Artswatch Palestine: October – December 2017

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.

Solidarity with Tatour is growing. PEN America has made her a ‘featured case’: her trial, in which the state seeks to prove that her work incites terrorism, ‘not only threatens principles of free expression for Palestinian authors, but [is] an attempt by the Israeli government to litigate the meaning of a piece of literature’.

Some of Tatour’s work is collected in A Blade of Grass, an anthology of New Palestinian Poetry in Arabic and English, edited by Naomi Foyle, ‘poems that bear witness both to catastrophe, and to the powerful determination to survive it’. Also represented is the work of Saudi prisoner Ashraf Fayadh, who like Tatour has faced legal penalty as a result of his poetry (see Artswatch June and July 2016).

Regev in Hebron

 On 24th December, Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev laid the cornerstone of a ‘Founder’s Museum’ in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank. According to Eliran Aharon in Israeli National News, Regev used the occasion to deny the existence of Palestinian culture and history. ‘The more you dig here,’ she said, ‘the more you find that there is no Palestinian history … and no connection [between the land] and the Palestinian Arab people.’ ‘This land, ‘ Regev explained, has a connection with only one people – the Jewish people – and therefore we will stay here forever.’

Hebron has a population of over 200,000 Palestinians and between 500 and 850 Jewish settlers. In the centre of the city, reports the human rights organisation Btselem, ‘Palestinians are subjected to extreme movement restrictions and hundreds of businesses have been shut down’. Violence by settlers and security forces, ‘has made life intolerable for Palestinians, leading to a mass exodus and the economic ruin of the downtown area. Israeli authorities are promoting ‘the driving out of Palestinians from Hebron’s city centre’.

Erasing Lydda

 In the Nakba of 1948, 49,000 of Lydda’s 50,000 inhabitants were forcibly expelled from the city by Israeli forces. The buildings have remained, until now.

Nir Hasson reports in Ha’aretz (6th November) that renovation/demolition work in Lydda (Lod, al-Ludd) threatens to erase its Arab past. Most of the structures from pre-1948 Lydda were built after 1700, with some being built on the foundations of older buildings. Protestors say the Israeli Antiquities Authority didn’t check each structure to see if this was the case before it was demolished.

In Hasson’s report rapper, political activist and Lod resident Tamer Nafar calls the move ‘another blow to my Arab and Islamic heritage. Lod is made up of all kinds of people, a tapestry of colours. Rather than letting it be composed of all the colours, some of these colours are being erased.’

‘This is part and parcel of the exclusion of Arabs from the public space,’ said another Lod activist Ghassan Munair. ‘We’re in favour of development, but it’s known that Lod is built atop the city underneath. If they would have found the tailbone of a Jewish dog, they would have halted everything,” he added. ‘The city is counting on the people here not protesting because they’re too busy just trying to put food on the table.’

The State against Memory

Zochrot (‘remembering’ in Hebrew) is an Israeli NGO that has worked since 2002 ‘to promote acknowledgement and accountability for the ongoing injustices of the Nakba’. In December, it organised its fifth international film festival, From Nakba to Return, hosted at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque and the Left Bank Cine club. The Middle East Monitor (17th November) reported that Culture Minister Regev ‘has asked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to see if the Cinematheque can be fined for its part in the film festival. “While Israel is celebrating 70 years, the [Tel Aviv] Cinematheque State is trying to remember and sanctify the Nakba. Not on my watch,” said Regev.

The outcome of the threat to the Cinematheque is not known.

Olga Gershenson, writing in Tikkun, reviewed one of the festival films, Looted and Hidden, by Israeli curator and art historian Rona Sela. ‘It’s super-dense with images and stories’ writes Gershenson, ‘but basically, it’s about several Palestinian photo and film archives, that were stolen by Israelis in 1948, in 1967, and in 1982, from PLO research centre and from a Cinema Center in Beirut. The good thing is that the audience gets to see tons of these documents–family photos, studio portraits, battle snapshots, pictures of atrocities, etc, along with snippets of narrative films, army reports, news footage, and even an excerpt from a Soviet anti-Zionist documentary. This plenitude is both a blessing and a curse–a curse because in 45 minutes, it’s impossible to contextualize all these still and moving images, tell what’s behind them, AND let them speak on their own terms. It took Rona Sela, a Jewish Israeli with a stubborn mind and legal assistance, over 10 years to even get access to these visual documents. All of them are locked up in the Israeli archives, with absolutely no hope for them to ever be open, especially in the current political climate. What a paradox it is, that it takes an Israeli to recover the hidden visual history of Palestinians–a Palestinian, obviously, would not stand a chance in the tightly censored IDF archives’.

The First Steps to Liberty

 The Palestinian artist Abdul Rahman Katanani has a major exhibition in Paris (December 17-January 18). Katanani was born in 1983 in the refugee camp of Sabra, a few months after the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

The central installation in the exhibition, says the Magda Danysz Gallery, ‘is a scale 1 refugee camp street, an interactive piece entirely made with recycled material. The viewer can enter inside and wander. He is then reflected dozens of times by the mirrors lining the passage, giving the impression of being multiplied and cramped in the structure. A surveillance video [of the viewer’s movements]  is projected in the basement of the gallery, in black and white and in slow motion, a “co-wandering” in the work. In black and white: there are no colors in the camp. In slow motion: the image, ghostly and stretched, evolves to be lost in a forest somewhere in the depths of space.’

Marie-Laure Desjardins has written about the exhibition, and interviewed Katanani. His work, she writes, ‘immerses us in the architecture of his childhood, that of the refugee camp where he was born, in Sabra, Beirut, Lebanon.

– What kind of child were you?

– I was a child who played a lot. I remember lots of games. Shouting. We used to have fun. It’s the first stage on the road to freedom.

– Freedom? What idea can you have of freedom when you are born in a camp? Is that the only thing you thought about? Necessity must have been elsewhere?

– The main thing was to eat, to look after yourself. Our lives were blocked off. There was no possibility of work.

Since his adolescence, Abdul Rahman Katanani has been a committed, an engaged artist. In pencil he draws caricatures and posts them on a wall in the camp. He’s discovered in this resistance a way of expressing his ideas, of existing. To talk of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is to touch on a difficult subject: it’s almost taboo. But art can speak where silence rules: ‘I was drawing to change things. Always against the occupation, against corruption, against borders.’

Intimate Spaces: Rana Samara

 Naima Morelli, in Middle East Monitor (17th December) writes about the art of the Palestinian artist Rana Samara. Working in Al-Amari Refugee Camp, Samara’s topic is intimacy: love and sex, and also ‘connection, comfort and feeling at home’.

Samara’s ‘Intimate Space’ series, was presented recently by Ramallah’s Zawyeh Gallery, and she has continued to work around that theme.’All the artists are talking about the political struggle in Palestine,’ says Samara.; I’m doing that too, but through a different lens’. Her paintings, videos, installations and embroidery evoke human relations in a society of confinement – in ‘condensed spaces that afford almost no privacy’.

Seeds

 Bozour Culture and Arts is a theatre group in Gaza, created after the Israeli attack of 2014 and led by three women – Wissam El-Dirawie, Manal Barakat and Ola Salem Deeb. ‘We had collected women’s stories from the war,’ co-director Manal Barakat explained to Rami Almaghari in Electronic Intifada, ‘and we wanted to present them to the outside world.’ Prevented from travelling to perform in Ramallah, on the West Bank, the women decided to create their own company in Gaza. Bozour means ‘seeds’.

Their first production, Gaza will become a Better Place, is a play that depicts Gaza as a place from which young people want – desperately – to leave and are willing to risk drowning at sea to do so.  ‘Ultimately’, writes Almaghari, ‘the play suggests that there is reason to stay.’

Radiance of Resistance

 Samidoun, the Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network reports that the 16 year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi will be brought before a military court on 15th January, the latest of over 450 Palestinians arrested by Israeli occupation forces following Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Approximately half of those detained are children.

Ahed’s father, Bassem, has written in Ha’aretz (31st December), about his daughter:

‘Several months ago, on a trip to South Africa, we screened for an audience a video [Radiance of Resistance] documenting the struggle of our village, Nabi Saleh, against Israel’s forced rule. When the lights came back on, Ahed stood up to thank the people for their support. When she noticed that some of the audience members had tears in their eyes, she said to them : “We may be victims of the Israeli regime, but we are just as proud of our choice to fight for our cause, despite the known cost. We knew where this path would lead us, but our identity, as a people and as individuals, is planted in the struggle, and draws its inspiration from there. Beyond the suffering and daily oppression of the prisoners, the wounded and the killed, we also know the tremendous power that comes from belonging to a resistance movement ; the dedication, the love, the small sublime moments that come from the choice to shatter the invisible walls of passivity.

“I don’t want to be perceived as a victim, and I won’t give their actions the power to define who I am and what I’ll be. I choose to decide for myself how you will see me. We don’t want you to support us because of some photogenic tears, but because we chose the struggle and our struggle is just. This is the only way that we’ll be able to stop crying one day.’

 [Photo by Tania Traboulsi: Abdul Rahman Katanani, artist, in his studio]

Leading artists stand with Lorde

More than 100 artists including leading lights in film, theatre, literature, and music  have come together to sign a statement of support for the singer, songwriter and record producer Lorde. While signatories to the letter, which is published on the Guardian’s letter page, may hold a range of positions on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), they are united in their defence of the right to freedom of conscience.
[Photo: Perou for the Guardian]

 

Letter in support of Lorde

We write in support of Lorde, who made public her decision not to perform in Israel and has now been branded a “bigot” in a full page advertisement in the Washington Post (Guardian, 1 January 2018).

Shmuley Boteach, the author and promoter of the advert, supports Israel’s illegal settlements and wrote last month on Breitbart to thank Donald Trump for “electrifying the world” with his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in defiance of international law. He has nothing to teach artists about human rights. 

We deplore the bullying tactics being used to defend injustice against Palestinians and to suppress an artist’s freedom of conscience. We support Lorde’s right to take a stand.

Signed by:

Khalid Abdalla actor
Tunde Adebimpe musician
Rachel Aggs musician
Yasmine Al Massri actor
Kevin Allen screenwriter, director
Amir Amirani filmmaker
Adjoa Andoh actor
Frankie Armstrong singer
Conrad Atkinson artist, emeritus professor
Sarah Beddington artist
Yves Berger painter
Caroline Bergvall writer, artist
Nicholas Blincoe writer
Leah Borromeo filmmaker
Jonathan Burrows choreographer
David Calder actor
Julie Christie actor
Ian Christie film historian, broadcaster
Chipo Chung actor
Caryl Churchill playwright
Dominic Cooke director
Kia Corthron playwright, novelist
Joseph Coward writer, artist
Molly Crabapple artist, writer
John Cusack
actor, writer, producer, board member Freedom of the Press Foundation
Selma Dabbagh writer
Cherien Dabis film and TV director
William Dalrymple writer
Angela Davis writer
Dror Dayan filmmaker
Robert del Naja musician
Laurence Dreyfus director, Phantasm viol consort
Carol Drinkwater filmmaker
David Edgar playwright
Nancy Elan violinist
Brian Eno musician
Eve Ensler playwright, performer
Samir Eskanda musician
Jodie Evans writer, producer
Shepard Fairey artist
Michelle Fairley actor
Saeed T. Farouky filmmaker
Fat White Family band
Yasmin Fedda filmmaker
Bella Freud designer
Peter Gabriel musician
Lisa Gerrard composer
Tom Gilroy film director
David Gray musician
Kathleen Hanna musician, artist
John Keane artist
Reem Kelani singer, musicologist
Peter Kennard artist
AL Kennedy writer
Jonathan Kent theatre and opera director
Hari Kunzru writer
Talib Kweli musician
David Lan artistic director, Young Vic
Paul Laverty scriptwriter
Tom Leonard poet
Ken Loach film director
Miriam Margolyes actor
Kika Markham actor
Yann Martel writer
Emel Mathlouthi musician
Pauline Melville writer
Tom Morello musician
Jenny Morgan filmmaker
David Morrisey actor, director
Viggo Mortensen Jr actor, writer, musician, artist
Peter Mullan actor, director
Rebecca O’Brien film producer
Andrew O’Hagan writer
Eugene O’Hare actor, writer
Maxine Peake actor
Miranda Pennell filmmaker
Brendan Perry musician
Nancy Platt filmmaker
Jocelyn Pook composer
Dave Randall musician
Mark Ruffalo actor
Alexei Sayle comedian, writer
James Schamus producer, writer, director
David Scott music producer, sound engineer
Nabil Shaban actor, writer
Wallace Shawn actor, playwright
Farhana Sheikh writer
Gillian Slovo writer
Cherry Smith poet
John Smith artist
Chris Somes-Charlton artist management
Ahdaf Soueif writer
Juliet Stevenson actor
Jennie Stoller actor
Samuel Toms musician
Alice Walker writer
Naomi Wallace playwright, screenwriter
Roger Waters musician
Hilary Westlake theatre director
Susan Wooldridge actor, writer
Nicholas Wright playwright, director
Emily Young artist
Benjamin Zephaniah poet, musician

 

Published in the Guardian here

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’.

Continue reading

Despite threats Kate Tempest affirms her support for Palestinian rights

Artists for Palestine UK (APUK) strongly condemns threats made against British artist Kate Tempest as a result of her support for Palestinian rights. A poet, spoken word artist and author, Tempest is one of more than 1200 UK-based artists to sign APUK’s pledge to uphold the cultural boycott of Israel. This conscientious decision by so many principled artists stands in stark contrast to the shameful intimidation tactics, including personal threats, directed against Tempest, which led to the cancellation of her concert, scheduled for October 6th 2017 at Berlin’s former airport Tempelhof. Tempest’s management said that she did not want to perform in an “aggressive atmosphere”, having received “personal threats via email and over social media”, adding that they did not want to risk the safety of her team.

Last month eight artists cancelled appearances at Pop-Kultur festival in Berlin, in protest at the festival’s decision to partner with the Israeli embassy in Germany. In response, the festival organisers, media commentators and local politicians condemned these conscientious artists, often in racialised terms, and promoted straight lies about the terms and aims of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) human rights movement. As the festival drew to a close, the purveyors of this defamatory and abusive rhetoric found a new target, with Kate Tempest identified by German media as a signatory to the APUK pledge. One recent article asked, “Can an anti-Israel activist appear in Berlin?”. Another demanded the city’s Mayor Michael Müller cancel the concert. Continue reading

Open Letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews

London, 30 August 2017

Dear Gillian Merron,

What are we to make of the UK’s main Jewish organisation calling for the Barbican to remove a video artwork from a science-fiction themed exhibition?

Apparently you had not seen ‘In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain’, the video installation by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour and Danish author Søren Lind, when you chose to write to the Barbican to demand its removal.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Immediate Threat to Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech

Pictured: Jo Johnson MP, minister for Universities, suggested they seek to ban Israel Apartheid Week

On February 27, a letter signed by 243 academics appeared in the Guardian (copied below) condemning “outrageous interferences with free expression” and “direct attacks on academic freedom” resulting from attempts “to silence campus discussion about Israel, including its violation of the rights of Palestinians for more than 50 years.”

The letter attributed these developments to adoption by the UK government of “the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism” which is being interpreted as meaning that criticism of Israel and support for Palestinian rights is prima facie evidence of antisemitism.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

 

Continue reading

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.

ARTSWATCH August 2016

 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.

Jenin,  Jenin

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.

‘Speak Out’ – or ‘Shut-Up’?

Leanne Muhamad, a student at Wanstead High School who is British-Palestinian, won the “Speak out” challenge after giving this impressive performance to enthusiastic applause. But one day later, the Speakers Trust decided Leanne will no longer be sent through to the grand final of the public speaking competition.  It seems that giving a personal account of the Nakba and a plea for end to discrimination against Palestinians is not acceptable in the UK in 2016. Once Leane’s win was retracted, the video was removed from the Speak Out Challenge website and Youtube channel, but we managed to retrieve the copy below.

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

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Strategy of Silencing: What Britain does for its ally Israel

In its determination to assist Israel in silencing criticism, the British government betrays the values of freedom and tolerance that it claims to see as fundamental. This article, written by a member of the Artists for Palestine UK collective, charts the resulting pattern of attacks on the rights of Israel’s critics in Britain, from local councils to academics and arts organisations.

 

2016 began with ringing declarations about British liberty. David Cameron’s New Year message to the nation contrasted the freedom and tolerance of ‘our way of life’ with the ‘poisonous narrative of grievance and resentment’ laid out by ‘murderous extremists’, seething with hatred for the west.

These are claims that have come to sound more hollow with every month that passes. Domestically, the Prevent strategy operationalises the defence of ‘freedom’ with an apparatus of reporting and repression which extends across schools, universities and the NHS – some NHS trusts have made it mandatory for staff to attend Prevent workshops.  In its foreign policy, Cameron’s government holds firmly to alliances with states which are deeply committed to the oppression of the populations they rule over: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel, to name only the most prominent. Turkey, a NATO member, uses airstrikes against its Kurdish population without reaction from the defenders of freedom. Saudi Arabia kills its opponents, and is met only with an expression of ‘disappointment’ from a British junior minister.

Continue reading