Video “Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak Out”

The Real News on repression and cultural resistance in Gaza with footage of Tales of a City by the Sea’s public reading

Gaza audience feedback following the public reading of Tales of a City by the Sea

Photo Gallery: Gaza public reading of Tales of a City by the Sea

A reading of the play Tales of a City by the Sea took place in Gaza city at the Qattan Centre for the Child followed by a discussion on January 17th  2013.   The reading was part of ongoing efforts by international artists to break the cultural siege of Gaza and to work collaboratively with local talent.  What resulted from this event was a profound experience for both the writer, the cast and the audience.  The audience feedback (video will be uploaded next week) highlighted the need for creating more space for cultural and artistic events in the besieged Gaza strip.

The Gaza team from left: Khaled Harara, Eman Hilles, Sameeha Olwan, Ayman Qwaider, Mohammed Ghalayini, Manar Zimmo, Alaa Shoublaq, Samah Sabawi, Mahmoud Hammad, Najwan Anbar, Alia Abu Oriban and Ayah Abubasheer.

Sameeha Olwan

Sameeha Olwan reading the part of Jomana.

From left: Mohammed Ghalayini, Ayman Qwaider and Mahmoud Hammad

From left Mohammed Ghalayini reading the part of Rami, Ayman Qwaider reading the part of Ali and Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad.

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Manar Zimmo reading the part of Lama.

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad, Alaa Shoublaq, Mohammed Ghalayini and Ayman Qwaider

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad Alaa Shoublaq as Abu Ahmed, Mohammed Ghalayini as Rami and Ayman Qwaider as Ali.

Eman Hilles

Eman Hilles was the narrator of our Tales.

Mohamad Akilah

Gaza esteemed musician Mohamad Akilah.

Najwan F. Anbar

Najwan Anbar reading the part of Um Ahmed

In Gaza Tales of a City by the Sea at Qattan Centre for the Child

FinalPoster

Israel’s Gaza Bantustan

First published on AlJazeera

Israel’s one state reality greeted us at the gates of the Gaza-Rafah crossing when we were asked by the Egyptian officer to present our Haweyah (Palestinian IDs) in order to be allowed through. It is not like we weren’t expecting this request, we knew that it would come down to this even though our Australian passports clearly showed Gaza as our place of birth we were still not considered Palestinian nationals in our own home city. Rather, we were treated like foreigners who needed an almost impossible amount of bureaucratic red tape designed to discourage the likes of us of ever thinking of visiting loved ones back home.

Allow me to explain: Since Israel’s establishment it has used the system of ID cards to differentiate between its Jewish and non-Jewish residents and citizens, a distinction needed in order to apply its apartheid discriminatory policies of separate and unequal treatment. When Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, its Interior Ministry began to also issue ID cards to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. By 1982, Israel passed the Identity Card Carrying and Displaying Act requiring all residents of Israel both inside its 1948 borders and inside the green line in the Occupied Territories, who are over 16 years of age, to carry at all times these ID cards and to present them upon request to the authorities.

Israeli citizens’ ID cards come in blue plastic casing with the Israeli Coat of Arms on the outer cover. Palestinians prior to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority had orange casings in the West Bank and red casings in the Gaza Strip both with the IDF insignia embossed on the outer cover highlighting Israel’s military control. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories who were forbidden entry into Israel’s 1948 borders had green casings.

 

After the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority and as part of the creation of the illusion of progress, the Palestinian National Authority was handed some limited inconsequential powers. These included issuing Palestinian residents with ID cards. A pointless exercise given that the power to issue these cards hinged on Israel’s approval, which was selectively given. Not only that, Israel continues to this day to control the Palestinian population registry and to assign the actual ID numbers provided for the Palestinian ID cards; the all-important cards required to enter Gaza and the West Bank.

Much has been written about how the system of ID cards is used as a weapon to further cement the fragmentation of the Palestinian population as it confines the Palestinians to their geographic Israeli-controlled Bantustans, forbidding Palestinians with Gaza IDs entry into the West Bank and Jerusalem and vice versa. But perhaps the worst and most insidious effect this system has is in the way it is designed to control and monitor the movement of all Palestinians and to curb the Palestinian population by denying their diaspora the right to come home even if for a short visit.

As we stood at the Rafah crossing, we were confronted with this reality. The Egyptian officer insisted that only Palestinians with the Israeli-controlled Palestinian ID cards are allowed to use this crossing. These orders are a result of an unforgivable move, one of many, that were made by the Palestinian National Authority when in 2005, Palestinian negotiators led by Mohammed Dahlan (a Fatah leader with strong links to Israel and the US) signed an agreement with Israel on movement and access from and to Gaza. One of the conditions they agreed to was restricting the use of the Rafah crossing to Palestinian ID card holders. It is hard to fathom why the Palestinian Authority would have agreed to such an inhumane condition which in reality means that Gazan residents would be cut off from loved ones in exile.

After seven hours of waiting at the Rafah border and after exhausting every connection, every phone number, every thread of hope and every possibility, we managed to make it through. Once inside Gaza, it became abundantly clear that despite Hamas’ visible presence inside the city and the endless waves of green flags, we had arrived into an Israeli controlled Bantustan. The currency used here is the new Israeli Shekel, the IDs all the residents carry are issued by the Israeli interior ministry, all births go through the Israeli national registry, the essential products are all Israeli in this captive market. As I type this to the sound of the Israeli F16 hovering in the sky above, and as I look at the sea patrolled by Israeli cruisers, I am convinced that I am now inside Israel’s one state reality in a Bantustan they call Gaza.

Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian writer and Policy Adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network.  

Follow her on Twitter: @gazaheart

Gaza prepares for Christmas: “the people of Gaza cling to life…the smiles of the children attest to it … the happy mothers … the open shops, the noisy traffic…Gaza vibrates with life”

Posted on Dec 18, 2012 in DioceseSlide

GAZA – Traditionally, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, visits the parish of the Holy Family in Gaza before Christmas.  He did this year on the third Sunday of Advent and celebrated Christmas Mass for the faithful in Gaza.  The communications team of the Latin Patriarchate was in Gaza three days early and met with the parishioners in anticipation of this visit.

This year, Christmas has a special dimension for Catholics of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza. In the three weeks since the end of the Israeli operation “Column of Defense,” the parish has seen the ceasefire as “a miracle.”  Patriarch Fouad Twal who went for the first time to Gaza since the ceasefire,  explained in his Sunday homily that “Christmas is a gift from Heaven, but the good will of men so that there may be peace is also needed.”  He also invited Christians “to live a strong faith”  in order to continue living in this Holy Land where the Holy Family passed during the flight to Egypt and to remember that “even Jesus suffered injustice.”  According to the parish priest, Father Jorge Hernandez, IVE: “the parishioners are very appreciative of this visit and it is also a little of Jerusalem that came here to them, and this touches them very much in their faith life.”  To thank all those who supported them with their prayers and their gifts during the war, the parish celebrated an official Mass of Thanksgiving. The pastor said “that they all know we have prayed for them.”

After yesterday’s Mass, the Patriarch, together with  Bishop Marcuzzo, Vicar inIsrael, as customary, met with the families for the exchange of Christmas greetings. The General Administrator of the Patriarchate, Fr. Humam Khzouz, who coordinated the entrance of the delegation to the Gaza Strip and the Chancellor, Fr. George Ayoub, were also part of the Patriarchal delegation.

The small Catholic parish of the Holy Family has exactly 185 faithful. Among the 1.6 million Gaza inhabitants, a crowded area of 360 sq. kilometers, there are 1,550 Christians (Greek Orthodox for the most part) now only half of the 3,000 in 2008.

 

Christmas, however, will be celebrated after the bombs.  So life goes on in Gaza. Eight days of mass destruction left  traces on houses, public buildings and schools. Along the roads are found several ruins as those of the football stadium where the stands collapsed after the stadium was struck by bombs. In the midst of the rubble, violence still resonates and on their faces “exhaustion is seen by the dark circles around the eyes” as Bishop Marcuzzo noted yesterday.

By this, we must recognize, the people of Gaza cling to life. The smiles of the children attest to it in front of our photo cameras, the happy mothers and the daring of their sons, the open shops, the noisy traffic. In fact, Gaza vibrates with life. Men, women, children confronted with violence, scarcity, the conservatism that strongly rules daily life, they suffer from a high unemployment rate (60% of the population) and from the weight of the days without some distraction. But the inhabitants here also live the joyful feasts and marriages. In the Catholic parish, for example, there are on average 1- 2 marriages and 3 – 4 baptisms a year.

Immediately after the ceasefire, the three Catholic schools of the Gaza Strip, which accommodate 1500 students of which the overwhelming majority are Muslims, organized the resumption of classes. The two Catholic schools of the Holy Family reopened their doors. The School of the Rosary Sisters instead had to wait until the following Monday in order to repair broken windows because of the explosions. “The winter cold was arriving and they needed to act quickly” says Sister Davida, Principal of the School. In this school where four Rosary Sisters serve, the principal tells of the resuming of classes: “many children made great effort to concentrate after thirty minutes of class. Some psychologists from Caritas came to help them restart by playing and singing. Restoring to a child the sense of security is a long process.”

The relentless drama continues in the interior of each person. Father Jorge Hernandez noted, together with the School Principal, different problems in children of school age. “When the bell announces the end of classes, when an airplane flies above their heads, some students are afraid” they explain. “Other children stay in small groups near the walls. They always have the behavior of war. They are afraid of the silence, of the grand silence.” The Pastor then says “In Gaza now, when a child begins school, he has already seen two wars. And he is not yet 4 or 5 years old.”

 

To these children born in war and who live in war, the parish proposes a pastoral life of prayer  and playful activity to help them grow “normally” in this little strip of overpopulated land that suffers the embargo by its neighbors. More than ever the religious communities that live in Gaza strain themselves to do everything to help the faithful of the parish, but also the Orthodox and the Muslims so that they catch again their breath after the recent events. The parish is supported by three sisters of the Incarnate Word Institute, to which the pastor also belongs as well as the new parochial vicar, Father Mario, who arrived just three weeks ago.

At their side work the Rosary Sisters and the Missionary Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa, who are dedicated to disable children. Through “the festive oratorio”, children, parents and families can lead an almost normal life. There are some beautiful moments, the people come to develop themselves, to pray, to see each other and to play. So as in the streets of Gaza, also in the parish life resumes its rights, forgetting the daily problems of security, the health services but also the constant problems with electricity.

The parish is an island of life, where calm seems reestablished again, away from the images of a Gaza “ghost city”. Of course, they have rediscovered their life, but with an embargo. As the Patriarch has said on several occasions “the people of Gaza do not have a normal life. They live in an open-air prison.” On Saturday afternoon, before the arrival of the Patriarch, in the parish courtyard some youth were playing ball, the scout band had its rehearsals, the crib was ready, the Christmas tree decorated, the divan straightened up and the Sunday lunch prepared.  It is here that the Patriarch greeted the parishioners the following day, extending to them personally his Christmas wishes.

A mother of a family who welcomed us for Friday evening dinner said: “We will resume our daily life. It was really a very hard period, it was not easy, but with the children we are ready to celebrate Christmas. We need it to live well.” The Christmas tree, the crib, the imminent birth of a fifth child shows that there is life here. Right here! And in our parish we are preparing for Christmas with forgetting the sick and elderly persons. In the ten days that precede the Christmas feast, the pastor visits 4 elderly or sick (that is, 40 persons in all) each evening in the company of a small delegation of youth and the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. We shared in four of these meetings. The visitors, about fifteen, this evening, in the blue night of the Holy Land joined together in prayers and songs, distributing holy water and small gifts. Sometimes the priest administers the anointing of the sick. Father Jorge explains: “For three years, since I am here, I saw that this little round of visits interests many. In the beginning we started with five, now the movement has expanded. All the youth today want to participate. We are obliged to organize turns. During the year, we also distribute communion to the sick. At times it also happens that   2-3 scouts come along to offer their service.

On Tuesday, December 18, the Latin Church in Gaza expects 450 persons for the traditional “Christmas Concert” organized every years at this time of years in the context of the Baroque Music Festival, supported by the service of Cultural Cooperation of the French General Consulate in Jerusalem. On the evening of December 24, maybe some parishioners will have obtained permission from the Israeli authorities to go for Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. But all cannot have it. Those who remain in Gaza will welcome near the living crib His Excellency, Bishop Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop for Jerusalem who will spend Christmas Night in the company of the Parish faithful. And not only that… as many non-Catholics will come to rejoice at the coming on earth of the Prince of Peace and to pray with the pastor who has a message of Christmas:  “that the Savior may give His peace to the people of Gaza and especially to the leaders of the region. That He may also give us the strength to continue advancing.”

Christophe Lafontaine

Click here for more Christmas in Gaza images or go this link https://picasaweb.google.com/medialpj/LePatriarcheAGazaPourNoel2012#slideshow/5822930124911516418

 

A comprehensive analysis of the arguments surrounding the call for a cultural boycott of Israel

By Samah Sabawi

This paper was prepared for the 7arakat Conference: Theatre, Cultural Diversity and Inclusion November  2012 and was first published in the 7arakat conference E:Proceedings. 

Introduction

International artists find themselves standing at a crossroad between their desire to support all forms of artistic expression, Israeli or otherwise, and the Palestinian civil society’s call to support a cultural boycott of all Israeli state sponsored forms of art. Some argue art and culture are apolitical and boycotting them is an infringement on freedom of expression.  They insist that art is a language of peace and building bridges. Others argue that culture and art are in fact political and can serve as tools of political propaganda and repression.  They highlight the responsibility of artists to affect change by raising awareness about political and social issues. In this paper, I will set out to explore the relationship between the culture and politics within the Palestinian Israeli conflict, while examining the arguments for and against the Palestinian Civil Society’s call for a cultural boycott of Israel.

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions – BDS

Confronting a failed peace process and a disappearing Palestinian state, and inspired by the South African movement to end apartheid, Palestinian civil society in 2005 set out to build a rights based grassroots movement that adopts a non-violent form of resistance based on international law and the universal declarations of human rights. They called on people of good conscience around the world to apply boycotts divestments and sanctions on Israel until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem, and fulfills its obligations under international law toward the Palestinian refugees, granting full equality to the Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel. Endorsed by 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements representing Palestinians in the Occupied Territory, inside Israel’s 1948 boundaries, as well as in Diaspora, the 2005 BDS call represents the voice of the majority of Palestinian civil society and its three demands articulate a unified Palestinian vision that cannot be dismissed. The BDS call is now endorsed by hundreds of leading international human rights activists, including prominent figures such as Stephane Hessel (2010), co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Holocaust survivor.

The Palestinian Campaign for Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel (PCABI)

In 2006 the majority of Palestinian cultural workers, including most filmmakers and artists along with hundreds of international cultural workers and artists issued a unified statement in support of BDS. Today the list of artists who have publically joined the cultural boycott and have cancelled performances in Israel includes celebrities from around the world like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Annie Lennox, Brian Eno, Devendra Banhart, Tommy Sands, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron amongst many others. The list also includes some incredible writers like Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy and Alice Walker, as well as accomplished filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Jean-Luc Godard.

However, not all artists respond favorably to the boycott call. Some still choose to perform in Israel like pop icons Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga to name a few. These artists insist that performing in Israel is about promoting peaceful co-existence by bringing people together. They maintain that cultural events such as concerts are apolitical and should remain so. They complain that the boycotts single out Israel unfairly and that artists – according to Elton John – should not “cherry-pick” their conscious (“Elton John performs in Israel”). They also argue that boycotts are a blunt instrument that amounts to collective punishment of the Israeli people.

Is culture apolitical?

In order to understand the relationship between culture and politics within the Palestinian Israeli context it is important to review the history of Palestinian culture and the political challenges it has faced throughout the years of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

In an article that appeared in Haaretz (15 May 2012) commemorating Nakba, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi described Palestinian society prior to Israel’s establishment in1948 as highly developed commercially, artistically and culturally. Its economic development was one of the highest in the Arab World and its high school enrolment was second highest with 379 private schools as early as 1914, and dozens of bookstores. In fact, Ashrawi wrote that between the years 1911 and 1948 Palestine had at least 161 newspapers, magazines and other publications and a vibrant cultural scene with cinemas, live theatres and musical concerts both by local artists as well as visiting giants like Egyptian icon Om Kalthoum and the Lebanese singer Farid Alatrash.

All of this was disrupted in 1948 when Israel was established on the ruins of Palestinian villages. Since then Palestinian culture became the target of a systematic and deliberate attempt at erasure by the Israeli authorities. For example, a story which broke out only this year on Al Jazeera titled “The Great Book Robbery” uncovered how during the process of establishing the state of Israel, librarians from Israel’s National Library accompanied the Israeli army into Palestinian homes after their residents were driven out and systematically took all the books that were left in these houses. The books included priceless volumes of Palestinian Arab and Muslim literature, including poetry, works of history, art and fiction. Thousands of these books were destroyed but some were added to the library’s collection and remain till this day in the Israeli National Library, designated, abandoned property – of course totally disregarding the fact that this property does belong to a people who were forced to leave and never permitted to return to their homes or to be reunited with any of their assets, including their books.

Another example of the politicization of culture in the Palestinian Israeli context is how British and then Israeli authorities often targeted not only Palestinian political leaders, but also artists and intellectuals, imprisoning them, banishing them into exile, and even assassinating them. Amongst the artists and intellectuals assassinated by Israel were writer Ghassan Kanafani (Abukhalil 2012) and poet and intellectual Wael Zuaiter (Jacir 2007). Also of great significance to this discussion is how during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israeli forces looted and confiscated the accumulated national archives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which included valuable and rare collections of films and other Palestinian cultural artifacts (IMEU 2012).

Israel’s attack on Palestinian culture continues today and takes many different shapes and forms. Palestinian artists in the occupied and besieged West Bank and Gaza suffer the same fate as all other Palestinians living under occupation. They are discriminated against, their movement is restricted, and their most basic human rights are denied. Israel does not distinguish between culture and politics. In 2005, when Former deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, launched the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign he admitted  “We are seeing culture as a hasbara toolof the first rank,and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture” (Ben-Ami 2005). This was abundantly clear in the aftermath of Israel’s three-week bombardment of Gaza during the winter of 2008-2009. As the world witnessed in shock the incredible devastation and human suffering of an imprisoned 1.5 million people mostly refugees and half under the age of 18, Israel brushed off all criticism, blaming the outrage over its actions on bad public relations. Its solution to improve its image as revealed in a New York Times article (Bronner 2009) was not to address its record of violations, but to grant an extra $2 million from the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s budget to improve its image through “cultural and information diplomacy”. Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs, was quoted in the article saying, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater
companies, exhibits…This way you show Israel’s prettier
face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war” (Bronner 2009).

Mekel’s quote is a perfect illustration of how, if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find that many Israeli state sponsored events that may seem to be simply cultural and for pure entertainment purposes are in fact driving political agendas and whitewashing crimes similar to those committed in Gaza.  In fact, Israel goes so far in its manipulation of cultural events that it has made it a condition for artists who receive state funding to sign a contract stipulating they commit to “ promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel” (Laor 2008).  In other words, Israeli artists who are sponsored by the Israeli state are required to support the policies of the state in public and to remain silent on Israel’s discrimination and atrocities against the Palestinians. This was confirmed when Israeli pop music artist Idan Raichel admitted in an interview published on Australia-il.com (2008) the nature of the relationship between the state and its sponsored artists: “We certainly see ourselves as ambassadors of Israel in the world, cultural ambassadors, hasbara ambassadors, also in regards to the political conflict”.

Can cultural events bring people together?

Having established that culture in the Israeli Palestinian context is not apolitical and cannot be seen in isolation of the political environment, I’d like to move on to address the second argument made by opponents of the cultural boycotts who favor performing in Israel as a way to ‘bring people together’ and to promote ‘co-existence’ through joint Palestinian Israeli cultural projects.

First of all, let’s look at the benefit of the joint cultural projects. Will these joint projects pursue an agenda for justice and equality or will they bring two unequal sides together – an occupied and an occupier – and promote an illusion of symmetry? Projects that don’t aim to end Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people only promote the normalization of the status quo. That is why increasingly more and more Palestinian artists are turning away from these joint ventures, often refusing to accept badly needed funds and the promise of fame and success, because they recognize that the price for participation – normalizing oppression – is too high to accept.

Secondly, the idea that a concert in Israel can bring Palestinians and Israelis together is absurd when one considers that millions of Palestinians who live under Israel’s military control are prevented by Israel’s apartheid policies from attending. To clarify, when concerts are held in Israel, Palestinians in the West Bank do not enjoy the same access to them as Jewish settlers living on land confiscated from Palestinians in the West Bank. In fact, even when cultural events take place inside the Occupied Territories, for example in Ramallah, Palestinians in other enclaves and Bantustans within the occupied territories or those who live in Gaza, or Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenships – are often not allowed to attend due to the hundreds of Israeli checkpoints in the Occupied Territories and tricky permit systems, all designed to fragment and control Palestinian society.

Israel’s system of apartheid and segregation touches every aspect of Palestinian life and excludes Palestinians from many opportunities that are afforded the Jewish people. This issue of exclusion was at the center of the controversy at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, as international and local artists expressed dismay at The Globe for inviting Israel’s national theatre Habima to participate in the ‘Globe to Globe’ festival. A protest letter which appeared in The Guardian (29 March 2012) and was signed by an impressive number of celebrities, including first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Mark Rylance, Trevor Griffiths, Sonja Linden, and Emma Thompson, pointed to the fact that “…by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practiced by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company”.

International artists have an ethical responsibility to address this issue of exclusion and discrimination, which is central to the reality of the conflict. The real questions artists need to ask themselves are: Do we want to promote a culture where we feel comfortable performing before an audience that is selected by way of racial privilege? Do we want to engage with Israeli artists who have committed by way of signing a legal contract to whitewash Israel’s system of discrimination and oppression? How can we accept the claim that concerts or cultural events can ‘bring people together’ when these events often work to promote and to support an existing system of discrimination designed to keep the people apart?

Protecting artistic freedom of expression

Israel has argued that the cultural boycott infringes on artistic freedom. While it is true that Israeli artists are free to express and share their art with the world, Palestinian artists face tremendous challenges with stifling travel restrictions, arbitrary detention, political repression and various roadblocks that get in the way of them holding rehearsals, exhibiting their work or even performing the simplest tasks, which becomes quite impossible under occupation.

Today, Palestinian artists and theatre makers are caught in an intricate and multi layered system of oppression. Take for example the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and the tremendous challenges they face. A Human Rights Watch report this year (27 July 2012) accused Israel and its perceived security arm the Palestinian Authority of  “trampling on the rights of Freedom Theater’s staff,” adding that  “[a] theater should be able to offer critical and provocative work without fearing that its staff will be arrested and abused.”

The HRW statement referred to Israel’s ongoing system of arbitrary arrests and detention and called for an investigation into allegations of mistreatment, raising the concern that since the murder of its director and co-founder, Juliano Mer-Khamis, in April 2011, the Israeli occupation forces have “repeatedly raided the theater and beaten and arbitrarily arrested employees”.

Israel’s occupation and system of discrimination infringes daily on the Palestinian artists’ freedom of expression.  So the question here is should Israeli state sponsored artists’ freedom of expression override that of the Palestinians? There is Hypocrisy to the Israeli claim that it does. In 1984Enuga S. Reddy, then director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, responded to similar criticism about the cultural boycott of South Africa; the following is an excerpt of his press briefing published on the PACBI website:

“It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms … to the African majority … should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime.”

Profiting from the occupation

But profiting from apartheid and serving its propaganda purposes is precisely what artists do when they cross what the Palestinian solidarity movement now calls the world’s largest picket line’ (Billet 2012).  Take for example Madonna’s Israel Peace Concert during which Madonna told her fans in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium, “It’s easy to say I want peace in the world, but it’s another thing to do it”. Her recipe for peace was simple; she told her fans that “[i]f we rise above our egos and our titles and the names of our countries and names of our religions, if we can rise above all that, and treat everyone around us, every human being with dignity and respect, we will have peace” (Steinberg and Bronstein, 2012). But the reality is that Madonna’s peace speech was lost on the Palestinians, who were denied access to her ‘peace concert’ and who remain locked up behind Israel’s high walls and barbed wires.

More significant is the fact that Madonna’s so called ‘peace concert’, which gave lip service to peace, in fact was successful in promoting tourism in Israel, bringing in 4,000 tourists with some fans paying up to NIS 5,000 for VIP tickets and accommodation packages (Domke and Halutz 2012).  So in reality, the concert was great for Israel, its economy, its image and its institutions but did not do much for the cause of working toward creating a real environment for a peace with justice.

Singling out Israel

Some argue that boycotts single out Israel unfairly and that artists – as Elton John said  – should not “cherry pick” their conscious (Daily Mail 19 June 2010). Some Israeli artists feel that there is a sense of prejudice, as was expressed by Habima’s artistic Director Ilan Ronen:

We come to the Globe along with 37 countries and languages. And this is the only theatre, and the only language, that should be boycotted? Everything is OK in those other countries – no problem at all? Artists should not boycott other artists… I think, as an artist, that this is wrong. We should have a dialogue with everybody. We should discuss and disagree. (Tonkin 2012)

But Palestinians have every right to single Israel out for occupying and oppressing them, and to call for the help and the solidarity of the international community in a non-violent, peaceful form of resistance that is anchored in human rights and progressive liberal values. Ronen’s assertion that Israeli artists are unfairly singled out is also misleading. Unlike South African academic and cultural boycott, which was actually a “blanket” boycott, BDS does not target individualIsraeli academics, writers or artists. Israeli artists are welcome to cooperate with Palestinian artists as long as the projects they are working on together do not whitewash Israel’s occupation, ignore the inequality and discrimination against Palestinians or work to promote Israel’s softer side, while the state continues its gross violations of the human rights of the Palestinians. Israeli artists who receive Israeli state funding are in fact under contractual duties, as illustrated earlier, to do just that.   

Boycotts raise awareness

As this debate continues, it is important to note that even when artists choose not to abide by the boycott call, the controversy that surrounds their performances or their participation in Israeli sponsored events at times within itself serves to educate and raise awareness around the issues and creates opportunities for discussions and for constructive dialogue about what is going on in Israel/Palestine.

This was apparent here in Melbourne when the Boycott fever caught on with the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2010.  At the time, the makers of the film Son of Babylon, having realized that the Melbourne Film Festival was sponsored by Israel, tried to boycott the event. The film’s director Mohamed Al-Daradji and producers Isabelle Stead and Atia Al-Daradji demanded the film, a Palestinian co-production, not to be shown in protest against Israel’s “illegal crimes against humanity” (Quinn 2010).  The festival director Richard Moore declined the request and the film was shown as scheduled. However, this incident created waves of media coverage as most major news outlets and tens of bloggers around the world weighed in their opinion.  The controversy opened the gates to debate and discussions around Israeli actions and the ethics of the boycott movement. This was a refreshing change given that before the Boycott calls, Israel was only in the spotlight when a major event took place; often a suicide bombing, rocket attacks wars or massive bombardments.

Conclusion

Palestinian Civil Society’s call for a cultural boycott of Israel is a legitimate non-violent form of resistance that aims to put international pressure on the state of Israel in order to end its occupation and discrimination policies against the Palestinian people.  Neither Palestinians nor Israelis believe that culture is apolitical. Israel’s assault on Palestinian culture is well documented and its targeting of Palestinian cultural figures has been denounced by various human rights groups. Israel uses culture as a branding tool to promote its softer side and to whitewash its violations of the Palestinian people’s basic human rights. Palestinians also view their art and their culture through the prism of their struggle for freedom justice and equality. From erasure to resistance, Palestinian culture today is an expression of the Palestinian people’s story with all its dimensions, including the political. For Palestinians art is a form of resistance; theatre is political mutiny, dance is rebellion, and singing is liberation.

Works Cited

Abukhalil, As’ad. “Ghassan Kanafani: In Our Memory.” Alakhbar English. Web. 12 July 2012.

“An interview with Idan Raichel.” Australia.il.com. Web. Hebrew. 2008.

Ashrawi, Hanan. “Recognizing Nakba, reaching peace.” Haaretz. Web. 15 May 2012.

Ben-Ami, Yuval. “About Face.” Haaretz. Web. 20 Sept. 2005.

Billet, Alexander . “Madonna sings for apartheid; yet campaign to boycott Israel grows stronger.” Electronic Intifada ChicagoWeb. 12 June 2012.

Bronner, Ethan. “After Gaza, Israel Grapples with Crisis of Isolation.” New York Times. Web. 18 March 2009.

“Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”  Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [PCACBI].  Statements. Web. 6 July 2004.

“Cultural Boycott: Statement by Enuga S. Reddy, Director of U.N. Centre Against Apartheid at a Press Briefing (1984).” Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel [PACBI]. Web. 11 January 1984.

Domke, Ronit and Avshalom Halutz. “Madonna draws 4,000 tourists to Israel for MDNA concert premier.”  Haaretz. Web. 29 May 2012.

“Elton John performs in Israel after string of other artists cancel appearances.” Daily Mail Online. Web. 19 June 2010.

“Fact Sheet:  Palestinian Culture: 64 Years Under Israeli Assault.” The Institute for Middle East Understanding [IMEU]. Web. 2 August 2012.

Hessel, Stephane. “Gaza Flotilla: Global Citizens Must Respond Where Governments Failed”. Huffington Post. The Blog. Web. 15 June 2010.

“Israel/Palestinian Authority: Theatre Group Hit From Both Sides”. Human Rights Watch. News. Web. 27 July 2012.

Jacir, Emily. “Material for a Film: Retracing Wael Zuatier.” Electronic Intifada. Web. 16 Jul. 2007.

Laor, Yitzhak . “Putting out a contract on art.” Haaretz. Web. 25 July 2008.

“Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS.”  BDS Movement.  Statements. Web. 9 Jul. 2005.

Quinn, Karl. “Festival threatened over Israel link.” The Age. Web. 4 August 2010.

Steinberg, Jessica and Dani Bronstein.  “Madonna kept Tel Aviv crowd waiting ‘until she got her Gummi Bears’.” The Times of Israel. Web. 4 June 2012.

“The Great Book Robbery.” AlJazeera. Web. 24 May 2012.

Tonkin, Boyd. “Artists should not boycott other artists.” The Independent. Web. 28 May 2012.

 

Biography

Samah Sabawi is a writer, political analyst, commentator, author and playwright. She is co-author of the book Journey to Peace in Palestine and writer and producer of the plays Cries from the Land and Three Wishes. Sabawi is currently in the process of working on her third play Tales of a City by the Sea – a love story set against the backdrop of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2008-2009.
Sabawi is a policy advisor to the Palestinian policy network AlShabaka and former public advocate for Australians for Palestine. Her past work experience include holding the position of Executive Director and Media Spokesperson for the National Council on Canada Arab Relations (NCCAR) and working as Subject Matter Expert (SME) on various countries in the Middle East’s cultural and political landscape for the Canadian Foreign Service Institute’s Center for Intercultural Learning.

The war in Gaza: photographing the conflict

The Guardian

Associated Press photographer Bernat Armangué tells the story behind some of his images that have featured on front pages around the world in the last week

Palestinians flee their homes after an Israeli forces strike on nearby a sports field

Palestinians flee their homes after an Israeli forces strike on a nearby sports field

During this last Israeli offensive inside the Gaza Strip we were working 18 hours every day, non stop. We usually started at 5am taking pictures of the Israeli air strikes and rockets launched by Palestinian militants. At first light we would cover the direct consequences of these air strikes: destroyed buildings, bodies in the hospital morgues and funerals. In situations like this, there is no fixed agenda; reality changes every minute. It is the experience you have as a photographer and a certain level of improvisation that leads you to tell the story as well as you can and as fast as possible. Our working day finished late at night and then we would attempt to do normal things: eat, take a shower and try to sleep in between the air strikes.

You don’t decide what to photograph, you decide where not to photograph, which is always based on a hypothetical average of risk. There were certain areas that were constantly affected by bombs, which I avoided. My main priority was to show the life of the people in Gaza; I followed them in their houses, on the streets, to the morgues.

The way the people of Gaza face their reality is very different to my life. I guess I tried to transmit some of this through the pictures. In my job, I work with a team of journalists, photojournalists and TV crews. Everyone tells the same story in a different format. But specifically on the street I work with my colleague Majeed Hadman, known as a “fixer”. He helps me in everything; he’s half of my vision and my hearing and most importantly: he’s my friend.

Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza City by Bernat Armangue

Smoke rises after an Israeli forces strike in Gaza CityThis air strike (pictured above) was at around 6 in the morning. It’s just in front of our office building, which is why I had this close view. But due to the proximity of the explosion, it was complicated to shoot: we strongly felt the air-expansion caused by the blast, the extremely loud sound and obviously your heart accelerates a little.

A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative in the morgue of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City

A Palestinian man kisses the hand of a dead relative in the morgue of Shifa hospitalThis was the last picture I took that day. I spent most of the day taking photographs of Palestinian rescue workers recovering people under the rubble of homes – some of them alive, some of them dead. That day 11 members of the al-Dallu family were killed when an Israeli missile struck the two-storey home of the family in a residential area of Gaza City. Some bodies were recovered and brought to the morgue, so I went there to take some pictures. While I was there, another family came to check if it was true that one of their relatives had been killed. They cried, held his body and one of them kissed his hand while saying goodbye. It was a rare tender moment there.

A Palestinian woman is helped after being injured during an Israeli forces strike

A Palestinian woman is helped after being injured during an Israeli forces strike next to her houseIt was early in the morning and we heard an explosion nearby. We arrived at the scene (pictured above) and saw a woman injured by shrapnel. She was being helped to safety.

Palestinian mourners cry during the funeral of Salem Paul Sweliem during his funeral in Gaza City

Palestinian mourners cry during the funeral of Salem Paul SweliemMost of the population in Gaza are Muslim, but there is also a Christian community. A member of the family pictured above died of shrapnel wounds after an air strike. The photograph shows the family members leaving their house to attend the funeral mass.

A Palestinian man rides past a destroyed area after an Israeli airstrike

A Palestinian man rides past a destroyed area after an Israeli airstrikeThis building (pictured above) was destroyed during the night. It was aHamas government complex known as Abu Khadra. It is less than 100m from our office, so we literally jumped from our beds during the air strike due to the loud noise and the shaking of our building. I arrived at the scene at first light and started to take pictures. Donkeys are used a lot as transport in Gaza, and I guess this man was probably on his way to work.

Osama Abdel Aal is rescued after his family house collapsed during an Israeli strike in Tufah, Gaza

Osama Abdel Aal is rescued after his family house collapsed during an Israeli forces strike in the Tufah neighbourhoodThis picture shows Osama Abdel Aal moments after being rescued. His family house collapsed during an Israeli forces strike in the Tufah neighbourhood. The first thing he did was point and tell the rescue team that there were other family members buried beneath the rubble.

This article appeared in The Guardian Photography Blog

Gaza 2012: Palestine’s Long Walk to Freedom

By: Haidar Eid

Published Wednesday, December 12, 2012

AlAkhabar English

 

The long walk to South Africa’s freedom is marked by two immensely tragic events: the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and the Soweto Uprising in 1976, both of which led to the galvanizing of internal and international resistance against the apartheid regime. Ultimately, these events would lead to the long-called for release of Nelson Mandela and to the end of one of the most inhumane systems the world has ever seen.

Without Sharpeville and Soweto, among other landmarks towards victory over settler colonialism, South Africa would still be ruled by a minority of fanatic, white settlers claiming to fulfill the word of (their) God.

Palestine’s long walk to freedom has gone through similar harrowing events, beginning with the 1948 Nakba to the latest eight-day onslaught on Gaza.

In order to understand Gaza in 2012, one ought to trace its origin back to 1948. Two thirds of the Palestinians of Gaza are refugees who were kicked out of their cities, towns, and villages in 1948. In After the Last Sky, the late Palestinian thinker Edward Said argues that every Palestinian knows perfectly well that what has happened to us over the last six decades is “a direct consequence of Israel’s destruction of our society in 1948…”

The problem, he argues, is that a clear, direct line from our misfortunes in 1948 to our misfortunes in the present cannot be drawn, thanks to “the complexity of our experience.”

At 139 square miles, Gaza is the largest refugee camp on earth, a reminder of the ongoing Nakba. The inhabitants of Gaza have become the most unwanted Palestinians, the black heart that no one wants to see, the “Negroes” of the American south, the black natives of South Africa, the surplus population that the powerful, macho, white Ashkenazi cannot coexist with.

Hence the calls to “flatten” Gaza and “send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

In 2008-9, Gaza was bombed by Apache helicopters and F-16 jets for 22 days, killing more than 1400 civilians. As if that was not enough, Israel decided to return to Gaza in 2012 and repeat the same crimes in eight days, this time killing more than 175 civilians and injuring 1399. These are massive losses for a population of just over 1.5 million people.

Israel’s airstrikes, which damage essential infrastructure and terrify the civilian population, are a form of collective punishment against the Palestinian people. Even more, they are war crimes forbidden under international humanitarian law, specifically the Geneva Conventions.

Yet Israel consistently gets away with war crimes. The official, government-based “international community” does not seem interested in the suffering of the native Palestinians. The much-admired, “better than Bush” American president, Obama, thinks that “Israel has the right to defend itself.” The same right does not apparently apply to Palestinians.

Likewise, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague believes that Hamas is “principally responsible” for the current crisis, as well as the ability to bring it most swiftly to an end. This is in spite of the deadly siege imposed on Gaza for more than five years, so much so that Israel even used calorie counting to limit the amount of food that entered Gaza during the blockade.

The fact that Palestinians in Gaza are not born to Jewish mothers is enough reason to deprive them of their right to live equally with the citizens of the state of Israel. Hence, like the black natives of South Africa, they should be isolated in a Bantustan, in accordance with the Oslo terms. If they show any resistance to this plan, they must be punished by turning the entire Strip into an open-air prison.

Both the US and the UK display deliberate and unconscionable ignorance in the face of the brutal reality caused by Israel to Gaza. As a result of Israel’s blockade on most imports and exports and other policies designed to punish Palestinians, about 70 percent of Gaza’s workforce is now unemployed or without pay, according to the UN, and about 80 percent of its residents live in grinding poverty.

But don’t Obama and Hague know this?!

As Hamid Dabashi put it:

Obama is fond of saying Israelis are entitled to defend themselves. But are they entitled to steal even more of Palestine, terrorise its inhabitants and continue to consolidate a racist apartheid state…? Was South Africa also entitled to be a racist apartheid state, was the American south entitled to slavery, India to Hindu fundamentalism?

The only option for Palestinians is to follow the same route as the South African struggle. The South African internal campaign aimed to mobilize the masses on the ground rather than indifferent governments around the world. What hope could they have gotten from the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and Helmut Kohl? It was left to ordinary South Africans and global citizens to show their moral rejection of crimes committed by the ugly apartheid system.

In South Africa’s long walk to freedom, there was no compromise on respect for basic human rights. Apartheid’s attempts to point fingers at “black violence” and “intrinsic hatred” toward Western civilization and democracy, did not hold water.

Similarly, international civil society, and some governments, have seen through Israel’s propaganda campaign where the aggressor is turned into the victim. Across the years, Palestinians have been completely dehumanized. Instead of Reagan and Thatcher, we have Obama and Hague, blaming the victim and condemning resistance to occupation, colonization, and apartheid.

But South Africans did not wait for the American administration to “change its mind.” The global BDS campaign, steered by South African anti-apartheid activists, coupled with internal mass mobilization on the ground, was the prescription for liberation, away from the façade of “independence” based on ethnic identities. Similarly, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions has been gathering momentum since 2005. Gaza 2012, like Soweto 1976, cannot be ignored: it demands a response from all who believe in a common humanity.

Gaza 2012 has, undeniably, given a huge impetus to this process by making all Palestinians inside and outside of historic Palestine realize that “Yes, We Can!” We are no longer the weaker party, the passive victim who does not dare bang on the walls of Ghassan Kanafani’s trunk in Men in the Sun, but rather Hamid in All That is Left To You, the Palestinian hero who decides to act.

Haidar Eid is Associate Professor of Postcolonial and Postmodern Literature at Gaza’s al-Aqsa University and a policy advisor withAl-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

Original article appeared here https://talesofacitybytheseadotcom.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.php

 

As people dig out of the rubble, a Palestinian doctor says civilians were targeted by Israeli attack

Published on Nov 27, 2012 by 

I Am Yusuf and This Is My Brother: A Palestinian story about Palestinians

In the war of 1948, thousands of Palestinians were uprooted from their homes never to return, and playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi is determined to tell their stories.

 

Amir Nizar Zuabi, a Palestinian director and playwright

Amir Nizar Zuabi in Jerusalem. Photograph: Gali Tibbon

 

It was six decades ago, but the fallout from the war continues. A few months ago, one fast-rising, rightwing Israeli party tried to introduce a bill that would ban Palestinians from commemorating the Nakba of 1948, their catastrophe (but which Israelis hail as the creation of their state, the apogee of their independence struggle). In the end, the law will probably be watered down, but the principle seems to have wide support. As far as most Israelis are concerned, they won in 1948, the Palestinians lost, and history has moved on. Except, of course, it hasn’t.

Next week, a compelling new play opens at London’s Young Vic, promising to thrust the discomforting story of that war back into public scrutiny. At the age of 33, Amir Nizar Zuabi, the play’s writer and director, is from a generation of Palestinians raised on stories of the Nakba, haunted by tales of how hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted from their homes, never to return. “We have it as a covert partner in everything,” says Zuabi. “Two of us can sit having coffee and the third person will be Mr Nakba.”

Zuabi was brought up in Nazareth, in the Galilee, where there is a large population of Palestinians living within Israel, and where all around there is evidence of the 1948 war, including ruined villages. One of the razed villages was Baissamoon, a tiny Palestinian community. It is here that Zuabi set his play, I Am Yusuf and This Is My Brother, which tells of two brothers, an ill-fated love, and the dislocation and tragedy brought about by the war.

The play, says Zuabi, began as a personal investigation to scrape away layers of myth. “Why did people make the decision to leave? Or did they make the decision to leave? What would you have done?” Zuabi, living in Israel, found the story had been “hushed up”: “It’s the big taboo, because it’s the primal sin. It is the mother of all problems here. They don’t like talking about it.”

Zuabi’s writing is, however, far from polemical. The Jews who fought to create their state are almost absent; never named, they appear only in the background. “We saw them first in January, then all the time,” says one brother. “They invaded our dreams, our conversation.” Zuabi simply wanted to tell a Palestinian story about Palestinians. “Our narrative is the less known one – history is written by the victors,” he says, but adds: “There is no spite. I find the blame game futile. It’s not like I do theatre to crush Israeli propaganda. I don’t hear Israeli propaganda. I don’t care about it.”

The villagers are divided: should they run or fight? Some see the battle in stark terms. “The war was over before it began,” says one character. “We lost. They won. It was that simple.” But with Britain’s Mandate ending, the same character tells a British officer: “We are not a rubbish heap for your guilt, my friend. We’re in your Middle East and what you sow here you’ll reap in 50 years or 100 years in your lovely London.”

Dropped into the middle of this is the original, sombre recording of the results of the UN vote on the 1947 Partition Plan. Rejected by Palestinians, it was passed by the UN and, but for the war, would have carved Palestine into two states around an internationally protected Jerusalem. “Soviet Union: Yes. United Kingdom: Abstained. United States: Yes . . .”

The play explores the what ifs, says Zuabi. “My grandmother, this Palestinian matriarch, used to say, ‘If you plant what ifs, you’ll sow I wish.’ When I walk around Haifa, in some of the neighbourhoods that are empty, I really have to ask myself, ‘What if that hadn’t happened? What are they doing, these people that once lived here?'”

Zuabi studied acting in Jerusalem, then worked with the al-Kasaba theatre in Ramallah as the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising, took hold. He and his actors produced short sketches that drew unexpectedly large audiences, hungry for relief. The sketches turned into Alive from Palestine, which toured abroad, with runs at the Royal Court and the Young Vic. Zuabi then spent a year working at the Young Vic, studied in Moscow, and returned home to work with the Palestinian National theatre.

I Am Yusuf is the first play from ShiberHur, a new touring theatre company based in Haifa, whose name means Within a Few Inches of Freedom. It has already toured Palestinian villages and refugee camps – communities with little access to the theatre. “We have everything going against us as a theatre movement,” says Zuabi. “Lack of funds, infrastructure, the fact that theatre is not really part of our cultural tradition – we come from a poetic tradition.”

When Zuabi was at drama school, he was the sole Palestinian among Israeli students (one of whom, now a successful actor, later became his wife). Only recently has a drama school opened in Ramallah. Until then, Palestinians went to Israel, if they could obtain the permit, or abroad, if they could afford it. “It’s a new art form for us. We have an audience that’s completely uncatered for and is very thirsty. Once they know theatre exists, they keep coming back.”

He has been surprised by the reaction to the play across the generations. In Jerusalem, an elderly man came up to him after one performance and said: “Thank you very much for telling my story.” In Haifa, a woman in her 20s told him: “I understand my parents better now.” Still, he doubts how much difference one play can make towards unravelling this bitter conflict. “I have to believe it does affect people,” he says. “On the other level, I’m not daft. I know I can’t change the reality. I can’t make a show and tomorrow everyone will walk hand-in-hand.”

I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother Young Vic,  London SE1 Starts 19 Jan Until 6 Feb Box office:  020-7922 2922 Venue website

Original article was posted here.

euronews le mag : Art festival in Ramallah

Published on Nov 15, 2012 by 

http://www.euronews.com/ Qalandiya, the first ever Palestinian Contemporary Art Biennale has been held in Ramallah. One of the most popular displays was a pop art-inspired needlework portrait is of Mohamed Bouazizi, the market stall holder who sparked the beginning of the Arab Spring when he burned himself to death in protest at being rough-handled by the police.

The biennial took its name from one of the most famous symbols of Palestinian separation, the Israeli checkpoint at Qalandiya, which is one of the main crossing points between the West Bank and Israel.

Displaying art installations in hard-to-access Palestinian villages scattered across the West Bank was a gamble, but it worked. People flocked to the Abwein village for a day packed with art and fun.

Using villages as art galleries, and borrowing its name from a crowded refugee camp and Israeli military checkpoint, Qalandiya International was a chance for Palestinian artists of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel and Gaza to get together and overcome their politically fragmented world.

Jerusalem artist, Jumana Manna’s short movie was inspired by a 1942 picture of a high society masquerade hosted by Palestinian politician Alfred Roch, a reenactment that has won Manna the festival’s “Young Artist of the Year” award.

For more information see
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Operation Pillar of Death: Naming Gaza’s Dead – a film by Harry Fear for GazaReport.com

Maysoon Zayid: Funny Arabs – Review

 LSMedia The Independent Liverpool Student Newspaper

In a brilliantly candid account of topics such as terrorism and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Zayid’s autobiographical stand up deals with the post 9/11 relationship between America and its Arabs.

Having heard nothing about Maysoon Zayid other than she is a Palestinian-American comic with cerebral palsy, it was with large amounts of curiosity rather than anticipation that I headed down to the Epstein Theatre on Sunday afternoon.  Even before Zayid stepped on stage, I suspected that I was going to enjoy her take on things. With a fantastic and glowing introduction by Liverpool’s very own Alexei Sale, it was great to see a Jewish comic warming up for his Palestinian counterpart and roundly condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

Maysoon gets her gig underway with her take on the traditional call and response, berating the audience for even daring to feel sorry for her and making light of the jerking limbs caused by her cerebral palsy. The comedy comes thick and fast, with topical stories punctuated with quick, jokes leading up to weighty and often bawdy punch lines.

Using an ever growing number of call backs to previous anecdotes, Maysoon weaves her own narrative along with that of the Israel-Palestine conflict and life in post 9/11 America.

Maysoon’s parents moved to the New Jersey from a small village in rural Palestine and by her own admission her upbringing was exceptionally strict. Her father forbade Maysoon and her sisters from riding a bike or sitting on a seesaw, in what can only be described as a misguided attempt to retain her virginity until her wedding day. The comedy respectfully yet openly pokes fun at some of the more extreme examples of parenting.

Treating her family in much the same way Jewish comics have often conjured up caricatures of the dreaded ‘Jewish mother-in-law’, Zayid refers to her husband as ‘the refugee’ because she first met him in one of the West Bank’s crowded refugee camps.  Using tales of visits over to Palestine to see ‘her refugee’ she explains the backward attitudes that a society under such oppression resorts to, at one point telling of how her mother-in-law gathered all the women of the village together to assess whether a disabled person was worthy of her son.

Zayid lampoons the post 9/11 attitudes to Muslims in the US, by conveying the difficulties of being a shaking Arab at the airport who was dropped off by a father with a striking resemblance to Saddam Hussein.

Regardless of the history her people, Maysoon’s comic digs are sharply leveled at both Israeli and Palestinian politicians. Packing out theatres as a listened to voice for the Palestinian people, whether it’s the US or the West Bank, gives her comedy the kind of importance that few achieve, and puts her up there with the very best. She uses her voice and position to raise awareness and address issues that not many politicians, never mind comics, often go near.

The barriers to success that Maysoon Zayid has overcome are larger than most and that alone makes her worth listening to. However, her comic skill in turning the trials of being a disabled Palestinian woman born in America into something very funny, without losing its point, shows her to be a remarkably gifted performer.

Read original article here 

 

Art on the edge: Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour

Denise Marray

23 November 2012

Khaleej Times

Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour draws inspiration from the political occupation and dehumanising treatment witnessed during her childhood days, and transforms them into profoundly symbolic 
works of art.

A Palestinian astronaut plants the national flag on the moon and then floats away into space. These sequences, bas-ed on iconic images from the US moon landing and Stanley Kubri-ck’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, are at once startling and moving beca-use they express both profound hope and sadness.

The images, from the short film A Space Exodus, are the work of the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour, whose name made headlines last year when the clothing and accessories company Lacoste forced the withdrawal of her shortlisted photography artwork from a competition being held at L’Élysée Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her work was apparently considered ‘too pro-Palestinian’.

In response to the censorship, the museum broke off relations with Lacoste, the corporate sponsor, and cancelled the competition which carried a first prize of £21,000. The story of the censorship made headlines across the world, and Sansour and her Danish husband found themselves at the centre of a media storm, which proved both uplifting and exhausting. The censored work, Nation Estate, which has since been developed into a futuristic short film, places the Palestinian people in a skyscraper, supported by the international community, with each floor representing a city — Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah. The citizens in this luxury development can move about freely, via elevators (no checkpoints), but it is a sterile environment affording ‘freedom’ within the confines of an 
artificial construct. The skyscraper has views over the Dome of the Rock of Jerusalem — so the inhabitants overlook the real Jerusalem, forcing them to face a painful reality of exclusion and separation.

Speaking from her London apartment, Sansour said she and her husband are taking a much-needed rest after completing the film version of Nation Estate, which took nine months of intense work. Ironically, Sansour had wanted to win the Lacoste Nation Estate photography prize. In the event, the publicity that ensued from the ban raised her profile, and she was able to pour the res-ulting profits from sales of her work into financing the high-end production film made in Copenhagen.

Sansour was born in Bethlehem; her parents met in Moscow where her Palestinian father was studying mathematics. Her mother is Russian and worked in radio in Moscow. Upon returning to Palestine, her father was invited by the Vatican to found Bethlehem University. The family home, recalled Sans-our, was like an unofficial embassy, full of leading thinkers and political discussions. As a child, she drew instinctively and her father encouraged her precocious talent by finding her art classes to attend.

She remembers her childhood as ‘sunny’ but punctured by disturbing moments of images of violence on the street. “I think what it does psychologically, and you can’t shake that off, is that you feel that not all humans are equal. As a kid that sends a strong message: ‘You’re Palestinian so you will be treated like dirt.’ It becomes cemented — this dehumanisation — from an early age.”

When she was 15, her family life with parents, brother and sister, was harshly disrupted with the ons-et of the First Intifida, an uprising against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, which lasted from December 1987 to 1993. Her parents, in an effort to protect her, sent her to boarding school in England, where she studied for her O and A levels. Her memories of this time, she said, are full of gloomy grey skies and a feeling of alienation. Those years sowed the seeds of an aversion to London, which she has only recently overcome. She now loves the international buzz of the city, with its 
vibrant cultural scene.

After returning to Palestine for high school, she then set off for the United States, studying art first in Baltimore and then in New York, where she completed her Masters. She continued her Fine Art studies in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she met her husband, a writer, who works with her on the film scripts. The couple, who moved to London three years ago, have a five-month-old daughter, whose joyful arrival has meant a shift in priorities.

A Space Exodus was showing at the Edge of Arabia’s ‘Come Together exhibition in the heart of London’s East End last month. Artists from across the Middle East showed contemporary work using a wide range of mediums and expressing powerful ideas.

Edge of Arabia is unique in engaging directly through educational programmes with the local East End community. This approach is appreciated in an area of London where, after years of social deprivation, a burgeoning arts scene has given a new lease of life to the once run-down streets, but left many residents feeling excluded. “We’re proud to be the education partner with Edge of Arabia,” said Narull Islam, co-founder of the Mile End Community Project.

“This is probably the first exhibition that has really engaged with the local community. They have got the young people involved; that’s really refreshing. It gives our young people confidence to meet renowned artists.”

Article appeared here khaleejtimes.com

Shakespeare in Palestine

By Abdullah H. Erakat, Ramallah

Yasmin Qadmany’s parents did not want her to study acting. In fact, they tried to prevent the 26-year-old engineer from doing so, to the extent that when she told them she was going to follow her heart, they stopped talking to her. That was three years ago, and next year she will graduate. But before she does, she and fellow thespians at the Drama Academy in Ramallah will put on a production of “Romeo & Juliet.”

“I faced difficulties. But I overcame it because I saw it as a challenge,” says Qadmany noting that her relation with her family is now better than ever. Qadmany is gearing up for another challenge in late November: a two-week workshop taught by the all-female company, the Manhattan Shakespeare Project.

Sarah Eismann, the founding artistic director of the Manhattan Shakespeare project says the project came about last year after she performed in an international production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Folkwang University of the arts in Germany. Students from Palestine’s Drama academy also made up the cast.

“They were just incredible artists, as well as passionate, courageous and really wonderful people. So when their director asked if I wanted to work with them again, I was like yeah, of course, I would love to,” she adds.

The Drama Academy managing director Petra Bargouthi says the workshop, (English with Arabic translation), is an excellent way to prepare her students for next year’s Shakespeare festival in Germany.

“Language is the most important character when it comes to Shakespeare. It’s a game of language, so this will be very helpful for our students to understand and discover the poetry in Shakespeare,” explained Bargouthi – also a movement therapy instructor – in an interview with Variety Arabia,

The academy, the first of its kind acting school in Palestine, is located in downtown Ramallah and is hosted by Al-Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque.

Teaching artist Jensen Olaya says she hopes that she and her colleague Eismann will contribute to the “already rich curriculum” of the Academy.

Olaya explained that the sessions will be recorded by film documenter Lena Rudnick: “I feel that Shakespeare is a widely used tool to teach theatre and performance. I feel like his themes are universal on the smallest, most intimate level and I hope that the universal themes can help us connect past cultural and political divides,” she wrote in an email to Variety Arabia.

It’s not only her first trip to the Palestine, but to the Middle East. While she says there are people in Ramallah who have already welcomed her, Olaya says she still cannot quite comprehend that she is actually going and does not know what to expect.

“We have received support – both financial support and moral support – from people in the US and I feel like I have a lot of people who are hoping that I go out there and return with wonderful stories to share about Ramallah and its’ people,” Olaya adds.

“It’s a little scary,” says second-year acting student Rabee Hanani, who has mostly been educated in Germany, but his feelings are more of curiosity than fear.

“By being exposed to different cultures from different countries in the world, we gain more,” he said.

Third-year Drama Academy student Jihad Al Khateeb says he hopes this workshop will make him a better actor, not only in performing Shakespeare, but in general.

“I think the most important thing is how to do Shakespeare the way he intended for us to do it,” says the 24-year old.

Leaving Ramallah, Olaya and Eismann will head north to Jenin’s Freedom Theatre, where they will carry out the same thing.

The venue made the news headlines in April 2011, when its co-founder Juliano Mer Khamis was murdered in broad daylight by unknown men on the steps of the theatre.

Managing director Jonatan Stanczak said the incident caused some students to drop out of the student theatre acting school, but things are now back on track.

Currently, British director Diane Trevis, the first woman to work with the Royal Shakespeare theatre, is conducting a workshop there.

“I am aware that Shakespeare is a very important component of any actor’s development. It’s a great opportunity for us to have one of the best Shakespeare troupes in the world working with our students,” adds Stanczak, who is a nurse by profession.

“We believe culture is the glue that keeps everything together and it is also the process that allows Palestinian society to form itself around ideas,” he said.

“Most of the people who come to Palestine and do the workshop become more aware of the Palestinian life and Palestinian humanity,” says Bargouthi. “I hope this will be a way of knowing us and understanding us and also for our students to see how people perceive them.”

“I merely want to connect as an artist on a human level: person-to-person, overcoming political barriers,” said Olaya.

Eismann says the Manhattan Shakespeare project is simply excited because it is their first venture into creating international relationships.

“We’re not there to make a political statement. We’re just there to create theatre, and to create art,” she concluded.

The story was originally published in Variety Arabia November issue.

Reliving Gaza 2009: Searching for Words!

In January 2009 when Israel bombarded Gaza for three weeks, they called their assault ‘Operation Cast Lead’, Amnesty International had a better way to describe it; they called it ’22 Days of Death and Destruction’.  Today, we are reliving that nightmare once again, and once again I find myself searching for words…

Searching for words

Gaza…I search desperately
For words… for definitions
To tell the story of ammunitions
Exploding in a child’s body
I try to shout my indignation
But I am lost in vocabulary
Drowned in phrases as old as me
And I am as old as the Occupation
I need new words

How hard it is to find
Definitions that can restore
Humanity to a small strip of land
Along the Mediterranean shore
Siege, starvation collective misery
Familiar words in my head they linger
Bombs fall from the sky every day
Powerless words I can’t use any longer
I need new words

“Palestine is occupied….”
These are now hollow words…
“Palestinians are oppressed…”
These are now daily words…
“Palestinians are dispossessed”
These are now…tired words
“Palestinians….have a right to exist”
Words often spoken…worn out words
I need new words

Gaza…my home city
My earliest memory of Jasmine flowers and  meramiah tea
My first taste of sour lemon dipped in salt
My first climb on an almond tree
Gaza, my destiny
My father’s heart sky and sea
My mother’s first love
My sister’s first breath
My pride and dignity

Gaza is under fire
Obliterated by hate
Strangled by a demonic desire
To erase my history
Gaza is in pieces
And I…the writer…
I’m speechless
What language can possibly save me?
What words?

Samah Sabawi January 2009

Press Release: A new Gaza Massacre!

Press Release: A new Gaza Massacre!

14.November.2012

Besieged Gaza, Occupied Palestine–The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel, University Teachers’ Association and The One Democratic State Group condemn in the strongest possible terms the criminal Israeli attack against innocent Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. More than 7 people have been killed within the last 6 hours, including 7-year-old child Ranan Arafat. Charred bodies of injured children are pouring in to Al Shifa hospital and the other depleted hospitals around the Gaza Strip. This heinous crime also comes one week after the re-election of Barak Obama for a second term. Tel Aviv claims to have been given the green light to annihilate as many Palestinians in Gaza as possible.

Gaza has been enduring Israeli policies of extermination and vandalism since 2006. We reiterate our condemnation of the international conspiracy of silence and Arab impotence in the face of these continuous Israeli crimes. We note that not a single action against Israel has been taken by any Arab country. Will the Arab Spring stand aside and watch while we are being butchered? Empty rhetoric will no longer be accepted. Words of condemnation have to be translated into action!

We also reiterate our call on all civil society organizations and political parties to boycott Israeli embassies and compel their governments to sever their diplomatic ties with Apartheid Israel.  This time, Apartheid Israel must not get away with its crimes against the innocent civilians of Gaza.  All students and academics should stand in solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues and peers. We ask, what more does the international community need to see to be convinced to act than the dozens of dead corpses of children in Gaza? It is left to civil society and people of conscience to stop the ongoing massacre in Gaza.

Inaction has led us to this point.

 ACT NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE!

One Democratic State Group

Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel

University Teachers’ Association

One Democratic State Group
odsg.org/co

“Gaza” from the soon to be released album “Sounds That Can’t Be Made”.

Gaza

When I was young it all seemed like a game
Living here brought no sense of shame
But now I’m older I’ve come to understand
Once we had houses
Once we had land
They rained down bullets on us as our homes collapsed
We lay beneath the rubble terrified

Hoping.. Dare we dream?
We gave up waiting
For us, to dream is still a dream

When I woke up, the house was broken stones
We suddenly had nothing
And nothing’s changed

We live, eight people, in this overcrowded heat
Factory-farmed animals living in our own sweat
Living like this is all my baby brother ever knew
The world does nothing. What can we do?

We will kick the ball
We will skip the rope
We will play outside. Be careful
We will paint and draw. We will say our prayers

Outside the pitiless sun bleaches the broken streets
The darkness drops in the evening like an iron door
The men play cards under torchlight
The women stay inside
Hell can erupt in a moment day or night

You ask for trouble if you stray too close to the wall
My father died ..feeding the birds
Mum goes in front of me to check for soldiers

For every hot-head stone ten come back
For every hot-head stone a hundred come back
For every rocket fired the drones come back

For thirteen years the roads have all been closed
We’re isolated. We’re denied medical supplies
Fuel and work are scarce. They build houses on our farms
The old men weep. The young men take up arms.

We’re packed like chickens in this town of block cement
I get headache from the diesel. When it rains, the sewers too
I had no idea what martyrdom meant
Until my older brother.. my older brother
I’m sorry. I can’t continue.

You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind, it is said
When people know they have no future
Can we blame them if we cannot tame them?
And when their hopes and dreams are broken
And they feel they might as well be dead
As they go, will we forgive them
If they take us with them?

Stay close
Stay home
Stay calm
Have faith

With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
With the love of our family we can rise above anything
Someday surely someone must help us
Even now we will go to school
Even now we will dream to dream
Someday surely someone must help us

Nothing’s ever simple – that’s for sure
There are grieving mothers on both sides of the wire
And everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at it – whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just aint right
It just aint right
It just aint right

We all want peace and freedom that’s for sure
But peace won’t come from standing on our necks
Everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at this – whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just aint right
It just aint right
It just aint right

It’s like a nightmare rose up slouching towards Bethlehem
Like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

It’s like a nightmare rose up from this small strip of land
Slouching towards Bethlehem

Stay close
Stay home
Have faith

I can’t know what twist of history did this to me
It’s like a nightmare

With the love of our family
We can rise above anything
Some day surely someone must help us…

http://marillion.com/music/lyric.htm?id=824