jenin from the wider Palestinian and global communities”, to “empower youth and women in the community and to explore the potential of arts as an important catalyst for social change.”
About Artists for Palestine UK
APUK is a growing network of artists, cultural workers and activists who wish to make a stand in support of justice and equality for the Palestinians, and defend arts organisations and individuals who do make such a stand against politically motivated attacks and censorship.