Artswatch Palestine: April-May 2017

‘Artswatch’ is a regular digest that monitors attacks on Palestinian cultural life, creative resistance, and cultural interventions in Israel-Palestine. In this edition:
* Pinkwashing rejected
* The trial of Dareen Tatour
* The detention of Abu Sakha
* The banning of International Women’s Day
* A war of aggression on Amazon
* Ten years of PalFest
* On the red carpet in Gaza
* Regev’s dress at Cannes


Nora Barrows-Friedman reports in Electronic Intifada that a group of filmmakers, artists and presenters have cancelled their scheduled appearances at TLVFest, Israel’s premier LGBTQ film festival in Tel Aviv, following appeals by queer Palestinian activists and boycott supporters to withdraw.

Award-winning South African film director John Trengove has withdrawn from the festival, which began on 1st June.  He requested that his film, The Wound (Inxeba), not be screened.

“While I appreciate that the organizers ​of TLVFest ​may be well intentioned and progressive, it is impossible to look past the fact that the festival (and my participation in it) could serve as a diversion from the human rights violations being committed by the state of Israel,” the filmmaker wrote.

Catherine Gund, a filmmaker and organizer, also cancelled her appearance, as did her co-director Daresha Kyi and their entire production team.

“TLVFest is being supported by government entities in Israel that are deeply complicit in violations of international law which include ongoing wars, repression of Palestinians and occupation of Palestinian lands,” Gund and Kyi wrote to festival organizers.

“Cultural events, such as this festival, aim to cover up these violations,” they added. “On a personal and political level, we cannot support this. Our film, which sets forth a vision of peace and freedom, should not be at an Israeli-government funded cultural event. We stand in solidarity with the boycott.”


Poet and social media activist Dareen Tatour remains under house arrest, while her show trial – reported in February-March Artswatch – continues.

Tatour is unemployed and her legal expenses have left her in debt. As Budour Youssef Hassan reports in Electronic Intifada, house arrest has stretched her and her family to the very limits, both emotionally and financially.

A crowdfunding campaign to help defray her expenses has been set up. Tatour faces up to 9 months in prison. A verdict is expected in June.


Addameer, the Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, reports on the continuing administrative detention of circus performer Abu Sakha (see Artswatch February-March).  (Administrative detention is a procedure that allows the Israeli military to hold detainees indefinitely on secret evidence without charging them or allowing them to stand trial.)

On 10th May, the Israeli authorities sought to renew his detention for a further six months. This was rejected by the High Court: Abu Sakha, originally due to be released on 11th June, will be detained for three months beyond that date , on condition that there is no further renewal.

In April, Abu Sakha joined the hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners, suspended on 28th May after concessions on key demands from the Israeli authorities. His mother, Raja’a Abu Sakha, also joined the hunger strike, in solidarity.


Maan News reports that Israeli forces prevented Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem from holding two cultural events to celebrate International Women’s Day. First they raided the Saint George Hotel blocking access to the venue, then Israeli forces raided the al-Hamra Palace on Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem, forcing participants to leave.

The order was issued by Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan because he said the organisers, Women For Life and Democracy (AWED) association and al-Mortaqa Women Organization, were sponsored by the Palestinian Authority (PA).  Shirin Awida, committee member of  Al-Mortaqa, said that the event was self-funded and was unrelated to any political faction. Speaking to Middle East Monitor, Zohour Abu Mihaela, Chairwoman of AWED, expressed shock at the amount of police that arrived at the venue. “They came as if [this was an event for] war criminals. ” The event was a cultural gathering with no “political agendas”, Abu Mihaela explained, intended to provide disadvantaged women from occupied East Jerusalem with a pleasant break from their daily lives. It was planned to also include recreational and cultural activities for Arab females in Jerusalem.

* This item should have been posted in March-April edition, apologies. Ed.


Former UN Rapporteur Richard Falk recently published ‘Palestine’s Horizon: towards a just peace’. Events to publicise the book were disrupted, at several British universities, by pro-Israel activists.

Writing for Palestine Chronicle Falk notes that this disruption has continued online. “The same persons who disrupted (events) in London wrote viciously derogatory reviews of my book on the Amazon website in the U.S. and UK, giving the book the lowest possible rating.” This, Falk reflects “was a new kind of negative experience for me’, an ‘innovative version of digital book burning”.

Falk connects the campaign – obviously intended to deter publishers from committing to work like his – to Israeli initiatives against free speech on Palestine, including efforts to criminalise BDS.


In Nablus, in May, the Palestine Festival of Literature celebrated its tenth year. Often harassed and disrupted, the Festival has been in the words of one of its founders,   Ahdaf Soueif,   “a way of putting every resource we have in the service of Palestine”. It “created a community of writers and artists who lived the experience and came to a new realization of what’s happening here.”

In Mondoweiss, 20th May, Sheren Khelel reported on the 2017 Festival, quoting from its closing statement:

“What, then, is the role of the artist, the festival, the witness in today’s battles? We turn to you, our audience, our friends, our authors, with that question. What is the shape of the world to come and how can we write what is yet to be written? Palestine is the laboratory of the future: the checkpoints, the sieges, the psyops, the architecture, the credit lines, the algorithms – all are commodities sold to future repressions. What of that future can we still unmake? What new future can we still imagine? That is what is under siege today: the possibility of imagining.

“After our closing night, here, in 2017, we will take a step back, a pause into thought for a year. Our hope is that together we can return in a future year with the right festival to take into battle.”


The Daily Mail (14th May) gave extensive coverage to an AFP report on Gaza’s alternative to Cannes.

The Red Carpet Festival showcases films focusing on human rights issues. The festival’s organisers have laid out a 100-metre long red carpet – to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

The carpet is not for celebrities. “The children and poor people are walking on the carpet,” said organiser Saad al-Saworki.  “They are far more important than the carpet.”

The festival began in 2015, amid the rubble of the previous year’s bombing. For the first time, all of the festival’s 40 entries are being screened simultaneously in Ramallah, in the West Bank and in Haifa.

The opening film was Palestinian director Raed Andoni’s ‘Ghost Hunting’, winner of best documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year.

It focuses on Israeli prison interrogation techniques. Its screening came with hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails on hunger strike for nearly a month in protest over their conditions.

There are no permanent cinemas in Gaza: there is an ongoing crisis of electricity supply.


Israel’s Culture Minister MIri Regev turned up at the Cannes Film Festival in a dress that celebrated Israel’s conquest of Jerusalem. It was the creation of Swedish-Israeli designer Aviad Arik Herman, who thanked Regev, on his Facebook page, for the ‘privilege, opportunity and great honour’ she had bestowed on him.

Adaptations of his design swiftly appeared on social media.




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