The letter below criticises the UK government’s shameful ‘hostile environment’ policy, as it impacts on artists, and in particular artists from Gaza. Israel’s policies have brought Gaza to the brink of economic, social and ecological collapse. To refuse visas to individuals who use all their efforts to be productive and creative in the face of dire circumstances, largely brought about by Israeli policy, makes the UK an accomplice in a strategy of collective punishment.
*UK-based academics and artists can sign the letter here.*
*Photo: The play ‘Palestine: Year Zero’ cancelled a few days before premiere.
Our digest of news from Israel’s cultural war against the Palestinians
A word in the mayor’s ear
Last year, the ‘Cultural Loyalty’ Bill, which would have withdrawn funding from cultural productions deemed to be anti-Israel, failed to win the approval of the Knesset.
The Bill may have died, but its principles live on.
Ha’aretz (9thDecember 2018) reports that Avigdor Yitzakhi, head of Israel’s state-run lottery, has successfully pressured the mayor of Kabul, a Palestinian-majority town in the north of Israel, to cancel a play whose plot involves the demolition of Palestinian homes. Performances of ‘Palestine: Year Zero’ were cancelled a few days before its first performance.
- 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
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.
The writer-director of the acclaimed feature film ‘In Between’, one of the films programmed by the Seret London Israel Film & TV Festival, is one of 36 filmmakers and others to have signed a letter published in the Guardian today saying that UK cinemas should “uphold basic ethical standards” and refuse to provide a platform to “a regime that is guilty of systematic and large-scale human rights violations”. Maysaloun Hamoud has also withdrawn her film.
According to its website, the festival, which is supported by the Israeli Embassy and the World Zionist Organisation, intends to reflect Israel as a “melting pot of cultures, religions and backgrounds”. But Hamoud, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, said in a statement to Artists for Palestine UK:
“I do not want my film, or my name, to be used to portray an image of Israel as a “melting pot of cultures and religions”.
The arts, the filmmakers’ letter says, are “being employed to give an apparently acceptable face to a brutal reality”. They add that “Israel deliberately and routinely denies media freedom to Palestinians” citing the targeting of Palestinian journalists and photographers by Israeli forces.
Our regular report on Israel’s war on Palestinian cultural life and expression.
Dareen Tatour: languid oppression
The Israeli state continues its legal harassment of Dareen Tatour (Artswatch 2016 and 2017). Yoav Haifawi reports in +972 (17th December) that more than two years after her arrest in October 2015, the poet’s trial ‘drags on languidly’ in a Nazareth court with no end in sight. On Monday, December 4, the remand judge once again rejected her request to be released from the house arrest imposed on her ‘until the end of legal proceedings.’ Even when she is allowed to leave her house during the day, she must be accompanied at all times by a court-authorized custodian. Under such conditions it is clear, writes Haifawi, that she cannot work or live a normal life.
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’.
Our regular report on Israel’s war on Palestinian cultural life and expression.
[Pictured: Palestinian-American rapper and video-maker, Abu Rahss]
HOW ISRAEL MAINTAINS A FREE AND THRIVING PRESS
In May 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2222, on the protection of journalists in conflict situations. The resolution ‘condemned all violations and abuses committed against journalists, media professionals and associated personnel in situations of armed conflict’.
During the debate on the resolution, Israel’s delegate, David Roet, spoke in praise of his country, ‘a model for how a democratic nation, even while facing immense challenges could maintain a free and thriving press’.
In a statement released on Friday 28th July, the NGO Reporters sans Frontières condemned Israeli forces for using ‘intimidation, denial of access, violence and arrests to limit or prevent media coverage of the demonstrations and clashes sparked by the introduction of additional security measures around the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem’
In a statement released on 31st July, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a pre-dawn raid by Israeli forces on the headquarters of the media production company Palmedia. They ransacked Palmedia’s offices, and destroyed equipment.
In a statement released on 6th August, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Israel’s decision, announced by Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, to close Al-Jazeera’s offices in Israel, revoke the credentials of its journalists and censor its transmissions.
‘Artswatch’ is a regular digest that monitors attacks on Palestinian cultural life, creative resistance, and cultural interventions in Israel-Palestine. In this edition:
* Pinkwashing rejected
* The trial of Dareen Tatour
* The detention of Abu Sakha
* The banning of International Women’s Day
* A war of aggression on Amazon
* Ten years of PalFest
* On the red carpet in Gaza
* Regev’s dress at Cannes
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.
Gaza’s celebrated Dawaween refused exit permits [photo Shadi Alqarra]
Borders closed to musicians from Gaza
Israel opens the door to Western performers, but as far as Palestinian artists are concerned, the borders are closed. Middle East Eye (23rd August) reports on two cases where singers and musicians from Gaza have been denied access to other parts of occupied Palestine. Decisions made by the Israeli authorities have prevented the ‘Palestine Sings’ children’s choir from performing at the Palestine Choral Festival, while Gaza’s most popular band, Dawaween, was not given the exit permits that would have allowed it to perform at the Palestine International Festival. The band responded with a protest performance at the Erez border point between Israel and Gaza. The full story is here.
Cement and Children’s Art
The German company HeidelbergCement owns quarries and cement works in the West Bank, extracting Palestinian natural resources, and transferring them to Israel. Meanwhile, back in the city of Heidelberg where the company’s head office is located, the authorities have banned, according to the German press, an exhibition of paintings and drawings entitled “Experiences, Fears and Dreams – Children in Palestine.” The event was supposed to host drawings from two rehabilitation centres in Gaza and Ramallah. Some of the pieces depicted aerial bombing and burning buildings. The city authorities explained that the exhibition was highly political, whereas the city was committed to neutrality.
In 2002, Mohammed Bakri made a film – ‘Jenin, Jenin’ – about the people of Jenin refugee camp, in which they told what happened to them during the Israeli invasion of April 2002.It was banned by the Israeli film censorship board. Though the ban was subsequently lifted, the persecution of Bakri did not stop. Ex-members of the Israeli Defence Force took legal action against him for defamation; screenings of his films have been disrupted, and his stage appearances have been the focus of protests by the Israeli right. In a comment piece in Ha’aretz (3rd August, firewall) Bakri refers to the years of boycott and ostracism that he has experienced, and challenges Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim to be a force for peace:
‘How can I believe your statements when on the ground the occupation continues to flourish, and plans for building thousands of apartments for Israeli Jews in the West Bank are published day after day?’
Flying while Palestinian
Ha’aretz reports (28th July ) that Israeli Palestinian actress Samar Qupty has written on Facebook about being delayed for two hours by security inspectors at Ben-Gurion Airport and forced to board her flight without her carry-on baggage.
Qupty, star of the Israeli film “Junction 48,” arrived at the airport for a flight to Colombia, where the film was being screened at a local film festival. Airport security refused to let her bring her carry-ons aboard.
“I don’t know how I dared to think I had a right to fly to Colombia,” she wrote. “After all, it’s not clear what an Arab woman is going to do there by herself.”
Mohammed Abu Sakha – update (see Artswatch July)
The Palestinian Prisoner Network, Samidoun, reported on 27th July that Mohammed Abu Sakha, circus performer and trainer, had joined a prison hunger strike in support of Bilal Kayed. Kayed is protesting against his imprisonment without trial. Sakha, likewise, is an administrative detainee, whose case has not been taken to court. The Palestinian Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association noted on 25th August, that Sakha’s appeal against administrative detention had been turned down.
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”.