Artswatch Palestine: September – December 2019

Our digest of news from Israel’s cultural war against the Palestinians 

Cádiz – and London

On December 20th the press office of the City of Cádiz announced that the Cádiz Court (Juzgado de Instrucción número 1 de Cádiz) had dismissed a case brought by the pro-Israeli organisation, ACOM against the Council’s decision to cancel a festival of Israeli films, organized in collaboration with the Israeli Embassy in Madrid and set to take place in a municipal building.

The court’s decision overturns an earlier ruling. In making it, Judge Maria del Carmen Fornell found that ‘the suppression of the Israeli film cycle does not rest on antisemitic motives or exclusion on the grounds of nationality, nor does it demonstrate contempt for elementary norms of coexistence or dignity of the person.’

Responding to the decision, the Mayor of Cádiz, José María González, said that the cancellation of the film festival was ‘not an act of hate, but an act of love and respect for Human Rights, framed in defence of the freedom of the Palestinian people, in the rejection of the illegal Israeli occupation and apartheid.’

Gonzalez went on, ‘Civic institutions have the right and duty to protect human rights, and that is what the City Council of Cádiz is doing … [We] will ‘never remain indifferent to injustice … Reason and our heart are with Palestine. … We will continue fighting racism.’

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, the new Conservative government has announced that it will legislate against councils which take action in support of BDS and similar movements. ‘We will stop public institutions from imposing their own approach or views about international relations, through preventing boycotts, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries and those who trade with them. We will create a coherent approach to foreign relations from all public institutions, by ensuring that they do not go beyond the UK Government’s settled policy towards a foreign country’. (Background Briefing Notes to Queen’s Speech December 2019.)

Jerusalem: a punishment for provocation

Artswatch, June 2018, reported the threats made by Culture Minister Miri Regev against the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem. According to Regev, the Barbur Gallery had been repeatedly guilty of “subversive activity” and of promoting ‘ceaseless pro-Palestinian provocations” that “seek to subvert the state’s existence and nurture fairy tales about the Nakba’. The Jerusalem municipality has also had Barbur in its sights – for more than a year it has been seeking to close the gallery, in response to its hosting of a gathering of the anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence.

Now, reports Naama Riba in Ha’aretz (27th December), the municipality has got its way. The municipality’s education department had requested the building be turned into a kindergarten, and the gallery is accordingly being evicted.

Hagit Moshe, deputy mayor in charge of education, said in a statement to the press: ‘The voice of Torah and Zionism will be heard instead of Barbur’s slander.” She added, “I’m glad that the struggle I have been part of since the last term has succeeded and we have killed two birds with one stone – an important addition to the kindergartens and the closing of a gallery that specializes in provocation and damage to Israel’s good name under the guise of artistic freedom.’

Yossi Havilio, a lawyer who represented the gallery and is a Jerusalem city councilman, said that if a planned public campaign did not succeed, the gallery would pursue legal action in an effort to remain in the location.

Berlin: a new ban

 On 30th November, DJ and music producer Bella Cuts was booked to appear at a Berlin show hosted by the German feminist publication Missy Magazine. Two weeks beforehand, she was told that she had been disinvited: Missy Magazine refuses to work with anyone who publicly supports BDS.

Missy Magazine is consistent and forthright in its views. There is little difference between antisemitism of the left, and that of the far right. Left-wing analysis of the Israel lobby, it claims, is a modern-day version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The media are not biased in favour of Israel and those who claim otherwise are recycling antisemitic conspiracy theories. In fact, wherever ‘there’s criticism of Israel, you’ll usually find antisemitism.’

Bella Cuts has responded with a combative series of tweets. She cites the lengthening list of artists and activists who have been banned from performing or speaking in Germany. She writes:

‘In its 11 years of existence, Missy Magazine has not once reported on the struggles of Palestinian women – in the occupied territories or in Israel – against patriarchy and state-sanctioned racism. They have been completely erased.

‘Antisemitism must be fought, as must Islamophobia, and all forms of racism. Conflating support for BDS with antisemitism does not advance the fight against antisemitism – it only undermines the very real presence of both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments that are currently on the rise in Europe.’

‘A feminism that does not speak out against all forms of racism,’ Bella Cuts concludes, ‘is simply not feminism.’

East Jerusalem: everyday harassment

Since Donald Trump announced that the USA would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,  efforts to disrupt and suppress Palestinian life have become more intense. The demolition of Palestinian homes has intensified; likewise settlement-building. Cultural repression has also been stepped up.

The Times of Israel (25th November) reported that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan had ordered the closure  of the Jerusalem office of the Directorate of Education, the banning of activities by Palestine TV and the arrest  of the director of the al-Araz production company that hosts the channel. Middle East Monitor (6thDecember) reported that Israeli soldiers had arrested a Palestine TV crew on the set of the programme Good Morning Jerusalem, after confiscating their cameras and broadcast equipment. The crew were issued with 15-day ‘stop work’ orders.

The latest moves follow months of harassment directed at cultural institutions. Rania Elias, director of the Yabous Cultural Centre told the BBC : “Several times we’ve announced readings, concerts, and exhibitions, and they’ve been stopped by Israeli forces …They come one hour before the event with soldiers and an order saying that, according to the information they have, we are organising an event that is against the security of Israel.”

One of the events shut down was an event in memory of the doctor and writer Subhi Ghosheh, exiled from his homeland for nearly fifty years. The Sabeel-Kairos website offered a brief summary of his life and work:

‘He worked as a doctor in Jerusalem from 1953-71. He had a heart for the poor people he treated, often foregoing charges or paying for medication for those who had no money. He was also renowned as an expert on the history of Jerusalem and wrote about Palestinian culture.’

‘Culture is a kind of peaceful resistance,’ said Elias, ‘and a way of preserving our cultural identity and heritage … It gives people hope, and so they [the occupation forces] don’t want these events to happen.’

Morocco: refusing an invitation

 Docaviv – the Tel Aviv International Documentary Film Festival –  describes itself as ‘among the world’s leading documentary festivals, with over 100 new local and international documentaries screened each year’. It is supported by, among others, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Docaviv invited an Amazigh film-maker in Morocco, Nadir Bouhmouch, to submit his film, Amussu, to its 2020 festival.

Replying to Docaviv Bouhmouch wrote:

‘Amussu is a film about resistance, about the fight of an [Amazigh] community for water, land and dignity. It is a cause which is not very different from that of Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, who are banned from digging wells on their own land, and who have to pay to use their own water supplies’.

Affirming his support for the BDS movement for Palestinian rights, Bouhmouch says that he would be very happy if everyone in Israel/Palestine were able to watch his film – but not under conditions of oppression. ‘The city in which you seek to screen our film remains inaccessible to Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, who – if they have a pass – must go through hours of humiliating checkpoints and violence. Or – when they don’t have a pass – simply can’t go at all.’ Rather than screen his film in these conditions, he will wait for the collapse of the apartheid regime, when it will be accessible to all who wish to see it.

Music, travel and invitations

 The band El Container, plays ‘an upbeat mixture of western rock and rap music in bold Arabic words’.

All six of its members grew up in East Jerusalem, and so have permanent residency in Israel, but their official nationality is ‘undefined’, and they have no passport. To travel outside Palestine/Israel they must apply to festivals online in the hope of endorsement for an entry visa, which rarely comes.  BBC journalist William Ralston notes in an informative article about music in Palestine that this ‘scuppers their chances of releasing their music because labels are reluctant to sign a band unable to tour across the primary Arabic markets, namely Lebanon, Syria, and Dubai’.

Despite these difficulties, the band has performed in Turkey, Italy, Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt. They have declined other invitations because they’re sent with the wrong intentions. ‘They try to connect Israeli and Palestinian bands on the same stage to show that they can exist in the same space, so the music is never the focus,’ says band member Suleiman Harb.

 Dareen Tatour

+972 magazine reported on 3rd October that Dareen Tatour, the Palestinian poet arrested in 2015 over a poem she published on Facebook (see previous editions of Artswatch), is ‘finally free’. After years of house arrest, months in prison and an international campaign of protest, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected the state’s petition to restore her overturned conviction for incitement to violence.

Attorney Gaby Lasky, who represented Tatour, said that the state’s attempt to appeal a reduced sentence for a poet spoke to its inability to accept the basic democratic principle of freedom of expression. The efforts to taint her poetry as a criminal act were now at an end, Lasky declared.

*Featured image – Cadiz poster translation:  ‘Apartheid free space – solidarity with Palestine’


Aldeburgh DocFest disinvites author, invites Israel lobby CEO to discuss ‘GAZA’

On Sunday, Aldeburgh Documentary Festival will host a discussion that follows a screening of the acclaimed documentary ‘GAZA’, a film about Palestinian lives in the besieged enclave. Extraordinarily, the panel is advertised to include the CEO of the UK’s biggest pro-Israel public relations group, BICOM (British Israel Communications and Research). 

Clearly something has gone very awry with programming principles at Aldeburgh DocFest.  

Below, journalist and author Sarah Helm who has been reporting from Gaza during the ‘Great March of Return’ protests, describes how she was invited, and then disinvited, from the GAZA panel at Aldeburgh DocFest. Her statement gives an indication of the confused and troubling logic at work behind the scenes. 

It can never be appropriate or ethical for an independent cultural organisation to provide a platform for a PR company for Israel that is overtly complicit with the oppression of Palestinian people.  Filmmakers and audiences deserve better.

Artists for Palestine UK urges the festival programmers to get in touch, so that we can help connect Aldeburgh DocFest with one or more of the knowledgeable Palestinian artists, writers and speakers in the south of England who could enrich a proper discussion about Gaza, with reference to their own lived experience. 

“I’m the journalist “unplatformed” from the Aldeburgh DocFest screening of ‘Gaza’. The festival is this week-end. I was invited to be in a panel to discuss the documentary.

In the 1990s I was Jerusalem correspondent for the Independent and visited Gaza often. Since then I have worked in Gaza as a freelance for the Independent, Sunday Times, The New York Review of Books, Newsweek and the Observer, most recently spending three weeks there for The Sunday Times this summer when I wrote a piece about the border sniper shooting for The Sunday Times. When in August Jill Green, the DocFest organiser, invited me to join a panel to discuss the Gaza film, I naturally was pleased to accept.

But Ms Green then emailed me about a month or so later to say she was “embarrassed” to tell me that I was no longer invited because it had been decided the panel would not be “balanced” if it had me on it. She said she “knew my views” and had to have a more ‘balanced panel”.

The decision to “uninvite” me was particularly unsettling for me as I am currently working on re-erecting the lost stories of Palestinian refugees, whose stories have been buried or ignored over the years.

According to the DocFest program published on line, the “balanced” panel is now three men, one a representative of BICOM, the UK’s main pro-Israel lobby.

From details published there is no Palestinian voice on the panel and no woman and nobody who has recently spent time inside Gaza.

There is little doubt the organisers were pressured into removing me and it is extremely disappointing that a cultural event such as this should feel obliged to constitute a panel according to political calculations and pressures about what constitutes “ balance” – which is a highly tainted value judgement in any event. I pointed out to Miss Green that my views are based on painstaking in depth research over many years and I was surprised she knew what my views were as I am still formulating them.

My last book on a Nazi concentration camp for women won The History Today prize in 2015 and was not accused of being unbalanced.

Ms Green did not reply. By the time the panel chair emailed to say I could come along to the event in any case, I had made other plans.”

Sarah Helm

*Picture credit: ‘GAZA’ documentary

Young Fathers affirm support for Palestinian rights despite cancellation by German arts festival

Ruhrtriennale arts festival in Germany have asked Mercury Prize-winning Young Fathers to declare themselves non-supporters of the Palestinian-led BDS movement for human rights, as a condition of appearing at the festival later this summer. In a statement on June 12, the festival announced the cancellation of the UK group’s concert, saying:

Regrettably, the Young Fathers have not distanced themselves from BDS. (…) The Ruhrtriennale distances itself in all forms from the BDS movement and wishes to have absolutely no connection with the campaign. We have therefore decided to cancel the concert.

Today, Young Fathers have asked Artists for Palestine UK to publish the following statement :

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Artswatch Palestine: February-March 2017

‘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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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.

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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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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

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