Artswatch Palestine: August-September 2017

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’.

Hrag Vatanian, in a long review for Hyperallergenic, writes that he ‘left the museum thrilled to see this new art institution participating in the formation of a new and continually evolving Palestinian identity, one formed through a connection to the land. ‘ But Vatanian also notes the restrictions under which the Museum labours. ‘Until Israel recognize[s] most of the Unesco protocols which protect imported goods in the museum world,’ Museum Chairperson Omar Al Qattan said in 2016, “we can’t really bring anything in except under consular or ambassadorial cover, which means it’s always going to be a problem borrowing or exchanging exhibition objects.”

The Theatre Festival in Acre: there is no Alternative

 June-July Artswatch reported that playwrights, directors and other artists had announced their withdrawal from the Acre Festival of Alternative Theatre, in which they were scheduled to take part in October 2017. Their withdrawal was a response to the decision of the festival organizers to ban the play ‘Prisoners of the Occupation’ by Einat Weitzman.

In June, a new director was appointed, Moni Yosef, who was willing to break ranks with his colleagues.

The repertoire put in place by Yosef mirrors the cultural priorities of the government. The festival schedule included two plays by groups from Israel’s illegal settlements.  At the same time, comments Yair Ashkenazi, in Haaretz,(15th September) ‘it’s hard not to notice that [with one exception] the new repertoire includes no Palestinian works, artists or actors.’

Yair Ashkenazi asked Yosef whether the change in repertoire was related to Culture Minister Miri Regev’s assertion that there’s no place for the Palestinian narrative at the Acre Festival.

“God forbid!’ replied Yosef, ‘Ask her that. She doesn’t interfere in my content.’

The ramifications of Dareen Tatour

 The episodic trial of poet Dareen Tatour continues – the next hearing is scheduled for 9th November. Meanwhile, her persecution continues to reverberate, Dreyfus-like, through Israeli culture.

In early September, the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa hosted an event calling for the release of Tatour. Her poems were read, and a short film she had directed was shown.

The Ministry of Culture, at the behest of culture minister Regev, responded by threatening to eliminate funding to the theatre.(Regev herself filed a complaint with the police. Its threat has been taken further by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. Kahlon, reports Sue Surkes in the Times of Israel (6th September) is poised to reduce the theatre’s funding – apparently the first time the Treasury has involved itself in censoring cultural institutions. Kahlon has begun the process of defunding by inviting the theatre’s directors and managers to a hearing.

A final decision about cutting the government budget for the theatre group will be made later this year. The Times of Israel adds that the Finance Ministry is also looking at four other events, including a screening organised by Breaking the Silence with a view to withholding their funds.

Not the Radiohead Experience

A musician from East Jerusalem said Israeli officials jeopardised his band’s UK tour last week by withholding his electric guitar at security at Ben-Gurion Airport

Apo Sahagian, the lead singer of Apo and the Apostles [pictured], said security officials held his guitar back for further testing, promising that it would be on the next EasyJet flight to Luton, but after three days there was still no sign.

“I don’t understand,” said Sahagian, speaking to Jewish News on August 29th. “I don’t know why they made a big deal. They asked me where my band is from, I said Bethlehem, maybe they got suspicious. I’m an East Jerusalumite – they treat us like a virus. They were just being a**holes. There’s no explanation security-wise.”

Sahagian, an Armenian, managed to complete the band’s UK tour by borrowing a guitar.

“It’s a psychological burden,” he said, explaining that he has an Israeli ID and Israeli travel documents. “They treat you like a virus that they have to quarantine. There’s no doubt that it’s because I’m from E Jerusalem. We’re treated as if we’re the worst kind of foreigner.”

Photo: Palestinian band Apo and the Apostles (credit:FACEBOOK)

 

Artswatch Palestine: June-July 2017

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.

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Artswatch Palestine: April-May 2017

‘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

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Save the First Drama School in Palestine from Closure

Those who saw Ramallah-based Ashtar Theatre’s production of Richard II at the Globe in 2012 will long remember it. Now Ashtar is faced with financial crisis. The theatre needs to raise £40,000 to keep its premises open. It has launched an appeal for funds. Ashtar’s reputation is global, and its work is aimed at creating international solidarities. Its ‘Gaza Monologues’ have brought the voices of Gaza’s children to audiences across the world. It recently launched the ‘Syrian Monologues’ to draw attention to the Syrian refugee crisis and to ‘fight the war machine that turns people to numbers and casualties’.  

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Artswatch Palestine: February-March 2017

Introduction
‘Artswatch’ is a regular digest that monitors attacks on Palestinian cultural life. Such attacks are a constant and shocking part of  a long-term campaign that attempts to undermine Palestinian collective identity and resilience. The pattern of this systemic abuse is overlooked by the mainstream media,  yet is testimony to the fact that  ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘free cultural exchange’ are privileges that have never been extended to Palestinians by Israel. This fact demands an urgent response from international artists in particular.

[Photo: T Suárez. Palestine Philharmonie: Amandine Beyer demonstrating a phrase to (left to right) Lamar Elias, Carol Ibrahim, Gandhi Saad, and Lourdina Baboun. ]

raiding jenin

Rania Wasfi, program coordinator at The Freedom Theatre, whose home was turned over by the army.

The Jenin Freedom Theatre website reported on 27th March a raid by Israeli soldiers on the home of its co-ordinator, Rania Wasfi.

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ARTSWATCH December 2016 – January 2017

Regev Watch

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

Call for support for ‘Ambulance’ director Mohamed Jabaly

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.

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Mohammad Abu Sakha: in prison for making children happy

***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.

by HANNAH PRYTHERCH

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

One Hundred Years and Counting: Britain, Balfour, and the Cultural Repression of Palestinians

by Aimée Shalan
 

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.

 

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Mohammed Bakri, actor

ARTSWATCH November 2016

The dangers of satire

blog by ‘John Brown’ in +972 magazine (27thNovember) reports on recent experiences of the Bedouin blogger Anas Abudaabes.

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 Weeklyreports 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.

ARTSWATCH October 2016

‘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.

‘Beautiful resistance’ meets cynical culture-washing on Edinburgh Fringe

 

Best singers

Alrowwad singers. Picture by Phil Chetwynd

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.

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Artists for Palestine UK protests Brand Israel on the Fringe

Palestinian youngsters from Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe in August

Palestinian youngsters from Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

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”.

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Threat of 800 lashes hangs over Palestinian poet in Saudi jail

Palestinian artist, curator and poet Ashraf Fayadh is serving an eight year term in a Saudi jail, sentenced to receive 800 lashes for alleged apostasy. Here a member of the Artists for Palestine UK collective reviews the significance of this alarming case.

Ashraf Fayadh

Ashraf Fayadh

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Israel’s war on Palestinian media – Why no protest from the UK government?

In March 2016, Israel continued its assault on Palestinian media organisations by closing down the TV station, Palestine Today, and arresting some of its staff. The British government, so vocal at other times in its defence of ‘democratic values’, responded only with silence.  The APUK collective sent this letter to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, to request that he apply the principles that apparently underpin his government’s domestic policy, to relations with Britain’s allies overseas. We await a reply.

Israeli troops invading Palestinian radio station. Picture:Palestine News Network.

Israeli troops invading Palestinian radio station. Picture:Palestine News Network.

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Freedom Theatre defies all odds to tell their “absolutely compelling” story

Discussion with The Freedom Theatre from Jenin

As the Freedom Theatre’s first ever UK tour draws to a close, we are proud to be able to post a short film (27 minutes) offering insights into the experience of members of the company, and also the audiences who have flocked to see The Siege at 10 venues from Manchester to Hastings, Colchester to Glasgow, where the tour ends on June 20.

The play tells the story of a group of armed men who sought sanctuary in arguably the world’s holiest site, the Church of the Holy Nativity, in Bethlehem in 2002. Based in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, Freedom Theatre rose out of the resistance to Israeli occupation, survived the brutal killing of its founder Juliano Mer Khamis, and continues to exemplify Palestinian cultural resistance in the face of intimidation and harrassment, which even followed it to the UK.

Filmed at the post-performance panel discussion after their first show at London’s Battersea Arts Centre on May 19, the video makes inspiring viewing for supporters of Palestinian artistic expression, whether or not they have seen the play itself. Continue reading

Palestinian artists speak: boycott directed against apartheid system of occupation & discrimination

My name is Abdelfattah Abusrour. I am director of Alrowwad cultural and theatre training society, which I founded with a group of friends in 1998 in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, Occupied Palestine, where I was born, to create a safe space of beautiful expression, a philosophy that I call beautiful resistance against the ugliness of occupation and its violence… and to help our children and youth to see their potential as change makers, without needing to carry a gun and shoot everybody else…

In May 2002, Alrowwad theatre centre was vandalised by the Israeli army. They broke our video cameras and computers, and emptied oil and acrylic painting tubes all over the space. During our tours in the West Bank, many checkpoints forbid us passage with our theatre or dance shows and our play bus. We wait for hours, sometimes without being allowed to pass south to Hebron or to the north. No access is granted to Gaza, to East Jerusalem or 1948 Palestine.

Theatre and arts are about giving a voice to those who are not heard, and defending what we believe is just and right… That is why for me as an artist, as a theatre practitioner, I boycott every relation with Israeli artists or academics or politicians… Continue reading

Theatre director Jonathan Chadwick: BDS crucially important element in resistance

Jonathan Chadwick – artistic director of Az Theatre, and a Pledge signatory – has written a blog post about his recent trip to the West Bank, which we think is worth sharing:

I went to Palestine on Saturday 7th February and came back on Sunday 15th February. I failed to get into Gaza to pursue the work on War and Peace.

Caryl Churchill and I worked on her recent play, Love and Information, at Ashtar Theatre. The British Council accommodated us. The Royal Court Theatre provided finance for the translation. We paid for the travel and did the work for free. It was our contribution, like planting a play in Palestine! Continue reading

UK theatre director blogs his trip to Palestine

Jonathan Chadwick is artistic director of Az Theatre:

The aim was to visit my colleagues in Gaza in order to pursue our project to create an original new Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in Gaza. Now it looks quite unlikely that I will get permission from the Israelis. But I will still be going to the West Bank.

… Theatre for Everybody in Gaza have produced a good Arabic translation of a stage adaptation that was produced in the 1950 in Germany. We have presented two events as benefits to finance the work. Both events were at Rich Mix. One in September and the other in January. At both these events there were readings of stage adaptations of Tolstoy’s works and skype conversations with our colleagues in Gaza.

The work in Gaza has been held up by the recent ‘war’ and the subsequent ‘peace’. The situation there is dreadful. We thought that if I visited Gaza and worked with Theatre for Everybody it would get things moving and it would help to break down the isolation they feel.

He will be joined by playwright Caryl Churchill: Continue reading