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

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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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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.

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Roger Waters’ horror at French criminalisation of pro-Palestinian boycott


Musician Roger Waters speaks out against the criminalisation in France of non-violent boycott in defence of Palestinian rights. We reproduce his letter, picked up from a French news agency by the website Mondoweiss.
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Mes Cher Citoyens,

Along with most thinking, feeling and compassionate members of global civil society, I deplore the occupation of Palestine and the subjugation of all of its non-Jewish peoples. The State of Israel’s anti-Palestinian discrimination since 1947/8 is unacceptable.

I am anti-racist, anti-colonialist, anti-war, anti-oppression, and anti- discrimination.

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Saudi court sentences the Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh to death

Artists for Palestine UK, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, and the Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine  call on our respective governments to take action in response to the news of the death sentence passed on Palestinian poet and curator Ashraf Fayadh – for being a poet and curator.  Here is the text our joint letter:

To:
Rt. Hon. Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Monsieur Laurent Fabius, Ministre des Affaires Étrangères

We are writing to you on behalf of our organisations – Artists for Palestine UK, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, and the Association des Universitaires pour le Respect du Droit International en Palestine – to express our deep concern for the security and well-being of Ashraf Fayadh. We ask you to take up this issue as a matter of great urgency with the Saudi authorities. Continue reading

Finally Israel and Iran find common cause – against Daniel Barenboim: Artists for Palestine UK reaction

Daniel Barenboim, Israel and Iran: an APUK statement

Newspapers in Israel, the US and Europe reported last week that Daniel Barenboim, one of the world’s foremost pianists and conductors, was planning to take a Berlin orchestra [the Staatskapelle] to Iran for a concert. Immediately, Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev stepped in to call for the concert to be cancelled:

“This melody must be stopped. Barenboim promotes an anti-Israeli line and makes sure to bash [Israel] by using culture as a lever for his anti-Israel political views.” (1)

While the world was still digesting the hypocrisy of this demand from the minister of a government which, when threatened by boycott, never fails to talk the language of ‘communication’ and ‘bridge building’, Iranian officials said that they would block the concert because of Barenboim’s Israeli citizenship:

“The conductor of Germany’s symphonic orchestra is affiliated to Israel concerning his nationality and identity ,” the Spokesman of the Culture Ministry Hossein Noushabadi told reporters in Tehran. (2)

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Culture Minister Regev attacks artists, exposes Israel’s censorious culture policy

A petition signed by 2,000 Israeli artists has exposed the censorious instincts of the Israeli state, epitomised by its new Culture Minister Miri Regev.

A war of words between Israel’s new Culture Minister Miri Regev and a group of leading Israeli artists continued yesterday over budgetary allocations and allegations of censorship.
 Regev, who was appointed to the culture and sport portfolio in Israel’s new government, is considered a vocal firebrand leader in the right-wing of the Likud Party. Earlier this month, she warned that she would review funding of cultural initiatives and would not necessarily support those which she believes delegitimize the State of Israel.
The only Palestinian theatre company in Israel, Al-Midan, had its funding frozen this week because ministers disapproved of its latest play.

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NEWS RELEASE – Actors, writers and directors denounce demonisation of Palestinian theatre

Let audiences be the judge of Palestinian theatre on UK tour
(NB this original text differs slightly from the version published by the Daily Mail on May 8)

As theatre practitioners in Britain, we are alarmed that the Daily Mail is attacking the Arts Council and the British Council for supporting a UK tour by a Palestinian theatre company.

Your piece, with its inflammatory title UK taxpayers fund ‘pro-terrorist’ play, cites “concerns” from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organisation with a shocking record of acting to suppress both cultural and academic events which explore the bitter reality of Palestinian existence. Only last month the University of Southampton succumbed to demonisation and threats and banned an academic conference on the legal status of Israel.

Neither the Daily Mail nor the Board of Deputies has seen Freedom Theatre’s play The Siege, yet both somehow feel qualified to suggest that it is “promoting terrorism”. Not for the first time, Palestinian voices are in danger of being drowned out by a vociferous pro-Israel lobby that smears all Palestinians as terrorists and antisemites. This lobby wants us to believe that theatre-goers in the UK cannot be trusted to hear these voices and make their own judgements.

The Palestinian West Bank, where the Freedom Theatre is based, has been under illegal Israeli military occupation since 1967. We endorse the words of British playwright Howard Brenton, an honorary director of the Freedom Theatre, who writes of the forthcoming tour:

“This is real political theatre, performed out of the both terrible and inspiring experience of a struggle for freedom and justice. [The Freedom Theatre] are living proof that telling stories and entertaining audiences are powerful acts of resistance to oppression. Do go and see them, they have news for us.”

Caryl Churchill
Dominic Cooke
April De Angelis
David Edgar
Lucy Kirkwood
David Lan
Miriam Margolyes
Paul Mayersberg
Maxine Peake
Mark Rylance
Jennie Stoller
Mark Thomas
Samuel West Continue reading

UK High Court backs shutdown of Israel conference

This piece by Asa Winstanley, originally published on Electronic Intifada, explains how Southampton University came to cancel an academic conference about Israel’s legal status following a campaign of vilification by pro-Israel lobbyists, including members of the Conservative-led UK government.

Letters from playwright Caryl Churchill and academics Hilary and Steven Rose contested the cancellation in the Guardian newspaper.

UK High Court backs shutdown of Israel conference

The High Court in London on Tuesday upheld the decision of the University of Southampton to cancel at the last minute an academic conference related to Israel, after speakers were deemed “controversial” by critics.

Israel lobby organizations (including the Zionist Federation and the Board of Deputies of British Jews) had called for the conference to be canceled because critics of Israel like Ilan Pappe and Nur Masalha were due to present papers.

But those opposed to the conference (including Conservative former education minister Michael Gove and current communities minister Eric Pickles) ignored the fact that supporters of Israel were also due to speak at the conference. These included Alan Johnson of the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and the ultra-right-wing Zionist historian Geoffrey Alderman.

Alderman last week used his regular platform in The Jewish Chronicle to argue that the Israel lobby had made a “massive own-goal” in getting the conference canceled since it would just make the pro-Israel argument look weak and unable to withstand scrutiny.

The conference, “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism,” scheduled for this weekend (17-19 April), had been more than a year in the planning.

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‘All Charlie Hebdo? Except when freedom of expression means freedom to criticise Israel.’

Sajid Javid’s comments on Israeli sponsorship ‘breached the principle of an arms-length relationship between the government and the arts’, writes Caryl Churchill – UK playwright, and Artists’ Pledge signatory.

Two letters defending academic and artistic freedom from bullying and censorship by the Israel lobby were published in the Guardian, Monday 6 April 2015

In late March we had culture secretary Sajid Javid’s astonishing statement in a speech to the Board of Deputies of British Jews (reported in Jewish News) that any arts organisations refusing Israeli sponsorship will risk losing funding, breaching the long-established principle of an arms-length relationship between government and the arts. The Arts Council is supposed to be a buffer between them precisely to avoid political censorship and bullying. Now we have news (1 April) of the cancellation of the University of Southampton’s conference on international law and the state of Israel after protests from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Zionist Federation UK. All Charlie Hebdo? Except when freedom of expression means freedom to criticise Israel.
Caryl Churchill
London

We note with regret that the University of Southampton has shamefully capitulated to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby and cancelled an international academic conference. The university claims to have acted on police advice that they cannot guarantee security against threatened demonstrations. Where was the threat to public order? How could a conference, predominantly of lawyers discussing complex legal issues concerning the legal status of Israel and its boundaries, be a threat? Or are we to conclude that pro-Israeli demonstrators are such violent opponents of academic freedom that the police cannot contain them?
Prof Hilary Rose, Prof Steven Rose
London

Welsh gallery censors exhibition on historic Palestine after complaints by Zionist groups

An artist based in Wales whose work on the Nakba was censored following complaints from local Zionist groups, has said the actions ‘amount to the defacement of a piece of art and a censoring of artistic expression, something that should not happen anywhere in Britain, let alone at a publicly funded arts organisation.’

James Morris wrote to the management of Clwyd Theatre Cymru, after a decision was taken – without consulting the artist – to remove the captions accompanying his photographic series, Time and Remains, during the final week of a six-week exhibition at the theatre’s Oriel Gallery. In his letter to the Welsh theatre, he informed them he would be cancelling his scheduled artist’s talk on Friday 6 March, adding that ‘Any talk or public debate which could now take place would have to focus on what my exhibition has become, a censored art piece. It would have to be rescheduled and readvertised as such.’

The series, also known as ‘That Still Remains,’ documents the ‘scattered remains from across the country of the now historic Palestinian presence in much of Israel’s landscape.’ Morris is an artist and not a campaigner or activist. He writes in his introductory text the history that give his photographs their meaning:  Continue reading

Threats by pro-Israel advocates are nothing new in the art world

As can be seen on our page, Resisting Bullying and Censorship, artists and arts organisations in the UK have been subjected to all forms of pressure and threats in an attempt to get them to conform to a pro-Israel agenda – the result frequently being censorship of important cultural works.

Below is a flavour of the tone of attack experienced by artists; perhaps in this particular case the author does not have the influence he boasts of, and is simply peddling antisemitic tropes. We hope so. Risible though the email we received may appear, similar threats from well-placed individuals and groups are a matter of serious concern to independent arts organisations, as we saw in the case of the Tricycle Theatre.

Email received by Artists for Palestine from Claude Gubbay, 20 February:
Dear Sir,

I am a contemporary Art collector and when I was [he means ‘saw’] what 100 [it is now 1000] irresponsible artist where doing and boycotting Israel with NO UNDERSTANDING of what is going on in either Palestine or Israel it saddened me greatly. I have decided to boycott purchasing any of the listed Artists and I will use all my influence to stop anyone purchasing works by these artists.

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