A tale of two festivals

Israel/Palestine
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Don’t forget that we are under siege, we are divided even in Jerusalem. They put a wall that separates neighbours. It’s very cruel and ugly. We are besieged by settlements. We are getting used to it because we want to go on living, not because we are getting weak. (Actor, George Ibrahim at a discussion in London following the performance of Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe by Palestinian theatre company, Ashtar, May 2012.)

Palestine Festival of Literature, ‘PalFest’, 2011, occupied West Bank

The festival participants cross Allenby Bridge from Jordan:

‘Get off! Come. Go. Passport. Show your bags.’

The metal detector beeps.

‘Oh – I forgot my belt,’ says someone in our group.

‘Your belt,’ shouts the soldier, sneering. ‘Now! Go again! Belt.’ Sarcastic. ‘Go back!’

They act like they hate us, except for one boy who has clear blue eyes, a quiet manner and the wide pure face of a village pastor. He attempts a smile. We are already so freaked and disgusted that we don’t smile back.

(Beyond the Wall: Writing a path through Palestine, Bidisha)

The smile is not accompanied by an intention to stop the violence of occupation; worse, it tries to impose upon the brutalised, humiliated object the obligation to smile back. The smile, a gesture of shared humanity, cannot be reciprocated while the object’s humanity is being denied. 

Is this what so irks the Israeli liberal – when she smiles at a Palestinian across the apartheid divide is she disappointed the Palestinian will not, in her words, cooperate? 

The military checkpoint, writes Bidisha, “is contempt made solid.” A smile cannot undo an entrenched system of oppression. 

Third International Writers festival, Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Jerusalem

Uri Dromi, the director of Mishkenot Sha’ananim told Haaretz that “there is an increasing feeling of cultural siege” in Israel.

Chevalier, author of bestseller Girl with a Pearl Earring, who has been to Israel before, asked Dromi if he could organize a meeting between her and Palestinian readers. “I tried to set up something in Ramallah and when that didn’t work, I enquired at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem but neither place was interested in cooperating with us.”

Official sponsor of the International Writers Festival, The Jerusalem Foundation ‘has pioneered much of the archaeological discovery and preservation projects including the City of David excavations, the major gates of the Old City Walls, the Tower of David Museum and much more.’

The Israeli military come for Palestinian children in the middle of the night.
They detain and transport them to military courts in shackles.
Children in Silwan watch their neighbours’ houses being demolished to make way for the City of David tourist park, waiting for the eviction notice to be served to their families.

“Smile!”

“Cooperate.”

PalFest 2012, occupied Gaza

Up to two days before the participants leave for Gaza, they are not sure if they will get in, as permission has not been granted by the Egyptian authorities. Finally they receive their travel permits to enter via Rafah. Then Hamas tries to shut down the festival.

People have taken to cheering as the lights go out, as if it’s a big joke, ‘Ha ha! It’s done it again!’ This happens on Thursday night when we pile upstairs into the fifth floor of our hotel after plain-clothes security from Hamas close down our closing ceremony. This is denied by Hamas Government officials later and multiple apologies are given both that night and the next morning. ‘Bullshit’, says a Palestinian writer, ‘That’s bullshit’. Whoever was behind the decision, someone obviously wanted a shot fired across our bow.

‘It’s like a dream having you here,’ says a short-story writer, whose five-year old draws a picture for my five-year old in London, ‘and you’ll leave and we’ll be left to a nightmare, a horrible nightmare’.

‘We used to have one authority when the Israelis were here, one authority and one enemy, now with Fatah and Hamas, we have three authorities and this makes our lives hell.’

(Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer based in London. Excerpt from here

“It would be nice if we could just be treated like a normal country, where art is just art.” (Israeli diplomat to Haaretz on boycott of Habima)

In Gaza the only free breath you can take is looking out to sea. But when the sun sets the water is illuminated with prison floodlights – a perfect unmovable line of lights that cuts short the horizon, erases the possibility of the unknown.

In Gaza people know you’re foreign when you jump at the explosion of a sonic boom; still not yet numbed to the jailor’s torments.

In Gaza you exist between the past and the future, suffering colonial barbarities unleashed by robots in the air.

In Gaza I was greeted with a friendliness I have never felt before. I saw a resilience that should not have to be possible. And I had the honour of meeting a people who are keeping alive – against all odds – the values we prize as humans: compassion, community, patience. That they have been so abandoned should make every one of us question what little humanity we have left. And do everything we can to hold on to it.”

(Omar Robert Hamilton is an independent filmmaker, producer of PalFest and founding member of the Mosireen Collective in Cairo. Excerpt from here)

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2 Responses

  1. Annie Robbins
    May 20, 2012, 12:53 pm

    hey, from the first link:

    In an interview with journalist Eleanor Kilroy before coming to London, Aoun addressed the idea that cultural boycott prevents communication between artists on different sides of a conflict. She agreed that art can build bridges and bring people together, but she appealed for “a bit of sanity.”

    “At night Israeli artists want to perform with us and in the morning they serve in the army. What is the use of going on producing art when deep down they know they are breaking basic human rights by supporting the occupation and its apartheid regime and settlements? Israelis need to work inside their own society; changes have to occur on the ground in Israel for there to be real justice.”

    thanks for the report Eleanor, sounds like a fascinating performance/discussion. wish i could have attended.

  2. Pamela Olson
    May 20, 2012, 1:43 pm

    Brilliant juxtaposition — “Why won’t those people whose necks are under my boot smile and cooperate and make me feel better about the fact that I have my boot on their necks? They’re so unreasonable! No wonder there’s no peace!”

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