- Palestinian author Susan Abulhawa (pictured) was on her way to Palestine Literature Festival when she was denied entry to her homeland, held in a prison cell, then flown back to the United States.
Our digest of news from Israel’s cultural war against the Palestinians
Dareen Tatour, Palestinian poet and citizen of Israel, was released from prison on September 20th. She had spent almost three years in jail or under house arrest. Her ‘crime’ was to post one of her poems on Facebook – ‘Resist my people, resist them’. In July this year, she was finally sentenced, on grounds of incitement to violence and support for terror organisations. (Indictments for online incitement have tripled in Israel since 2014.)
In August, Tatour entered the special wing of Damoun Prison. She was classified as a ‘security’ prisoner and denied access to her phone and the internet. Her father was at first denied permission to visit her. He and Dareen’s mother were finally allowed to see her on 5 September, after Tatour had spent almost a month in prison. She was released with a suspended sentence hanging over her, to guard against further ‘incitement’.
The Loyalty in Culture Bill
A few weeks after her release, on 5thNovember, Tatour listened to the Knesset debate on the first reading of Culture Minister Miri Regev’s Loyalty in Culture bill. In an article for Mondoweiss, she reflected on its significance.
Regev, wrote Tatour, spoke for three hours. She began her speech by naming a few works of art that had been recently presented in the country’s theatres, such as Palestinian former prisoner Walid Daqqa’s play “A Parallel Time”. She moved on to list works by director and actress Einat Weizman – “Prison Notebooks,” “Prisoners of the Occupation,” “The State of Israel against Poet Dareen Tatour,” – before reading part of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem “Write Down, I am Arab” and Tatour’s own poem “Resist, My People.”
Regev said she would not fund venues that presented these works. They should instead be banned and censored. She also spoke of why there must be a vote on the loyalty in culture bill, drafted by her, and why there should broadly be loyalty in art to the state of Israel.
If the bill became a law, noted Tatour, it would grant Regev the sole discretion to decide what projects should be censored, and what projects critical of Israel constitute “incitement.”
The Failure of the Loyalty in Culture Bill
The bill did not become law.
On 26thNovember, the vote on the bill’s final reading was postponed indefinitely: following the resignation of Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman in protest against a ceasefire in Gaza, the ruling coalition lacks a stable majority.
Writing in Ha’aretz, Yossi Verter notes that despite Regev’s failure, the state still possessed the power to cut state funding to organisations which reject Israel’s self-description as a ‘Jewish and democratic state’, or that mark Israeli Independence Day as a day of mourning.
Einat Weizman, in conversation with Dareen Tatour, commented:
‘To my regret (unfortunately), loyalty in culture has existed long before the bill did. Most artists realized the national identity of the period and they know very well the subjects that could cause them trouble and the subjects that are easier on them to talk about and that receive support and encouragement; several years ago, a new prize was created, “The Zionist Creative Works Prize.” Several artists use self-censorship on their creations, they use allusions and symbols instead of talking about specific things as they are. I believe that the status quo here is very crucial and very critical to the point that there is no time to use symbols.’
Art.net has reported protests against the bill. On 25thNovember, artists came to burn their work in the centre of Tel Aviv, ‘to sacrifice them as victims of the loyalty law’. ‘We are sacrificing culture for politics,’ said sculptor Sigalit Landau. ‘These people don’t understand culture and how much love is needed to bring something into the world.’
The Disloyal (1)
Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar is one of the pioneers of Arabic hip-hop. Along with his group DAM, he has adopted the artform to tell stories of the street culture of Lod, or Al-Lyd, once a Palestinian city with a majority Arab population.
‘Hip hop just opened the door for me,’ Nafar told Tom Barnes of the mic website in 2017. ‘I started comparing things between Malcolm and the Black Panthers and the PLO and whatever the Palestinian people were going through. It’s weird that I had to go to the West to come back and explore my eastern roots.’
Central to Nafar’s work is the ongoing catastrophe of the occupation:
Who’s a terrorist? I’m a terrorist?
How am I a terrorist while I live in my country
Who’s a terrorist? You’re a terrorist!
You’ve taken everything I own while I’m living in my homeland.
Ha’aretz reports that the student union at an academic college in northern Israel has cancelled a performance by Nafar, scheduled for 28th November. A representative of the student union told Nafar’s manager that she did not want ‘unpleasant friction’. In a WhatsApp message she added that ‘she just wanted to be certain that there simply won’t be anything political in the performance.’
Nafar said after the cancellation that the request for him to avoid the use of his political views in his concert ‘shows that something very bad is seeping into the student union.’ It wanted to silence his voice as part of ‘the overall war against the Palestinian narrative’.
Attorney Sawsan Zaher of the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel said the union’s move discriminated against Arab students because ‘they are denied the right to be exposed to art and shows that are compatible with their views.’ She said the decision reflected an internalization of a ‘dangerous message’ and was a result of a ‘particularly racist and radical wave of legislation’ that includes the ‘cultural loyalty’ bill.
The Disloyal (2)
Lina Makhul is an American-Palestinian singer who in 2017 won the Israeli version of The Voice.
‘Statements obtained by this newspaper,’ runs an article in Yedioth Ahronoth (16thNovember) ‘point to problematic behaviour on the part of [this] Arab singer who was born in the U.S. and grew up in Acre. According to the statements, Makhul refuses to perform on Independence Day, defines herself not infrequently as a Palestinian with an Israeli passport and recently cancelled participation in a song recorded for the organization Israeli Flying Aid because its logo is a Star of David symbol.’
Makhul has denied making the comments attributed to her.
Itay Stern, writing in Ha’aretz, recalls that in an interview published by a magazine owned by Yedioth Ahronoth a year ago, Makhul said: ‘I am a native of the United States, I am an Israeli citizen and I am Palestinian. It’s very clear. These are facts; it’s not something I can choose.’ Asked about her Palestinian identify, she said: ‘When I am asked what my ethnic origin is, I say my great-grandmother is Palestinian. They lived here their whole lives and so did their children and my parents as well. So it’s like nothing changed here except for the country’s name.’
Stern quotes some of the Israeli journalists have defended Makhul. Chen Lieberman, Channel 10 News’ culture editor, wrote on Twitter: ‘Every Arab singer will now know that she must not express her political beliefs not only in public, but also in private forums in case Yedioth reporters hear and tattle.’
Hadas Bashan wrote: ‘Peak Zionism: If they perform on Independence Day, we’ll wrap them in a bear hug and boast about how good it is to be Arabs here; if they don’t perform on Independence Day, they’re traitors.’
The price of breaking the cultural boycott
Writing in Mondoweiss (11thSeptember), Jonathan Ofir welcomes the decision by Lana del Rey, following dialogue with Palestinians, to cancel her scheduled September appearance at the Meteor festival in Northern Israel. Her decision initiated a wave of some 20 other cancellations.
Ofir recalls that when the UN imposed a cultural boycott on South Africa in 1980, the hotel magnate Sol Kerzner offered lavish sums to international artists who were willing to defy the boycott by performing in Sun City, in the Bantustan of Bophuthatswana. Frank Sinatra performed there in 1981 for $2 million.
Meteor made available similar, off-the-scale deals: $700,000, according to Variety, nine times Del Rey’s usual appearance fee.
Palestine Literature Festival: the price of attendance
Rafique Gangat reports at length in Gulf News on Kalimat, the Palestine Festival of Literature, which was held in in occupied Jerusalem, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Haifa in November. Kalimat, in the words of one of its co-ordinators, Mahmoud Muna, aims ‘to generate and widen existing discourses and practices of writing, shedding light on how writing can serve as an exercise in agency, humanism, creativity and resistance’.
The event was overshadowed by the detention and deportation by the Israeli authorities of bestselling Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa, author of Mornings in Jenin. After being denied entry to her homeland, and held in a prison cell, Abulhawa was flown back to the United States, she spoke via Skype to an audience in the Palestine Heritage Museum in Jerusalem:
‘There is no more appropriate place than Dar Al Tifel [the museum] to read this statement: the bitter irony of our condition is not lost on me. I, a daughter of the land, of a family rooted at least 900 years in the land, and who spent much of her childhood in Jerusalem, was being deported from her homeland by sons and daughters of recent arrivals, who came to Palestine mere decades ago with European-born ethos of racial Darwinism, invoking biblical fairy tales and divinely ordained entitlement. The true vulgarity is the way they have taken and continue to take everything from us, how they have carved out our hearts, stolen our everything, and occupied our history. I want to leave with one more thought I had in that jail cell. Israel is spiritually, emotionally, and culturally small, despite the large guns they point at us — or perhaps because of them. It is to their own detriment that they cannot accept our presence in our homeland, because our humanity remains intact and our art is beautiful and life-affirming, and we aren’t going anywhere but home.’
The patience of activism
Anthroboycott, the website of Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, republishes this, from Howard Zinn.
You do things again and again, and nothing happens. You have to do things, do things, do things: you have to light that match, light that match, light that match, not knowing how often it’s going to sputter and go out and at what point it’s going to take hold. . .Things take a long time. It requires patience, but not a passive patience–the patience of activism. . .We should be encouraged by historical examples of social change, by how surprising changes take place suddenly, when you least expect it, not because of a miracle from on high, but because people have laboured patiently for a long time. (Howard Zinn, The Historic Unfulfilled Promise , pp. 46-47).