Artswatch Palestine: June-August 2018

Gaza – the war against culture

On Thursday, 9th August, at around 17.45, Israeli drones began firing missiles at the Sa’ed al-Mishal Cultural Centre on Aydiyia Street in al-Rimal neighbourhood, west of Gaza City.  The 5-story building which housed the centre was completely destroyed.

Since its establishment in 2004, write Mike Bartlett and other playwrights, Al Mishal had served as a home for hundreds of plays, ceremonies, exhibits and musical performances. It was the venue of choice for theatre companies in Gaza and a space for Gaza’s top musical acts. The centre also included recreational activities – including the teaching of dabkeh – for children, who have been affected by three successive wars in Gaza.

The attack follows a missile strike in July which heavily damaged the Arts and Crafts Village, a museum managed by the City Council, housing material from Palestinian archaeological history, as well as contemporary work.

The Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land on 18 October 1907, established the principle of immunity for cultural objects, even in case of siege or bombardment – provided they are not being used for military purposes. Aware of this last provision, the Israeli government made sure to claim that Al Mishal was used by Hamas security forces.

*photo: Ali Abu Yassin, director, on the ruins of the Sa’ed al-Mishal Cultural Centre on Aydiyia Street, Gaza (Mohamed Al Hajjar)

A performance in March inside Gaza’s Al-Meshal Cultural Center (Mohamed Al Hajjar)

Gaza – the war over meaning


On 8th August  Israeli warplanes attacked Palestinian homes in Gaza and killed Inas Hamrash, a pregnant 23 year old woman, and her 18 month old daughter Bayan. Her husband was badly injured. The BBC’s intitial coverage of this attack was headlined: “Israeli airstrikes ‘kill pregnant woman and toddler'”. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs complained,  and ‘toddler’ was changed to ‘baby’. This did not satisfy the MFA. Its spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon, responded to the headline with the following tweet, accusing the BBC of telling a  lie:

The BBC complied, finally changing the headline to ‘Gaza air strikes “kill woman and child” after rockets hit Israel’. It thus conformed to the Israeli narrative that its attacks on Gaza are acts of retaliation rather than forms of collective punishment, and in the process got rid of the inconvenient term ‘baby’ too.

This did not go unnoticed on social media.


Gaza – the forbidden subject

In 2008/9 Israel’s Operation Cast Lead killed over 1100 Palestinians living in Gaza and destroyed over 4000 homes.

The composer Wieland Hoban has written two pieces about Cast Lead. In May this year, he pitched the third and final work of his cycle to Bjorn Gottstein, the artistic director of the Donaueschinger Musiktage, Germany’s premiere new music festival. In July, Gottstein wrote back, saying that he would prefer to give other composers a chance. According to Hoban, he added that he would not tolerate any criticism of Israel at the festival and would prevent the appearance of any piece on the programme that contained such criticism.

Hoban responded with an open letter to Gottstein, which has since gathered around 170 signatures. ‘Naturally’, he wrote, ‘curators can decide which projects they consider productive or interesting; but this is not a matter of one particular project or one particular person, for Gottstein’s words constitute an absolute ban that applies to any and all composers who might be interested in addressing this subject.

‘I consider it unacceptable for a public debate to be prevented by censorship, whatever the issue. As an employee of a public broadcaster, Mr. Gottstein should not be in a position to prevent discussion of a particular topic due to his own personal convictions.”      (Donaueschinger Musiktage is presented by Südwestrundfunk, a public radio station financed by the German government.)

Bjorn Gottstein is not the only curator who finds it difficult to recognise support for Palestinian causes as politically and culturally legitimate. APUK reported on the decision of Stephanie Carp, Director of Ruhrtriennale 2018, to cancel her invitation to the Scottish band, Young Fathers, on the grounds that they had not distanced themselves from BDS.

NOTE Stephanie Carp later rescinded her decision.

Tatour – the forbidden poet

The website +972 has reported that an Israeli court has sentenced Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour to five months in prison for incitement to terrorism and violence over poems she published on her personal Facebook page. The sentence comes nearly three years after Tatour’s initial arrest, and the judicial process itself – with house arrest followed by travel restrictions – became part of Tatour’s punishment.

“This is a court of the occupation,” said Tatour – a Palestinian citizen of Israel – following her sentencing in Nazareth. “This is a racist state, and the Jewish Nation-State Law only proves that apartheid exists here. This will not deter me; I am not the first prisoner and I won’t be the last, I will continue.”

The long experience of trial and punishment has changed Tatour. Committed to a vision of a state that ‘includes everyone, based on the principles of justice and equality’, she also looks beyond Palestine. In an interview with Kim Jensen for Mondoweiss she explained:

‘After detention, I plan to dedicate myself to the women’s movement. I plan to establish a Palestinian women’s association that can connect with women’s rights groups around the world. In short, these last three years have made me love women more than ever and I hope to change with them … The increased visibility [of my trial] liberated me and I started writing about topics I had not written before, especially on women’s issues. There is no one and no law that will be able to prevent me from writing about all aspects of humanity. It was this exposure that motivated me to convey the pain of women as well as the Palestinian pain, beyond the borders.’

Nakba – the forbidden history

Maya Hasheri, in Ha’aretz (7th June) reports that Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev is seeking to cancel state funding for the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, because the gallery is hosting a book launch on the Nakba.

Regev has asked Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit ‘to advance legislation that would enable us to cease supporting once and for all cultural institutions that use their public spaces to provide a platform for relentless subversion against our very existence, symbols and values’.

The event in question will launch a new book “Nakba in Hebrew – A Political Journey” by Eitan Bronstein Aparicio and Eléonore Marza Bronstein, which focuses on the work of Zochrot, the Israeli organisation supporting Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

In her letter to Mandelblit, Regev said she had discussed the event with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and that they would seek a court injunction against it. The Jerusalem municipality confirmed to Haaretz that ‘at the instruction of the mayor, the city plans to ask the court to issue an urgent injunction against the holding of the event’. (As Eitan Bronstein Aparico explained to Mondoweiss, the injunction failed.)

According to Regev, the Barbur Gallery has been repeatedly guilty of “subversive activity” and of promoting ‘ceaseless pro-Palestinian provocations” that “seek to subvert the state’s existence and nurture fairy tales about the Nakba’.

The Barbur Gallery stated in response: “We are hosting a book launch as part of our regular cultural activity. We are not doing anything illegal, as Minister Regev herself acknowledges. Our role also is to present positions that are outside of the consensus”.

Daniel Barenboim: Israel is an Apartheid state

On 19th July the Knesset approved the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law that authoritatively defines the state of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, responded with a statement:

‘The Jewish Nation-State Law features key elements of apartheid, which is not only immoral but also absolutely prohibited under international law. The new law constitutionally enshrines the identity of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people only – despite the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of the state and residents of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights – and guarantees the exclusive ethnic-religious character of Israel as Jewish. By defining sovereignty and democratic self-rule as belonging solely to the Jewish people – wherever they live around the world – Israel has made discrimination a constitutional value and has professed its commitment to favouring Jewish supremacy as the bedrock of its institutions.’

The musician Daniel Barenboim is a citizen of Israel, as well as of Palestine. Following the passing of the Basic Law, he wrote in the Guardian.

‘I gave a speech at the Knesset in 2004 in which I spoke about the declaration of independence of the state of Israel. I called it a ‘source of inspiration to believe in ideals that transformed us from Jews to Israelis.

‘I went on to say that this remarkable document had expressed the commitment that ‘the State of Israel will devote itself to the development of this country for the benefit of all its people … it will grant full equal, social and political rights to all its citizens regardless of religious faith, race or sex…

‘Seventy years on, the Israeli government has just passed a law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism… We have a law that confirms the Arab population as second-class citizens. It follows that this is a very clear form of apartheid. I don’t think the Jewish people lived for twenty centuries, mostly through persecution and enduring endless cruelties, in order to become oppressors. This new law does exactly that. Therefore, I am ashamed of being an Israeli today.’

Palestinians do not share Barenboim’s view of the past: Adalah’s Hassan Jabareen sees the law as ‘affirming practices that have been in place since 1948’. But about his diagnosis of the present they agree – the Basic Law exemplifies apartheid.

The Jewish Chronicle reports (12th August) that tens of thousands of Arab Israelis have protested against the new law, in Tel Aviv. Echoing Barenboim, and Adalah, they chanted ‘Apartheid will not pass’ in Hebrew and Arabic.

Artists in opposition to Israel’s policies

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee has published ‘Top 70 Moments for solidarity and BDS in 2018’. The list indicates how rapidly criticism of Israel and support for Palestine is growing among cultural workers, especially following the fresh attacks on Palestinians since March this year in Gaza.

Extracts from the list:

Shakira cancels her July concert in Tel Aviv, following a campaign involving Lebanese, Colombian, US, Palestinian, Israeli and other boycott activists.
Grammy-nominated star Natalia Oreiro cancels her concert in Israel, following appeals from Argentine and Uruguayan groups as well as Ahed Tamimi’s father and Palestinian and Israeli women’s groups.

Over 500 Latin American artists endorse the cultural boycott of Israel until it “respects the comprehensive rights of the Palestinian people under international law.”

Natalie Portman publicly refuses to travel to Israel for the Israeli Genesis Prize, which is directly connected to the Israeli prime minister’s office, leading the entire ceremony to be cancelled. Portman’s representatives wrote on April 2: “We have followed the recent news from Gaza with growing worry, and we are concerned that it is not appropriate to hold a ceremony given the government’s actions and the latest escalation.”

Dozens of bands, mostly in the UK, join the cultural boycott of Israel following Israel’s May 14, 2018 massacre in Gaza.

Tiago Rodrigues, the director of Portugal’s national theatre, cancels his participation in an Israeli festival and joins the cultural boycott of Israel, becoming the first director of a national theatre in Europe to ever do so.

The Dublin Lord Mayor and Irish Eurovision winner Charlie McGettigan call for a boycott of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest, to be hosted by Israel, in solidarity with Palestinians.

Over 25,000 Icelanders —almost 8% of the entire population—sign a petition to boycott Eurovision 2019.

11 artists and directors withdraw from Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival.

Gilberto Gil, a legendary Brazilian musician and cultural hero, cancels his July 4 performance in Tel Aviv.

Jean-Luc Godard and 80 other artists in France issue a joint letter refusing to participate in the France-Israel Cultural Season 2018, a joint cultural initiative sponsored by both the French and Israeli governments.

Six artists withdraw from the Israeli embassy-sponsored Pop-Kultur music festival in Berlin. World-renowned musician Brian Eno condemns this collaboration in a video interview. The UK band Shopping, singer-songwriter Richard Dawson, Welsh musician Gwenno and American artist John Maus were the first to withdraw from this year’s festival. Two Jewish groups in Germany also said they would boycott Pop-Kultur as long as it crosses the BDS picket line.

American rappers Tyga and Fat Joe cancel their performances in Israel.

British author Kamila Shamsie respects Palestinian BDS picket line and refuses to publish in Israel, citing the lack of an Israeli publisher “who is completely untangled from the state” and its violations of Palestinian rights.

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