The dangers of satire
The wild fires that swept through Northern Israel in mid-November provoked some Facebook posters in neighbouring countries into words of celebration. Abudaabes responded satirically, writing that the way to earn the respect of posters like these would obviously be to light more fires.
In paranoid and authoritarian states, satire is often a weapon that endangers the satirist. Israel’s legal system chose to take the words of Abudaabes literally, as an incitement to arson. On 25th November, Judge Alon Gabison ruled that there was reasonable suspicion that the post included incitement to harming state security, and that the author of the post should have thought about how others would interpret his words. A judge in a higher court speedily confirmed this ruling. Abudaabes, freed on bail, was placed under house arrest for five days and not allowed to use Facebook for 15 days.
The episode suggests that in addition to the multitude of other restrictions it imposes on the right of Palestinians to free expression, the Israeli state has now moved on to proscribing certain kinds of literary genre. If you are a Palestinian, do not be a satirist.
The continuing ordeal of Dareen Tatour
In June and July, Artswatch reported on the situation of Dareen Tatour, jailed and then placed under house arrest for poems and other writing that she posted on Facebook. In November, PEN International took up Dareen’s case, featuring her as one of the ‘Imprisoned Writers’, whose freedom it is demanding. On 24th November, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, reported that the court that is hearing her case will reconvene on 26th January – and that Dareen’s period of house arrest has been extended accordingly. Dareen faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence, as Israel continues to escalate its war against a militant Palestinian presence on social media.
Fighting back against Facebook
Charlotte Silver reports on Electronic Intifada (16th November) that Palestinian groups have joined with black and civil rights activists in the US to protest against the increasing tendency of Facebook – documented in September Artswatch – to block material at the behest of states. ‘Facebook’, a spokeswoman for the Oakland-based Center for Media Justice told the Guardian, is ‘a platform where people are documenting human rights injustices and breaking news’, yet for both black activists and Palestinians, it is a platform which is getting narrower by the month.
Confirming the CMJ’s claim, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, reports that Facebook has granted 95 percent of Israel’s 158 requests to remove content in the last four months. Alongside this persistent pressure on internet companies, Israel continues to persecute individuals. Palestinian journalist Khalid Maaliimprisoned on the basis of his social media posts, was released by court order in mid-November – but only on the condition that he turn over his laptop to Israeli occupation forces and close his Facebook account, as well as paying a fine of $1700.
Miri Regev and the absolute politicisation of culture
Writing on AlJazeera’s website, Jonathan Cook (10th November) catalogues the long list of interventions made by Israel’s far-right culture minister, Miri Regev, since she took office 18 months ago. Aiming to ‘silence the Palestinian narrative’ Regev has been swift to denounce the broadcasting and performance of poems about the Palestinian experience. At the same time, she is completely explicit that Israeli cultural institutions should see themselves as arms of the Israeli state, supporting its policies: theatre companies which refuse to perform in the occupied territories will find themselves under-funded (see Artswatch October).
Cook notes that Regev’s efforts are increasingly successful: ‘people are starting to self-censor’, says the Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar, ‘the worst kind of censorship’. Yet, Cook concludes, there may be one positive side to Regev’s activities: for decades, those who have wanted to protect Israel from cultural boycott have argued that ‘culture’ exists in a different realm to ‘politics’, and that the border between them should not be crossed. Tenuous at the best of times, under Regev this claim has lost all credibility: in a society where culture has become just another channel for the politics of occupation, the case for boycott is strengthened.
The occupying power bans the call to prayer
Cultural repression is not limited to theatre and poetry. Middle East Monitor reports that the Israeli government is supporting the passage through parliament of a bill that will criminalise the use in occupied East Jerusalem of the loudspeakers that call Palestinian Muslims to prayer. The proposed ban is another step in the removal of the cultural presence of Palestinians from the occupied city: just as homes are demolished, so the material signs of Palestinian culture are effaced. Commenting on the move, Arab-Israeli MP Haneen Zoabi said that the proposed law was an attempt to change the culture and life in the occupied city. “This is part of the culture of the Arabic city and has been there since before the Israeli occupation,” she said. “For those, who are not happy with it, they have to go back home to Europe.”
Ashraf Fayadh – his poems translated
The Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, convicted of heresy, remains a prisoner in a Saudi jail (see Artswatch June and Artswatch July). The US publication Publishers Weekly, reports that English-speaking readers can now read his poems in a new collection, ‘Instructions Within’, produced by the independent publishing house, The Operating System.
Mohammed Bakri, actor – sign the petition
In August, Artswatch reported on the continuing persecution of actor and film-maker Mohammed Bakri, director of ‘Jenin, Jenin’. The Avaaz petition in support of Mohammed can be signed here.