Teaching Israel a necessary and non-violent lesson

Just another average day in occupied Palestine (via Haaretz):

The state has confirmed that, acting without a court order, the army has barred Palestinian villagers from freely accessing their farmland for two years. The admission was made in the state’s response to a High Court petition filed last year by Beit Furik residents.

The plots farmed by the residents of Beit Furik, which is southeast of Nablus, border several unauthorized outposts that were built near the Itamar settlement over the past decade and are known as the Gidonim outposts. In 2010, the Israel Defense Forces began preventing villagers from accessing their fields freely. As a result they must coordinate their farmwork with the army, in accordance with deployment levels.

Such events give weight to boycotting Israel, writes Ben White in the New Statesman (and I agree):

A fortnight ago, dozens of actors, playwrights and directors called on The Globe to cancel a planned performance by Israel’s national theatre company Habima, to avoid complicity with “human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land”.

Along with Emma Thompson, Mike Leigh and Caryl Churchill, opposition to the invitation includes Mark Rylance, founding artistic director of The Globe. The letter follows on from anearlier call by ‘Boycott From Within’, a group of Israelis who support the Palestinians’ Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Since then, the letter’s critics have responded in an over the top fashion, successfully missed the point. Howard Jacobson reached for absurd clichés (“Kafkaesque”, “McCarthyism”) while Simon Callow and Louise Mensch signed a letter describing the boycott call an example of “the continued persecution of Jews”.

“Theatre ban ‘like Nazi book burning’ say West End stars” ran a headline in The Jewish Chronicle, whose editor Stephen Pollard compared pro-Palestinian protesters at the Proms to “Nazi party members” in “Weimar Germany” (as did Labour MP Denis MacShane who recentlylinked the murders in Toulouse to Palestine solidarity motions in UK trade unions).

This shameless blustering ignores the specific reasons for the Habima boycott call, namely that the company performs in illegal West Bank settlements – colonies that form a key part of Israel’s apartheid regime – and indeed promised Israel’s Minister of Culture that it would “deal with any problems hindering such performances”.

The wider context is the decision by Palestinians to call for BDS as part of their efforts to secure basic rights and freedoms. That call, endorsed by trade unions, faith groups, political factions, and civil society organisations, includes cultural boycott. Groups like the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) play a critical role in mobilising supportfor the Palestinian struggle.

Culture does not operate in some special, apolitical space – just like academic institutions in Israel are also not removed from complicity in systematic human rights abuses. As the Habima general manager put it, the invitation by The Globe is an “honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel in general”.

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