Artswatch Palestine: January – May 2018

Artswatch reports on some of the events before, during and after the 14th May massacre in Gaza.

A chain of killings

Before the deaths of more than 60 people on 14th May, there were other killings, which took  a heavy toll of media workers.

In the early hours of April 7,  wrote Mariam Barghouti in AlJazeera, ‘we received a message that Palestinian photojournalist Yaser Murtaja had succumbed to his wounds in a hospital.’ He had been shot by Israeli snipers in Gaza a day earlier, on a day on which 28 others also died.

Just two days before his murder, Barghouti wrote, Yaser messaged us to explain that he was working on a documentary on the Great March of Return. He never finished his documentary, never came home to his wife and two-year-old son and, instead of reporting news, he became the news.  

The message came as a shock to us. His friends were in disbelief and those of us that never met Yaser but knew of him as a journalist comrade met the news with pain and a realisation that we are never truly safe. No press card, no shield can save us from murder.

That the Israeli army would shoot a journalist wearing a press vest was not really surprising to us. They’ve done it before. I myself have been beaten and injured while wearing my press vest …

Being a Palestinian already puts a target on your back, even if it says “press” in big blue letters on it. As the Israeli defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said a day after Yaser’s death on behalf of the Israeli political and military establishment: “There are no innocent people in the Gaza strip.”

Six days later, the International Federation of Journalists reported that photojournalist Ahmad Abu Hussein, working for Sawt Al Shaab Radio, had been shot by Israeli snipers.  Hussein was shot in the stomach while covering the March of Return,  near Jabalia in northern Gaza.

Anthony Bellanger, IFJ general secretary, said:

‘It is clear that after Israeli soldiers murdered a journalist the authorities are more interested in spouting propaganda and engaging in a cover-up than in carrying out a thorough and transparent investigation and bringing Hussein and Yasser’s killers to justice.’

On the same day that Hussein was killed, six other journalists were wounded.

14th May: at the Embassy, at the Fence

Those who call for a cultural boycott, have often drawn attention to the two tongues in which Israel speaks – to the world, a language of cultural enlightenment; to the Palestinians the language of oppression.

It is no longer necessary to dig deep into discourse to make this point. The Israeli government and its supporters demonstrate it  in the crudest terms.

Reporting (14th May) on the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Noa Landau in Ha’aretz was one of many who noted the unbearable contrast between the festively religious tones of the ceremony and the death toll at the Gaza ‘border’.

In the Embassy courtyard,  the speeches of Christian fundamentalists and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. In Gaza, the desperate tweeting of Medical Aid for Palestinians:

‘Medical teams are running out of essential supplies such as gauze, skin staples, abdominal sponges, vascular sutures and disposable gowns and drapes.’


Someone must have been speaking to Netta, Israeli winner of the Eurovision song contest in Lisbon, two days before the US Embassy celebrations.

Michael Segalov, in The Guardian, commented on Netta’s foreknowledge of the venue for the 2019 event: ‘next year in Jerusalem’, she said.

‘Will we be subjected to a dose of pink-washing,’ Segalov asked, ‘ employed to distract onlookers from the oppression routinely dished out by the Israeli state?’

‘Those preparing to book flights for Eurovision’s 2019 instalment,’ he added, ‘should also consider how the event will materially affect Palestinians on the ground. Time and time again we see how Palestinians are punished, the Israeli Defence Force keen to flex its lethal military muscle on days that are seen as significant, or when Palestinian-led protests are planned.’

Culture Minister Miri Regev congratulated Netta. The singer had ‘brought a great gift to Israel, which is celebrating 70 years of independence, and to Jerusalem, which is celebrating 51 years of its unification.’Next year’, said Regev, ‘Eurovision will be in Israel and we will do all we can to host it in the best way and to reveal once again the beautiful face of the State of Israel.’

Speaking at a press conference following her win, Netta said: “There is nothing like an Israeli party, you will find out next year I hope.’

Meanwhile in Iceland…

Nearly 18,000 people, reports Iceland Magazine , have signed a petition asking the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service to decline participation in next year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The boycott enjoys the support of various popular Icelandic musicians. Among those who suggested Iceland boycott the competition was Páll Óskar, who competed for Iceland in Eurovision in 1997. Páll said on Facebook that this was the perfect opportunity for Iceland to ‘protest against the mass murder of Palestinians by Israel.’

And in Ireland…

Michéal Mac Donncha, Lord Mayor of Dublin, has said that Ireland should not send a representative to Eurovision 2019. Former Eurovision winner Charlie McGettigan has supported this call. The Irish Mirror reports that McGettigan said Ireland should boycott the event if it is not held in another country or cancelled. Speaking on RTE Radio One: “It was dreadful seeing [Israel prime minister] Netanyahu and the Trumps celebrating while people are dead. It’s a chance for the whole of Europe who are involved in Eurovision to say, ‘Look, we don’t agree with this.'”

After the Massacre: art and freedom

Maya Asheri reports in Ha’aretz (17th May) that, the day after the shootings in Gaza, students at the Jerusalem art academy, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, hung posters at their school with the names of those protesters killed by Israeli soldiers.

Students also displayed a map of the Gaza Strip with the caption “I’m no t your toy,” a reference to lyrics from the song with which Netta won the Eurovision song competition the previous weekend in Lisbon. According to Michael Bachner in the Times of Israel, the display was made by a group of Arab students, one of whom said, ‘We are all Palestinians, we are all one nation and that is our only way to make our voice heard.’

Israeli politicians moved quickly to proclaim their belief in freedom of expression, while also pressing to have the display closed down and the Academy punished.

Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis barred work from Bezalel students from being exhibited at an international science conference later in May in Jerusalem.

Akunis said he was ‘always in favour of freedom of expression and creativity’, but would ‘not permit freedom of humiliation.’

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said that while freedom of speech was a ‘top value’ for him, ‘people, even artists, needs to know how to limit themselves. I would suggest that the new self-styled protest artists remember that our soldiers on the Gaza border are also guarding them.’

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat tweeted that he was ‘shocked to see the names of terrorists who assaulted the Gaza-Israel border with the goal of killing Jews displayed on the walls of the Bezalel Academy.” Barkat said that were ‘limits to the extent to which “cynical use” can be made to freedom of expression’.

For its part, the Bezalel Academy issued a statement calling the school ‘a protected space for freedom of expression in Israel that permits students free, critical and creative discourse on the range of subjects occupying them.’

Other news

Dareen Tatour ‘guilty’: a verdict foretold

“The hearing was very short,’ said the accused.  ‘Even when the judge presented the verdict, her voice was very low and we couldn’t even hear it at first.’

On 3rd May, briefly and inaudibly, an Israeli court convicted the Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour for ‘incitement to  violence’ and ‘support of terrorist organizations’.

The verdict has been widely condemned. The writers’ organization PEN International made clear that Tatour had been convicted for doing what writers do every day – ‘using her words to peacefully challenge injustice’.

Tatour, 36, was first arrested in October 2015 over a handful of social media posts and a poem called “Resist, My People, Resist Them.” During her trial, Tatour spent three months in prison and has since been under house arrest and barred from using the internet.

One of her posts on Facebook included a picture of Israa Abed, a Palestinian woman who was shot by Israeli forces in the northern city of Afula and quickly exonerated of trying to carry out an attack.

Tatour wrote alongside the photography, the caption, “I am the next martyr.”

The prosecution chose to interpret this to an encouragement to suicide attacks. As in many other instances where Israel’s oppression of Palestinians is in question, the meaning of the language of protest was distorted to the point where words which challenged injustice were taken as evidence of a dedication to violence.

For Kim Jensen and Yoav Haifawi, writing in the Electronic Intifada, the prosecution has systematically ‘demonised’ key words that Tatour has used in her work – most notably the word shahid. In the context of Palestinian literature, culture and politics, the word shahid signifies all of those who have died in the struggle or as a consequence of the occupation, most especially the innocent victims. The prosecution, write Jensen and Haifawi,  has ‘relentlessly promulgated’ the misconception that the word shahid is a codeword for terrorist or suicide attacker.

This is a through the looking glass world, where reason has ceased to apply. ‘When I use a word’, says Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ replies Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

To which Humpty Dumpty says, ‘The question is … which is to be master—that’s all.’

Tatour’s masters will announce her sentence on 31st May; she could face up to eight years in Israeli prisons.

Raid on the Captives Movement

The February newsletter of BRICUP, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, reports that in the early morning on 14 December 2017, an Israeli military force broke into the campus of Al-Quds University in the town of Abu Dis near to Jerusalem and stormed the building of Abu Jihad Centre for the Captives Movement. Soldiers removed and damaged the exhibits that the Centre had been preparing for its museum, which will be launched in the near future. A total of 300 exhibits (posters, paintings, handiworks) were damaged, including work created by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The soldiers also raided the library of the Centre, damaging copies of The Experiences of Palestinian and Arab Captives,  an encyclopaedia at the library, as well as a collection of books.

PMX Music Expo

Middle East Eye carries a report of the PMX Music Expo, held in Ramallah in April 2017.

PMX  aims to provide a platform ‘where both established and up-and-coming Palestinian musicians can perform in front of international music industry representatives’.

But it does more than that. The expo is a way of bringing Palestinian musicians together, across the wall, across internal borders and other barriers to free movement.

In the words of MC Mohammad Hammoud (Hamoody), 22, of the group Sawa Sawa, ‘The idea is to bring people together from the refugee camps, the cities and the villages, and gather them together in one place  All of us have one identity. We are Palestinian.’

This is an identity forged from below.  ‘The whole thing we’re doing here is underground. The state has nothing to do with it,” said Safadi, another band member. ‘We don’t take from the Palestinian Authority and we don’t take from the Israelis, for ideological reasons mainly, and because we don’t want to submit to limits and conditions. We don’t want to follow their blueprint, basically. Everything we want to do, we have to invent it.’


The Palestine News Network reports an exhibition at the Zawyeh Gallery in Ramallah, where the work of established and emerging Palestinian artists marks 51 years of Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem. The exhibition features work by Adam Shehada, Ahed Izhiman, Benji Boyadgian, Dina Mattar, Fayez Sirsawi, Fouad Agbaria, Hosni Radwan, Ibrahim Nubani, Issam Bader, Khaled Hourani, Michael Halak, Mohammad Joulani, Nabil Anani, Osama Said, Rana Samara, Rawan Khalilieh, Rehab Nazzal, Sliman Mansour, Tayseer Barakat, Varvara Razak and Yazan Khalili.


Pictured: Sliman Mansour’s  A Family without a Shadow.  Mansour, notes the gallery, ‘calls in his artwork upon the ghosts of the past to haunt the city’s present time’.







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