Monthly Archives: May 2012

HABIMA PROTESTERS AHEAD IN MEDIA WAR

During a second night of protests at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre on Tuesday, almost 20 peaceful protesters brought their message of opposition to Israeli apartheid, colonisation and settlement into the auditorium.

As during Monday’s performance of the Merchant of Venice by Israeli National theatre Habima, absurdly tight security failed to screen out pro-Palestinian activists intent on unfurling banners or flags, making peace signs while standing with their mouths taped, and in a few cases, shouting apposite slogans.

The first peaceful protest action inside the Globe on Monday May 28. Photo: Tony Greenstein

The slogan Israeli Apartheid Leave the Stage also arrived by Thames riverboat on a huge banner which was then escorted ashore by police.

Protesters were filmed being monitored by well-known Zionists at Monday night’s protest.

This footage from inminds shows interviews with participants in the action and  eloquent commentary from Haim Bresheeth and Mike Cushman of BRICUP and J-BIG.

On several occasions on Tuesday the actors were obliged to pause while protesters were removed by specially hired private security staff who seemed a little less heavy handed than on the first of Habima’s two London appearances. This may have been a deliberate decision given sympathetic media coverage for protests on Monday (see below)  when it was clear to any objective observer that bullying behaviour was directed at peaceful activists who were themselves calm and restrained.

Even so, over-zealous staff threw out one hapless audience member, entirely unconnected with the protests, because he insisted on following an English text of the play, being performed in Hebrew, on his Kindle. Presumably this was taken for some potentially threatening device!

A young protester unjustly arrested on Monday for allegedly assaulting a member of the security staff while being dragged out of the theatre is understood to have been charged and released on bail.

Media coverage in the mainstream news and arts pages was overwhelmingly positive in giving a fair hearing to the intended message of the protests. Here is a selection.

BBC arts editor Will Gompertz

The Guardian

The Independent

The Bardathon – fascinating review blog

London Evening Standard

BBC News

Guardian review of the week’s art news

Financial Times review of Globe to Globe festival

Independent Catholic News

Eleanor Kilroy on Mondoweiss

Asa Winstanley

Tony Greenstein’s blog

Palestine Solidarity Campaign 

Jewish Chronicle tried to downplay the impact of the campaign

Richard Millett’s Zionist blog shows how draconian the security was

Press release from BIN and Bricup: Pro-Palestine Protesters thwart draconian secruity at Globe

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - MAY 28, 2012
    [updated version, 29th May]

Press Release from
BIN - Boycott Israel Network
and BRICUP - British Committee for the 
    Universities of Palestine
    
PRO-PALESTINIAN PROTESTERS THWART DRACONIAN SECURITY AT 
ISRAELI STATE THEATRE PERFORMANCE, GLOBE THEATRE
    
* Shakespeare's Globe in security lockdown to defend 
        Israeli National Theatre
* Repeated interruptions
* Israeli Embassy orchestrates propaganda campaign against 
        growing support for cultural boycott
    
Despite unprecedented security at Shakespeare's Globe for 
Monday's performance by Israeli National Theatre, Habima, 
pro-Palestinian campaigners succeeded in unfurling a 
banner and staging a mute protest against illegal 
colonisation and settlement. Protesters were manhandled 
by security staff out of the theatre on London's Bankside, 
where Habima - which entertains colonists illegally 
settled on Palestinian land - was performing the Merchant 
of Venice in Hebrew as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
   
Just before the interval 15 demonstrators stood up 
with Palestinian flags and a banner. Demonstrator 
Veronica Simpson said "Security was unnecessarily 
aggressive. We were just making a peaceful protest 
about Israel". One demonstrator had her glasses 
broken. One man was handcuffed and arrested. 
Pro-Israel audience members shouted abuse, and 
some physically attacked demonstrators.

After the interval two members of the audience 
introduced some adapted texts from Shakespeare 
"Hath a Palestinian not eyes.... if you prick 
us do we not bleed" and "Avaunt and quit my 
sight - Apartheid" before they were removed.

Previously six protesters displayed a large 
banner and several smaller ones they had 
smuggled into the theatre. The banners carried 
the slogan "Israeli apartheid leave the stage".
    
"We tried non-violently to convey the message that 
culture may not be used to give a civilised gloss to 
a state that perpetrates human rights abuses," said 
Zoe Mars, a protester. Audience members walked out 
of the performance because they were disgusted by the 
rough treatment of the peaceful and silent
demonstrators.

There were other smaller demonstrations by members 
of the audience.
    
Protesters' ingenuity was tested by airport style 
security checks including "extensive searches of 
bags and audience members". The theatre box office 
was closed by 4 pm, photographic equipment was banned 
and any bag larger than a modest sized purse had to 
be checked into a special left luggage facility.
    
Israeli Embassy attempts to undermine the protests with a 
Twitter campaign in support of Habima fizzled out when 
their efforts were leaked to pro-Palestinian activists. 
An embassy circular suggested using the hashtag 
#loveculture, because it "won't be taken at first glance 
as a political statement."
    
"This is proof positive that as far as the Israeli state 
is concerned, culture and political propaganda are 
indivisible," said Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, cultural 
working group coordinator of the Boycott Israel Network.
    
"This campaign is not an attack on individual artists, 
we are not censoring the content of their work nor are 
we concerned about their ethnicity or the language they 
speak. As with South African sport in the apartheid 
era, this is about refusing to allow culture to be 
used to whitewash oppression."
    
Israeli, Palestinian and British human rights 
campaigners, backed by respected figures in theatre 
and the arts, have urged the Globe over recent months 
to withdraw its invitation to Habima which is 
complicit in the state's human rights violations 
and illegal colonisation of occupied land.
    
Campaign supporters such as film maker Ken Loach 
and actors David Calder and Miriam Margolyes say 
Habima uses its art to normalise an unacceptable 
situation. Their complicity "makes a mockery of 
their claim to freedom in their work," says Loach.
    
[ contact details edited out of this version ]
    
NOTES FOR EDITORS
    
1.    This campaign went public with an open letter 
published in The Guardian  (March 29), signed by David 
Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Mark Rylance, 
Emma Thompson and Harriet Walter, along with 31 others.
    
2.    See video statements from actors David Calder, 
Miriam Margolyes and John Graham Davies.
    
3. Statement from filmmaker Ken Loach and from  
Palestinian writer Dr Ghada Karmi.
    
4. Photos and a first-hand report can be found on
Tony Greenstein's Blog
    
5. Palestinian theatre company, Ashtar, based in Ramallah 
in the Occupied West Bank, staged Richard II in Arabic at 
the Globe on May 4 and 5. In a post-performance 
discussion, artistic director Iman Aoun revealed that 
she had been strip searched on leaving Tel Aviv airport to 
travel to London. She and other members of the company 
explained their support for the cultural boycott of 
Israeli institutions.

6. Video: "Hath a Palestinian not eyes?"

7. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently cited boycotts
as a key reason why Israel may be obliged to make peace.

8. Foreign Secretary William Hague last month condemned 
Israeli settlement activity, saying: "As the Occupying 
Power of the Palestinian Territories, the Israeli 
government has an absolute requirement to uphold 
international law and to fulfill its commitments."

9. Content of Israeli Embassy circular mobilising 
Twitter support for Habima:

An Important Message from the Israeli Embassy - 
MAY 29TH/HABIMA THEATRE COMPANY
Importance: High

Dear Liverpool Jewish Community Members,

As part of the campaign around Habima's performance 
at the Globe this coming week, we are aiming to get 
something relevant trending on twitter. After careful 
consideration, we have decided to use the hashtag 
#LoveCulture as it is short enough to fit on a 
substantial tweet and won't be taken at first glance 
as a political statement.

To get something trending on twitter, we need it 
to be a sudden occurrence. Therefore, we will start 
tweeting with #LoveCulture at 08:00 UK Time 
(which is GMT +1) on Tuesday 29 May (please do not 
start before this time as it will dilute the 
possibility of this actually trending).

(If you do not have twitter, please email 
acailler@live.co.uk before Tuesday 
29th May and Adam will advise you what/how to use twitter)

Due to the rules twitter has, please refrain from using 
additional hash-tags, sending multiple tweets with only 
minor changes as they won't be counted and please make 
sure that your tweets are relevant, as again not 
complying will result in tweets not being counted.

Examples of tweets that you can use (please try and 
edit them) are:

· Great to see @HabimaTheatre celebrating the Cultural 
Olympiad @the_globe...all the world's a stage #LoveCulture

· Fantastic seeing the foremost Hebrew speaking theatre 
company perform the Merchant of Venice @the_globe 
#LoveCulture

· Was great to hear @edvaizey enjoyed watching 
@HabimaTheatre... did he understand any of it though? 
#LoveCulture

· Jealous of all those off to see sold out @HabimaTheatre 
at @the_globe tonight...last night was great #LoveCulture

If you are using a twitter client such as TweetDeck or 
HootSuite, there is an option to schedule tweets to be 
sent at a predetermined time.

Please feel free to send this on to trusted contacts 
with twitter.

If you have any questions please contact 
pr-asst3@london.mfa.gov.il or elliot@thejlc.org.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

Photo of protest outside the Globe, Monday evening

http://pic.twitter.com/W0D7Koo1

(Taken by Asa Winstanley, posted on Twitter)

The hashtag for the Habima protest trended worldwide!

Zionists eat your hearts out! (oops, that could be taken as a
reference to Shylock’s “pound of flesh” – no offence intended)

#lovejustice4all trended no.1 in UK: http://twitpic.com/9qae31

– and no.2 Worldwide: http://twitpic.com/9qafe4

(posted by your guest editor, Sue B)

A Shakespearean sonnet for Habima!

 

Shakespeareans for Poetic Justice present:

                    A Sonnet for Habima

 
 
If all the world’s a stage – why then, the stage

Must play its part if we would change the world.

Whence this commotion?  Why such howls of rage

The moment that our banners are unfurled?

 
In Shakespeare’s time, an audience was moved

By speeches about justice and compassion.

The Bard, methinks, could only have approved

Of protests carried out in such a fashion.

 
We’ll take no lessons from those fools who claim

That politics can’t mix with the theatre.

If actors break the law, they are to blame.

Perform in settlements?  They should know better!

 
Attempts to whitewash Israel just got harder:

Now “Globe to globe” meets global Intifada.
 

Sue Blackwell, 26th May 2012

ISRAELI EMBASSY ORCHESTRATES TWITTER DEFENCE OF HABIMA

VIDEO MESSAGE FROM MIRIAM MARGOLYES

Israel’s pretence of keeping culture separate from politics has disintegrated in the days leading up the appearance of the flagship theatre company Habima at Shakespeare’s Globe in London on May

No doubt under extreme pressure from the Zionist lobby, the Globe  is imposing unprecedented security measures on audiences on Monday and Tuesday, in a misguided attempt to prevent protesters expressing their outrage at the presence of Habima, which entertains colonists illegally settled on Palestinian land.

Link to video here.

In moves that will make the theatre resemble an Israeli checkpoint, bags “and audience members” will be subjected to “extensive searches”; the audience will be required to check in an hour and a half before the start of the performance and no bags larger than a medium-sized purse will be allowed into the auditorium.

Now evidence has emerged that the Israeli Embassy is instructing Israel’s supporters in the UK on how to use Twitter in Habima’s defence.

In emails circulated to some sections of the Jewish community, the embassy is launching a Twitter campaign using “the hashtag #LoveCulture as it is short enough to fit on a substantial tweet and won’t be taken at first glance as a political statement” (our emphasis).

Suggested hasbara tweets from Tuesday morning onwards include:

Great to see @HabimaTheatre celebrating the Cultural Olympiad @the_globe…all the world’s a stage #LoveCulture

 Fantastic seeing the foremost Hebrew speaking theatre company perform the Merchant of Venice @the_globe #LoveCulture

and, with an ungrateful dig at Conservative MP Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, who has made a point of promising to attend the Israeli cultural ambassadors’ performance on Monday:

 Was great to hear @edvaizey enjoyed watching @HabimaTheatre…did he understand any of it though? #LoveCulture

Those interested in helping the Brand Israel Hasbara effort are invited to email the embassy at this address: pr-asst3@london.mfa.gov.il

For those who, on the other hand, respect the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions and recognise cultural boycott as a legitimate weapon in the non-violent struggle for freedom, justice and equality, we recommend joining a mass protest outside the Globe at 6pm on Monday May 28 and again on Tuesday 29th.

The protest is a joint effort by the full range of Palestinian solidarity organisations including Jews for Justice for Palestinians, J-BIG, the Boycott Israel Network, PSC and many more.

Film maker Ken Loach said in statement before the protests that Habima, in common with other Israeli cultural institutions travelling abroad, was part of Israel’s propaganda campaign.

“These performances attempt to normalize the unacceptable, the occupation of land that belongs to the Palestinians,” said Loach. “This complicity makes a mockery of Habima’s claim to freedom in its work.”

Despite appeals over recent months from Israeli campaigners and many respected UK theatre actors, directors and playwrights, the Globe has declined to respect the Palestinian boycott call aimed at institutions, like Habima, that use culture to legitimise the Israeli state’s infringements of human rights and breaches of international law.

See actors David Calder, Miriam Margolyes and John Davies explaining their support for the  cultural boycott of Israeli National Theatre, Habima.

Join the campaign facebook page.

TRIUMPHANT PALESTINIAN RICHARD II AT SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE

“London loved the Palestinian Theatre’s performance of Richard II in Arabic at the Globe World Shakespeare Festival on4th May 2012 – a wonderful play beautifully performed.”

Sami Metwasi, Ashtar’s witty and tragic King Richard, addresses the post performance discussion audience.

So commented one audience member who joined a packed and lively post-performance discussion on Friday evening with more than a dozen members of the ASHTAR theatre company and British theatre professionals and enthusiasts.

Also on the panel were UK writer and broadcaster Bidisha and Sonja Linden, founder of iceandfire theatre . There is a full audio recording of the discussion here.  Ashtar’s Richard II is on film here.

Based in Ramallah in the Occupied West Bank, Ashtar was formed in 1991 by two prominent Palestinian actors and directors, Iman Aoun and Edward Muallem, both of whom were on stage in Richard II at the Globe on May 4 and 5.

Iman Aoun, artistic director of Ashtar

Their Gaza Monologues, created in 2010 and performed by more than 60 companies in 36 countries, was their artistic response to the Israeli assault on Gaza which killed almost 1,400 Palestinians in Dec/Jan 2008/09. It told the personal stories of a group of children from Gaza. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to stop its performance in Norway.

Edward Muallem, co-founder of Ashtar, Northumberland in Richard II

At the beginning of Friday’s discussion, Aoun, Muallem and 11 other cast members introduced themselves, each drawing warm applause from the audience as they revealed the richness and complexity of their lives as Palestinian artists living and working all over Palestine and the diaspora.

Many are established figures in Palestinian society as directors, playwrights, film-makers, theatre group founders and artistic directors, and educators.

Amer Khalil, Bagot in Richard II, works in theatre with young people in Gaza and the West Bank.

Ashtar’s artistic director Aoun said that in interpreting a Shakespeare play outside their usual repertoire, they had to work hard to understand the setting for Richard II, to explore its meaning at the human level, and to consider what it meant to them.

“With help from our Irish director Connall Morrison we eventually made our starting point the end of the play, where Henry Bolingbroke (Henry IV of England) says he will go to Jerusalem to clean his hands of the blood he had shed – and to dirty our land!,” said Aoun.

“Britain occupied Ireland as it later occupied Palestine. But the play speaks far beyond our situation. Shakespeare talks about every tyrant, every power struggle in every place and time.”

At the Globe’s reception for Ashtar, after their second performance of Richard II on Saturday May 5, Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole hailed Ashtar’s interpretation of a play which the English habitually did not “get”.

“It took a Palestinian company to show us what it’s really about,” he said.

The discussion on Friday, held in a lecture theatre at the Globe but organised independently by Ashtar with help from London-based campaigners for Palestinian rights, repeatedly highlighted Ashtar’s role as artists performing universal work.

“When Palestinian artists perform, they are not only representing their lives under military occupation,” said Bidisha, noting that resistance may take political, diplomatic or cultural forms.

Writer and broadcaster Bidisha

She said the play’s bloody action gave us claustrophobic character studies reminiscent of a rich Saudi family scheming and fighting for wealth and power.

Linden, whose own work explores stories that are often passed over or ignored, said artists have a duty to engage and bear witness. She called theatre “a form of non-violent resistance.”

Playwright Sonja Linden

The audience  included a number of actors, directors and playwrights who had signed a letter calling on the Globe to rescind its invitation to the Israeli National Theatre, Habima, in the Shakespeare festival.

Actors Roger Lloyd-Pack (centre) and Kika Markham (right)

BDS campaigner Les Levidow asks Ashtar’s view of the boycott movement

The Habima issue was one of those raised in audience questions.

Aoun stated unequivocally that all the theatre companies represented by Ashtar’s members support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), and specifically cultural boycott.

“We cannot agree to any hostile presence on the West Bank, or engage with anyone complicit in it,” she said. “Remember we have to LIVE the Occupation. Even coming here, to perform  at the Globe, I was strip searched at Tel Aviv airport.”

Nicola Zreineh, Iman Aoun, George Ibrahim

Nicola Zreineh, who played Richard II’s deposer Bolingbroke in the play, said the boycott was not just about Habima.

“Any institution of the Israeli state should be cut off as long as justice is denied,” he said.

George Ibrahim, sharing the platform with Aoun and Zreineh, reminded the audience;  “We Palestinians are all besieged. Even in Jerusalem the cruel, ugly wall separates us.”

Another Ashtar member, Firas Farah, joked that checkpoints and closures made it easier to get from Jerusalem to London than to Ramallah.

Firas Farah, Aumerle in Richard II

“When Henry Bolingbroke says he is going to Jerusalem, I think – ‘How will he get a permit?’” said Farah.

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.”

Other members of the Ashtar team were pictured at the discussion by Abbas from inminds.

Bayan Shbib, the Queen

Mohammad Eid, Ross

Ihab Zahdeh, Mowbray and two other parts

Iyad Hurani, Percy in Richard II

Hussein Nakhleh (standing), John of Gaunt

Raed Ayasa, plays Ross and a gardener

George Ibrahim, Duke of Gloucester & Duke of York

Nicola Zreineh, Henry Bolinbroke

See here for an excellent resume by Eleanor Kilroy of the arguments for Habima’s exclusion from the Globe’s festival.

Bidisha is launching her new book, Beyond the Wall: Writing a Path Through Palestine, on Wednesday May 16.

Some examples of media coverage for Ashtar:

http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/globe-globe-richard-ii-shakespeares-globe

http://arabshakespeare.blogspot.co.uk/

http://jn1.tv/video/culture/?media_id=22210

http://www.alalamiatv.com/news/?p=4850

http://danhutton.wordpress.com/tag/ashtar-theatre/