Miri Regev, Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport, has commented , 27th December, on the change of presidency in the United States: ‘Obama is history,’ said Regev. ‘We have Trump.’
Christian Viveros-Fauné, writing in Artnet, suggests that ‘like Trump, the Likud politician consistently engages in a brazen, counter-factual brand of right-wing populism’. Viveros-Fauné charts the growing scope of Regev’s ‘war against culture’ noting inter alia that:
‘At least one major institution, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, has already found itself in the crossfire. As reported in February 2016 by Shany Littman at Haaretz, its director and chief curator Suzanne Landau recently “called off an exhibit by Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei and Israeli photographer Miki Kratsman because of political pressures.” Kratsman’s contribution to the show, which was scheduled to open in November 2016, consisted of a Harvard University-funded series of 3,000 portraits of Palestinians he met on his travels to the Occupied Territories. Many of the photographer’s portrait subjects have since been killed in clashes with Israeli Defense Forces. When [the reporter] reached Landau for comment, the curator cited “scheduling problems.”’
Habima and Ashtar: tales from two theatres Continue reading
ARTISTS FOR PALESTINE UK STATEMENT
The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and the Norwegian Immigration Tribunal have refused to grant Palestinian film-maker Mohamed Jabaly a work visa to allow him to tour with his first film, Ambulance (2016), and to make a second film with his Norwegian producers, in Tromsø, Norway. Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) is shocked at this decision, calls on the Norwegian government to rescind it, and invites others to join in this call.
***UPDATE Amnesty International briefing:
END ADMINISTRATIVE DETENTION OF CIRCUS PERFORMER.
“…Amnesty International fears that the Israeli authorities – as they have done in many other such cases – are using administrative detention as a method of punishing Mohammad Faisal Abu Sakha without prosecuting him, which would amount to arbitrary detention. Israel’s use of administrative detention itself may amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, given the detainee’s inability to know why they are being detained or when they will be released.” 14.12.2016
On December 12th, at a hearing that he was not permitted to attend , the Administrative detention of 24 year-old Palestinian circus trainer and performer Mohammad Abu Sakha (pictured, on left) was renewed for an additional 6 months. Abu Sakha has been imprisonment in Israeli jails without charge or trial for a year. The following article first appeared in Open Democracy on December 9th 2016, a few days before the court hearing.
One year after he was arrested by Israeli forces, Palestinian circus teacher Mohammad Abu Sakha is still behind bars, and without charges.
I have a sense of deja-vu. One year ago, when I spent the Christmas period desperately contacting news agencies, begging them to publish a story about a friend of mine, Mohammad Abu Sakha, who had been arrested without charge, I didn’t expect that come December 2016, I would be sitting here in the same place, doing it all over again. I guess I was naïve then. I thought that others, if only they knew, would share my outrage at this injustice. And collective outrage would spark change. So all I needed to do was tell people, shine a light on the situation and it would change. A year on, I’ve learned a lot about the way in which power, politics and the personal psyche work together to facilitate and maintain social injustice. Continue reading
First published by Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network, this illuminating report looks at the repression of Palestinian cultural expression by Israel and collusion and censorship here in the UK by British government ministers. It traces this relationship all the way back to the wording of the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The briefing offers an essential perspective for understanding Israel’s attempts to erase the Palestinian past and future, and proposes practical steps groups such as ours can take here in the UK to end the silencing of Palestinian voices and perspectives.
The dangers of satire
The wild fires that swept through Northern Israel in mid-November provoked some Facebook posters in neighbouring countries into words of celebration. Abudaabes responded satirically, writing that the way to earn the respect of posters like these would obviously be to light more fires.
In paranoid and authoritarian states, satire is often a weapon that endangers the satirist. Israel’s legal system chose to take the words of Abudaabes literally, as an incitement to arson. On 25th November, Judge Alon Gabison ruled that there was reasonable suspicion that the post included incitement to harming state security, and that the author of the post should have thought about how others would interpret his words. A judge in a higher court speedily confirmed this ruling. Abudaabes, freed on bail, was placed under house arrest for five days and not allowed to use Facebook for 15 days.
The episode suggests that in addition to the multitude of other restrictions it imposes on the right of Palestinians to free expression, the Israeli state has now moved on to proscribing certain kinds of literary genre. If you are a Palestinian, do not be a satirist.
The continuing ordeal of Dareen Tatour
In June and July, Artswatch reported on the situation of Dareen Tatour, jailed and then placed under house arrest for poems and other writing that she posted on Facebook. In November, PEN International took up Dareen’s case, featuring her as one of the ‘Imprisoned Writers’, whose freedom it is demanding. On 24th November, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, reported that the court that is hearing her case will reconvene on 26th January – and that Dareen’s period of house arrest has been extended accordingly. Dareen faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence, as Israel continues to escalate its war against a militant Palestinian presence on social media.
Fighting back against Facebook
Charlotte Silver reports on Electronic Intifada (16th November) that Palestinian groups have joined with black and civil rights activists in the US to protest against the increasing tendency of Facebook – documented in September Artswatch – to block material at the behest of states. ‘Facebook’, a spokeswoman for the Oakland-based Center for Media Justice told the Guardian, is ‘a platform where people are documenting human rights injustices and breaking news’, yet for both black activists and Palestinians, it is a platform which is getting narrower by the month.
Confirming the CMJ’s claim, Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, reports that Facebook has granted 95 percent of Israel’s 158 requests to remove content in the last four months. Alongside this persistent pressure on internet companies, Israel continues to persecute individuals. Palestinian journalist Khalid Maaliimprisoned on the basis of his social media posts, was released by court order in mid-November – but only on the condition that he turn over his laptop to Israeli occupation forces and close his Facebook account, as well as paying a fine of $1700.
Miri Regev and the absolute politicisation of culture
Writing on AlJazeera’s website, Jonathan Cook (10th November) catalogues the long list of interventions made by Israel’s far-right culture minister, Miri Regev, since she took office 18 months ago. Aiming to ‘silence the Palestinian narrative’ Regev has been swift to denounce the broadcasting and performance of poems about the Palestinian experience. At the same time, she is completely explicit that Israeli cultural institutions should see themselves as arms of the Israeli state, supporting its policies: theatre companies which refuse to perform in the occupied territories will find themselves under-funded (see Artswatch October).
Cook notes that Regev’s efforts are increasingly successful: ‘people are starting to self-censor’, says the Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar, ‘the worst kind of censorship’. Yet, Cook concludes, there may be one positive side to Regev’s activities: for decades, those who have wanted to protect Israel from cultural boycott have argued that ‘culture’ exists in a different realm to ‘politics’, and that the border between them should not be crossed. Tenuous at the best of times, under Regev this claim has lost all credibility: in a society where culture has become just another channel for the politics of occupation, the case for boycott is strengthened.
The occupying power bans the call to prayer
Cultural repression is not limited to theatre and poetry. Middle East Monitor reports that the Israeli government is supporting the passage through parliament of a bill that will criminalise the use in occupied East Jerusalem of the loudspeakers that call Palestinian Muslims to prayer. The proposed ban is another step in the removal of the cultural presence of Palestinians from the occupied city: just as homes are demolished, so the material signs of Palestinian culture are effaced. Commenting on the move, Arab-Israeli MP Haneen Zoabi said that the proposed law was an attempt to change the culture and life in the occupied city. “This is part of the culture of the Arabic city and has been there since before the Israeli occupation,” she said. “For those, who are not happy with it, they have to go back home to Europe.”
Ashraf Fayadh – his poems translated
The Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, convicted of heresy, remains a prisoner in a Saudi jail (see Artswatch June and Artswatch July). The US publication Publishers Weekly, reports that English-speaking readers can now read his poems in a new collection, ‘Instructions Within’, produced by the independent publishing house, The Operating System.
Mohammed Bakri, actor – sign the petition
In August, Artswatch reported on the continuing persecution of actor and film-maker Mohammed Bakri, director of ‘Jenin, Jenin’. The Avaaz petition in support of Mohammed can be signed here.
‘The National Puppet Theatre of Israel’
Habima, Israel’s National Theatre, has announced that in mid-November it will put on a show in Kiryat Arba. Kiryat Arba is a settlement in territory illegally occupied by Israel, and a place which, in the words of an editorial in Ha’aretz (26th October), ‘has become a symbol of the injustices of the occupation and the settlements’.
Habima has performed in the occupied territories before – notably in Ariel in 2012. Then, the theatre’s co-director, Odelia Friedman, stated ‘Habima will perform for all residents of Israel. Residents of Ariel are residents of Israel and Habima will stage shows for them.’ Habima has now reaffirmed its support for occupation, again in the language of national inclusion. According to Ha’aretz, it ‘rejects with repugnance any call to exclude citizens and to exclude communities, and condemns any attempt at a cultural boycott in any place where Israeli citizens live’. Supporting the state-funded theatre, Israel’s culture minister, Miri Regev, said: ‘the decision to perform for the first time in Hebron exemplifies the national theatre’s being a central pioneer in treating all citizens of the state as equal in their right to experience culture.’
Ha’aretz describes the decision as ‘a moral stain worthy of condemnation’ and describes Habima as the ‘national puppet theatre of the Israeli state’.
Habima’s latest actions confirm the timeliness of the ‘apology video’ produced by Norwegian artists, directed at the collaboration of Norway’s national theatre with Habima, and calling for European theatres to break their links to the Israeli company. (See Artswatch September).
Palestinian children dance in Sheffield – and are arrested by Israel
The Sheffield Star (16th October) reports that three 14 year old boys, dancers in the Lajee Dance Troupe, have been arrested in a night raid by the Israeli military. The Lajee Centre is located in the Aida refugee camp, a settlement of 6000 people surrounded on two sides by Israel’s separation wall.
In October last year, an Israeli army sniper killed 13 year-old Abed al-Rahman Obeidallah in the streets of the camp. This year, attacks by the Israeli army on the Lajee Centre have escalated since August, when Celtic football fans raised over £170,000 divided between the Centre and Medical Aid for Palestinians. On 19th September, soldiers attacked the Lajee Centre with teargas and rubber bullets. The following night they forced open the gate of the centre, threw tear gas grenades inside and closed the gate, trapping children inside, forcing them to inhale toxic teargas.
The three boys have been released on bail but will be tried by an Israeli military court. In April this year 414 children under 18 were held in military detention by Israel; year on year, the number is rising.
The Art of Silencing: Berlin
The Berlin Festival ‘After the Last Sky’ (September-October 2016) brought together theatre, film, performance, literature, spoken word, dramatic readings, music, and dance, in events dedicated to the ‘artistic diversity of Palestinian narratives and visions’. In the words of its opening statement, it asked ‘what can we understand about our universal human condition through the example of Palestine and Palestinian narratives?’
Inna Michaeli, blogging for the magazine +972, writes that ‘After The Last Sky’ has been attacked as antisemitic and as an instance of ‘Israel hounding’ by right-wing press commentators – and also by a leader of the German Left Party, Die Linke. Klaus Lederer, party president in Berlin, quoted in Die Tagesspiegel, 21st October, claims that in referring to ‘apartheid’ and ‘colonialism’, the event has crossed the line between culture and propaganda. The decision of city government institutions to fund the event has been called into question.
Michaeli notes that ‘the very existence of Palestinian identity and culture’ is construed as antisemitic. The politics of Miri Regev have taken root in Berlin.
Even the dead are not safe
Writing in Electronic Intifada, 3rd November, Charlotte Silver reports that the Israeli Antiquities Authority has been outsourcing the management of major archaeological excavations and sites in Jerusalem to Elad, ‘a private organization that settles Jews in the militarily occupied eastern part of the city in violation of international law’. Elad manages the so-called City of David, a settlement containing an archaeological museum catering to tourists.
With the backing of the Israeli government, notes the alternative archaeology group Emek Shaveh, Elad is engaged in a double project: attempting to construct an historical narrative that emphasises the identity of Jerusalem as a Jewish city, while erasing artifacts from other cultures and wrecking the Palestinian heritage. At the same time, the requirements of archaeological research and recreation, are put forward as a reason for destroying Palestinian homes.
Palestinian rapper performs, is booed on stage following Regev ‘terror’ accusations.
Rapper Tamer Nafar, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, performed at the Haifa Community Theatre Festival in October – despite calls from Israel’s Culture Minister to cancel his performance. Regev had opined that ‘public funds should not support activity that undermines the state, its values and symbols in the name of art and freedom of speech’ and accused Nafar of writing lyrics that legitimated terrorism . ‘I won’t let them silence me’, said Nafar, as ‘protestors in the audience booed at him and even gave him the middle finger, lifting up hands wrapped in the Israeli flag’. ‘And to those of you yelling and trying to ruin this,’ he added, ‘I can’t even bring myself to hate you’.
Palestinians invade Israel in new video posted by Israel’s Foreign Ministry
Allison Kaplan Sommer, blogging in Ha’aretz (7th October), criticises a new propaganda film posted by Israel’s foreign ministry. Sommer notes that the film ‘takes liberties’ with history, is insulting, and possibly racist. The film presents Jewish links with the territory of Israel as unshared and unbroken. Other peoples, from Babylonians, to Greeks, to Arabs, to Ottomans are presented as a succession of invaders and interlopers. In the last scene of the film, the final group of aliens arrive: they are Palestinian.
Below the line commentators on her blog are forthright:
‘That the Israeli government would go out of its way to offend intelligent people with garbage like this is beyond belief’.
By the beginning of October, the film had received 150,000 views and had been shared more than 3,000 times.
The Edinburgh Fringe’s renowned open platform for all forms of artistic expression produced a curious juxtaposition this year, as Palestinians deployed creativity to shatter the bonds of political repression while Israeli state apologists cloaked a discredited political message in threadbare cultural clothing.
The gulf between the two was demonstrated in the pages of Scotland’s press, the airwaves and in the streets, as well as in performance and display spaces across the city.
Artists for Palestine UK has written to the organisers of the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe enclosing a letter of protest from the founder of Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, over the inclusion on the Fringe programme of an event billed as “probably the most significant pro-Israel advocacy event of the year in the United Kingdom”.