Artswatch Palestine: August-September 2017

Our regular report on Israel’s war on Palestinian cultural life and expression.

The Palestine Museum: in search of connectedness

August saw the opening of the Palestine Museum at Bir Zeit. Its first major exhibition, Jerusalem Lives, aims to speak about Jerusalem to Palestinians throughout the occupied West Bank who are prevented from visiting the city.  The exhibition registers Jerusalem’s diminishing place in the world: ethnic domination and the relentless takeover of Palestinian neighbourhoods, are turning Jerusalem from a global city into one which is losing its connectedness to other places. Nigel Wilson in Al Jazeera quotes curator Reem Fadda on a sound installation by Emily Jacir in the museum’s gardens: she asked the taxi drivers ‘to recreate the emotion that was there when they used to take travellers all across the cities of Palestine, from Lyd to Ramle to Ramallah and across the borders into Arab cities; they used to go to Damascus, Beirut and it was all connected’.

Hrag Vatanian, in a long review for Hyperallergenic, writes that he ‘left the museum thrilled to see this new art institution participating in the formation of a new and continually evolving Palestinian identity, one formed through a connection to the land. ‘ But Vatanian also notes the restrictions under which the Museum labours. ‘Until Israel recognize[s] most of the Unesco protocols which protect imported goods in the museum world,’ Museum Chairperson Omar Al Qattan said in 2016, “we can’t really bring anything in except under consular or ambassadorial cover, which means it’s always going to be a problem borrowing or exchanging exhibition objects.”

The Theatre Festival in Acre: there is no Alternative

 June-July Artswatch reported that playwrights, directors and other artists had announced their withdrawal from the Acre Festival of Alternative Theatre, in which they were scheduled to take part in October 2017. Their withdrawal was a response to the decision of the festival organizers to ban the play ‘Prisoners of the Occupation’ by Einat Weitzman.

In June, a new director was appointed, Moni Yosef, who was willing to break ranks with his colleagues.

The repertoire put in place by Yosef mirrors the cultural priorities of the government. The festival schedule included two plays by groups from Israel’s illegal settlements.  At the same time, comments Yair Ashkenazi, in Haaretz,(15th September) ‘it’s hard not to notice that [with one exception] the new repertoire includes no Palestinian works, artists or actors.’

Yair Ashkenazi asked Yosef whether the change in repertoire was related to Culture Minister Miri Regev’s assertion that there’s no place for the Palestinian narrative at the Acre Festival.

“God forbid!’ replied Yosef, ‘Ask her that. She doesn’t interfere in my content.’

The ramifications of Dareen Tatour

 The episodic trial of poet Dareen Tatour continues – the next hearing is scheduled for 9th November. Meanwhile, her persecution continues to reverberate, Dreyfus-like, through Israeli culture.

In early September, the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa hosted an event calling for the release of Tatour. Her poems were read, and a short film she had directed was shown.

The Ministry of Culture, at the behest of culture minister Regev, responded by threatening to eliminate funding to the theatre.(Regev herself filed a complaint with the police. Its threat has been taken further by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Kahlon, reports Sue Surkes in the Times of Israel (6th September) is poised to reduce the theatre’s funding – apparently the first time the Treasury has involved itself in censoring cultural institutions. Kahlon has begun the process of defunding by inviting the theatre’s directors and managers to a hearing.

A final decision about cutting the government budget for the theatre group will be made later this year. The Times of Israel adds that the Finance Ministry is also looking at four other events, including a screening organised by Breaking the Silence with a view to withholding their funds.

Not the Radiohead Experience

A musician from East Jerusalem said Israeli officials jeopardised his band’s UK tour last week by withholding his electric guitar at security at Ben-Gurion Airport

Apo Sahagian, the lead singer of Apo and the Apostles [pictured], said security officials held his guitar back for further testing, promising that it would be on the next EasyJet flight to Luton, but after three days there was still no sign.

“I don’t understand,” said Sahagian, speaking to Jewish News on August 29th. “I don’t know why they made a big deal. They asked me where my band is from, I said Bethlehem, maybe they got suspicious. I’m an East Jerusalumite – they treat us like a virus. They were just being a**holes. There’s no explanation security-wise.”

Sahagian, an Armenian, managed to complete the band’s UK tour by borrowing a guitar.

“It’s a psychological burden,” he said, explaining that he has an Israeli ID and Israeli travel documents. “They treat you like a virus that they have to quarantine. There’s no doubt that it’s because I’m from E Jerusalem. We’re treated as if we’re the worst kind of foreigner.”

Photo: Palestinian band Apo and the Apostles (credit:FACEBOOK)


2 thoughts on “Artswatch Palestine: August-September 2017

  1. Zoe says:

    I’m happy about the museum & sad that they will have difficulty w/ exchanging exhibits.

    That the musician whose guitar was taken is Armenian & treated badly also – is not a surprise to me. It’s an indication of the Israeli ‘us against everyone else’ mentality; wether the ‘other’ is Christian or Muslim by heritage. And in this case not even Arab or Aramaen but an Armenian East Jerusalemite.

    I understand the psychological weight he’s described of having his guitar taken even though he could borrow one & I offer him my sympathy. These are the death by a thousand cuts/scratches that the Israeli State uses to dehumanise people.

    Stress kills also by contributing to life threatening chronic illnesses & shortening lives. And now it has been proven that there is such a thing as intergenerational trauma; passed down through dna from one generation to the next. Studies have been done proving this w/ the children of Indigenous Americans & the children of Holocaust survivors.


    • Zoe says:

      *Also my sympathies to poet Dareen Tatour.

      I’m really weary of people calling the Israeli State a “democracy”. Imagine this happening in Scandinavia etc. Those who believe that it is a democracy are deluding themselves.

      I wish her great strength. My mum told me when I was younger – after I asked why a Palestinian poet was exiled in England – that poets are more dangerous to the State of Israel than anyone else because they move the hearts & minds of people through the powerful force of *love*. My mum lived through Nazi Germany in Berlin where two of her family members were killed by the Nazi State.

      Hope & prayers for everyone. xx



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