Earlier this month, BDS Vancouver activists launched a campaign after learning that Ballet BC was planning to perform in Israel in January, 2019. The petition that was started has now garnered over 4200 signatures, with a clear call to Ballet BC to not be complicit in helping Israel cover up its war crimes. Under the heading, “Tell Ballet BC, Don’t Dance on the Ruins of Palestinian Childhood”, the petition focused on examples of what performing in Israel would artwash, from the still pending demolition of Khan al Ahmar to the reduction of Gaza to an unliveable nightmare. The callous murder of 3 young Palestinian boys in Gaza just two days ago added yet another poignant reminder to what now constitutes Palestinian childhood.
Ballet BC refused to answer, or even acknowledge, emails from the petition organizers and supporters, but they did send a statement to the media after the story was picked up by a Canadian media outlet. They said in part: “We have been invited to perform as a part of “CanaDance 2019,” a festival supported by the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv at the Suzanne Dellal Centre along with two other Canadian dance companies. We are honoured to be a part of this festival and to serve as ambassadors for British Columbia and Canada.”
Although information was initially difficult to obtain about the two other dance companies mentioned, the Suzanne Dellal website in Israel has recently posted the details. They are Shay Kuebler/Radical System Art from Vancouver and Le Carré des Lombes | Danièle Desnoyers from Montreal. The same website does not yet show sponsorship from the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv, but given statements by Ambassador Deborah Lyons who has been acting as a public relations advocate for Israel with her ridiculous #WowIsrael campaign, embassy sponsorship would not be a surprise.
The grassroots response to the petition, and some of the moving comments made by supporters, have been truly remarkable. This issue of Ballet BC performing in Tel Aviv, for a minimum ticket price of around $100 Canadian, while Palestinian kids in Gaza have only four hours of electricity per day and others are routinely arrested, beaten and live in fear of losing their homes and futures, seemed to hit a chord with British Columbians.
The theme of The Nutcracker was also highlighted in an open letter I sent to Ballet BC at the launch of the campaign. Going to the Nutcracker as a child had been one of my very few happy childhood memories and now even that was tainted with the stench of this complicity in Israeli war crimes. Here is part of that open letter to their Executive Director:
“As a young child, my mother took me to see The Nutcracker; when I became a mother, I did the same with my daughter and took her to a Ballet BC production of The Nutcracker, a tradition I was hoping to repeat with my granddaughter.
However, I have now learned that Ballet BC is touring in Israel in January, 2019. As global artists, I am sure you are aware of the international movement by many cultural figures to refuse to perform in Israel until it complies with international law. Figures such as Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Lana del Rey, and Brian Eno, who refused to allow the Israeli dance company Batsheva to use one of his musical compositions at a performance in Italy.
In an article in The Guardian newspaper on September 7, 2016, Eno was quoted as saying: “It’s often said by opponents of BDS that art shouldn’t be used as a political weapon. However, since the Israeli government has made it quite clear that it uses art in exactly that way – to promote ‘Brand Israel’ and to draw attention away from the occupation of Palestinian land – I consider that my decision to deny permission is a way of taking this particular weapon out of their hands.”
BDS stands for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that has called on artists, sports figures and others to realize exactly what Brian Eno has said, that the Israeli government is using them to whitewash what is happening right now, today, to the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian village of Khan al Ahmar in the occupied West Bank, for example, is under imminent threat of demolition by Israeli forces. A decision that has been sanctioned by the Israeli High Court and condemned by many in the international community. The children of that village are about to lose their only school (a humble structure built from old tires and clay). Do you not think they would also like a chance to grow and appreciate culture, perhaps even ballet or dance of any form? Would this not be a pivotal experience for those children?
But no, they will never have that chance as even basic learning is about to be interrupted, let alone exposure to fine arts like music and dance.
And what about the children in Gaza, whose basic living becomes more untenable by the day, with unclean drinking water and electricity for just 4 hours a day and poor medical care?
And what about the millions of Palestinian refugee children, many of them languishing in refugee camps and in exile, who are forbidden to return to their ancestral homes and properties?
The story of The Nutcracker is the story of a young girl taken to a magical land, and has become a Christmas favourite for many. For Palestinian children, their only holiday dreams are nightmares that include losing family members, being terrorized by Israeli soldiers during raids on family homes, and losing all hope for the future. It is incumbent on those of us who have the benefits of privilege and resources to show these children that the world has not forgotten them, will not forget them and is willing to take a stand to say that Israel must respect international law and the human rights of Palestinians.”
Campaign organizers are calling on Ballet BC (and now the 2 other dance companies as well) to take a stand and not perform in Israel, which would be a permanent stain on their records. They are also calling on solidarity activists, both locally and around the world, to support this campaign, and to let these artists know that it is morally wrong for them to trample on the dignity and rights of Palestinians.