The 2016 Edinburgh Fringe once again offers a much-needed platform for Palestinian artists to demonstrate their talent, creativity and vitality despite the extraordinary difficulties they face in their daily lives and in producing, exhibiting and performing their work. But this year “the biggest arts festival on the planet” has shocked friends of Palestine with a last minute addition to the programme organised by groups committed to promoting Israeli interests and undermining those of Palestine. A letter of protest from Artists for Palestine UK is attracting growing support and a local campaign is gathering strength.
Sneaked onto the online programme after the printed version was published, the International Shalom Festival scheduled for August 17 is an initiative of COFIS, the Confederation of Friends of Israel Scotland, and StandWithUs – two pro-Israel advocacy organisations that work with the Israeli Embassy to undermine and oppose campaigning work in support of Palestinian rights.
They promote the one-day event as a “celebration of the diverse culture, music, art, dance and food of Israel” featuring “Arab, Jewish, Christian, Druze, Bedouin and Samaritan performers from all over Israel,” and “aiming to build cultural bridges and develop international friendship.”
There is no mention by name of the Palestinians who make up one fifth of Israel’s population as well as the entire population of the occupied territories, besieged Gaza and numerous refugee camps across the Middle East, nor of those in exile around the world. Israel’s “cultural bridges” bypass the people it has dispossessed, seeking “international friendship” with those prepared to ignore a decades-long injustice to collaborate in an empty dance of dialogue.