Category Archives: habima

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/

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BAD WEEK FOR PERES AS BDS VICTORIES MOUNT

Israeli President Shimon Peres appeared in contemplative mood on Israel’s 64th Independence Day, April 25, bemoaning the power of the boycott movement in an interview in Maariv.

After listing Israel’s huge achievements, Peres mused on why such a successful nation should seek peace. Not, evidently, because peace is good for humanity, that would be just silly. No. Israel should seek peace:

“Because if Israel’s image gets worse, it will begin to suffer boycotts. There is already an artistic boycott against us — they won’t let Habimah Theatre enter London — and signs of an undeclared financial boycott are beginning to emerge.”

The good president actually slightly overestimates the success of the BDS campaign against the presence of the Israeli National Theatre at the Globe-to-Globe festival, though it has made great strides.

But within hours of publication of his Maariv interview, Peres’s words seemed quite prophetic.

That very day, delegates to the Annual Conference of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the umbrella group for every trade union in Scotland, voted unanimously for a range of resolutions condemning Israeli apartheid, including supporting the StoptheJNF campaign to expose the role of the racist JNF (Jewish National Fund).

Then on Friday April 27, tireless work from BDS activists paid off massively with the decision of the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, The Co-operative Group, to “no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements”.

The Co-op’s decision, notified to campaigners in a statement, will immediately impact four suppliers, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin, Israel’s largest agricultural export company.

Coverage of this major development spread rapidly in the British and Israeli media. The Guardian’s coverage, which for a time was the second most viewed item on its website, relied heavily on the statement put out by the Boycott Israel Network.

The Jerusalem Post was among many Israeli outlets to take up the story, and pro-Israel bloggers quickly leapt into action to demand a boycott of the Co-op.

ARTISTS REFUTE ‘NAZI’ SLURS OVER ISRAELI THEATRE PROTEST

‘Nazi’ slurs published by the Jewish Chronicle are comprehensively rebutted in a letter from prominent theatrical figures.

A challenge to Shakespeare’s Globe for inviting Israel’s national theatre, Habima, to take part in London’s Cultural Olympiad in May has been met with a flurry of allegations of ‘Nazi era book-burning’ (Arnold Wesker in the Jewish Chronicle) and McCarthyism (Howard Jacobson in the Observer) .

This in turn prompted several  of the original 37 signatories to a letter in the Guardian to retaliate, refuting the allegations with a reply published in the Jewish Chronicle on April 12. It is not available on the JC’s website so we reproduce it here:

How sad that Arnold Wesker, Steven Berkoff and Maureen Lipman should suggest that challenging the Israeli national theatre’s fitness to take part in the Olympic Shakespeare Festival at the Globe next month is “tantamount to Nazi-era book-burning” (Theatre ban ‘like Nazi book burning’ sayWest Endstars, April 4).

Can they really have intended to cast this Nazi slur at Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson and the many other theatrical professionals like ourselves who believe that theatre should uphold resistance to injustice, rather than pretend opposition to Israel’s policies while continuing business as usual with an unjust state and its institutions? Doesn’t that cheap insult demean them rather than us?
Our call on colleagues at the Globe to withdraw their invitation to Habima, the Israeli National Theatre, explicitly targets an institution that does the state’s bidding by performing for Israelis illegally settled on occupied Palestinian territory. Habima is directly complicit in human rights abuses, and we think our profession has a responsibility, if not a duty, to speak up on the matter.

We are not targeting individual actors, directors or authors, nor the content of their work, and have no intention of doing so. We are not picking on Israel because it is Jewish, as Berkoff and Lipman allege.

 We are responding to a Palestinian call to insist that Israel lives up to the civilised standards it claims to uphold. In the process, we are celebrating and endorsing those brave Israelis, theatre people among them, who have refused to work in the illegal settlements.

Signed:
 
Niall Buggy, actor
David Calder, actor
Caryl Churchill, playwright
Michael Darlow, writer, director
John Graham Davies, actor, writer
Trevor Griffiths, playwright
James Ivens, artistic director, Flood Theatre
Roger Lloyd Pack, actor
Miriam Margolyes OBE, actor
Alexei Sayle, comedian, writer
Hilary Westlake, director
Susan Wooldridge, actor, writer
Geoffrey Alderman argued that Israel has every right to settle Jews in the West Bank, so Habima was doing nothing wrong. He was quickly slapped down by Adam Keller, of Gush Shalom.
In Wednesday’s Guardian (April 11), Arnold Wesker and a few friends finally put to rest the habitual insistence of Israel’s apologists that “we must not mix culture and politics” by accusing those who queried the invitation to Habima of  “seeking to delegitimise the state of Israel and its success”.
Wesker’s involvement in this row, invoking the sanctity of art, is ironic given his past involvement in the campaign to ban Jim Allen’s play Perdition, which exposed the collaboration of some Zionist leaders with the  Nazis in Hungary. In 1987 the Royal Court Theatre was forced to pull a planned production of the play and it has never been staged in its entirety.
There have been countless items of media coverage since the original Guardian letter appeared on March 30. This commentary from Ben White puts the controversy in context.
Here is a short selection of other coverage, for, against and neutral.

Globe Olympic Shakespeare Festival challenged for inviting Israeli National Theatre

This news release went into circulation on Friday March 29, just in time for Palestine Land Day and the Global March for Jerusalem, with publication of a letter signed by leading actors, directors and playwrights, challenging the Globe Theatre for inviting Israel’s national theatre, Habima, to take part in London’s Oultural Olympiad. Habima is complicit in Israel’s illegal settlement of Palestinian land.

ATTENTION EDITORS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

  •  David Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson, Harriet Walter call on Globe to withdraw invitation to Israeli theatre, Habima
  •  Rylance – “support Israeli artists resisting illegal settlements”
  •  Calder – Habima “a cultural fig-leaf” for Israeli brutality

Leading British actors, directors and authors are challenging the Globe to Globe World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad, over its invitation to an Israeli theatre company which performs for settlers on illegally occupied Palestinian land.

In an open letter published in The Guardian (March 29), David Calder, Trevor Griffiths, Jonathan Miller, Mark Rylance, Emma Thompson and Harriet Walter, along with 31 others, say the Israeli National Theatre, Habima, “has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory”.

They call on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, on London’s South Bank, to withdraw the invitation “so the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land”.

Habima is scheduled to perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew at the Globe on May 28 and 29 as one of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 world languages during the seven week festival.

The Guardian letter notes that a number of Israeli theatre professionals have declared that they will not take part in performances in “halls of culture” built in two large Israeli settlements. Habima, however, has pledged to continue doing so.

“I sign this letter in support of those artists within Israel who are resisting the requests to play in the illegal settlements,” said actor Mark Rylance.   He drew a parallel with earlier campaigns supporting change in apartheid South Africa.

“Acting in the illegal settlements seems to me an act of provocation and disrespect. Surely peace will only be born when each person respects the other’s boundaries,” Rylance said.

The Globe’s response to appeals from Israeli, Palestinian and British campaigners for Habima’s invitation to be withdrawn has been to insist that the World Shakespeare Festival must be inclusive and keep channels of cultural communication open.

David Calder, whose roles include Shylock with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Lear with the Globe Theatre Company, said that Habima “placed itself outside the general case of ‘bridge-making culture’ by being prepared to play before a segregated audience of illegal settlers in a theatre from which Palestinians themselves are barred”.

Calder said that leading Israeli company Habima are part of “a cultural fig leaf” forIsrael’s daily brutality.

Notes for editors:

1. FULL TEXT OF LETTER + TOP 13 SIGNATORIES, REMAINING SIGS BELOW, ALL IN PERSONAL CAPACITY.

We notice with dismay and regret that Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in Londonhas invited Israel’s National Theatre, Habima, to perform The Merchant of Venice in its Globe to Globe festival this coming May.

The general manager of Habima has declared the invitation ‘an honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel’ (i).   But Habima has a shameful record of involvement with illegal Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Last year, two large Israeli settlements established ‘halls of culture’ and asked Israeli theatre groups to perform there.   A number of Israeli theatre professionals – actors, stage directors, playwrights – declared (ii) they would not take part.

Habima however accepted the invitation with alacrity, and promised the Israeli Minister of Culture that it would ‘deal with any problems hindering such performances’.   By inviting Habima, Shakespeare’s Globe is undermining the conscientious Israeli actors and playwrights who have refused to break international law.

The Globe says it wants to ‘include’ the Hebrew language in its festival – we have no problem with that.   ‘Inclusiveness’ is a core value of arts policy in Britain, and we support it.   But by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practised by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company.   We ask the Globe to withdraw the invitation so the festival is not complicit with human rights violations and the illegal colonisation of occupied land.

Yours sincerely,

David Calder, actor

Caryl Churchill, playwright

Trevor Griffiths, playwright

Mike Leigh, filmmaker, dramatist

Roger Lloyd Pack, actor

Cherie Lunghi, actor

Miriam Margolyes OBE, actor

Kika Markham, actor

Jonathan Miller, director, author and broadcaster

Mark Rylance, actor

Emma Thompson, actor, screenwriter

Harriet Walter DBE, actor

Richard Wilson, actor, director

Full list of further signatories:

David Aukin, producer

Poppy Burton-Morgan, artistic director, Metta Theatre

Leo Butler, playwright

Niall Buggy, actor

Jonathan Chadwick, director

Michael Darlow, writer, director

Annie Firbank, actor

Paul Freeman, actor

Matyelok Gibbs, actor

Tony Graham, director

John Graham Davies, actor, writer

Janet Henfrey, actor

James Ivens, artistic director, Flood Theatre

Andrew Jarvis, actor, director, teacher

Neville Jason, actor

Ursula Jones, actor

Professor Adah Kay, academic, playwright

Sonja Linden, playwright, iceandfire theatre

Frances Rifkin, director

Alexei Sayle, comedian, writer

Farhana Sheikh, writer

Andy de la Tour, actor, director

Hilary Westlake, director

Susan Wooldridge, actor, writer

(i) http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4170210,00.html

(ii) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/29/actors-boycott-west-bank-theatre

2. Habima’s planned involvement in the Globe to Globe festival aroused opposition initially from the Israeli organisation Boycott from Within, who wrote to Globe Theatre Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole in January 2012:

http://boycottisrael.info/content/call-shakespeares-globe-theatre

3. This was soon followed by a Palestinian appeal.

Excerpt from letter to the Globe from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI):

“Just as British theatres in the 1980s avoided inviting South African theatres that were part of the apartheid system and took a stance in opposition to apartheid, so must the Globe today disinvite Habima, a cultural ambassador of Israel and a defender of Israel’s illegal colonies.

All main Palestinian theatre artists and other cultural figures endorse  the cultural boycott of Israel and its complicit institutions as a minimal, peaceful form of resistance to the occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression.”

“We again call on the Globe to cancel this invitation which conflicts with its commitment to human rights.”[1]

4. Israeli, British and theatrical media picked up the story:

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4170210,00.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/jan/17/globe-theatre-controversial-israeli-company

http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/34932/globe-defends-invitation-to-israeli-theatre

5. Habima’s general manager Odelia Friedman declared the invitation to perform at the Globe “an honourable accomplishment for the State of Israel”

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4170210,00.html

6.  A Palestinian theatre group, Ashtar, based in Ramallah in the Occupied West Bank, is to stage Richard II in Arabic on May 4 and  5.  A Habima spokesperson, Rut Tonn, described Ashtar’s appearance in the same festival as Habima as an example of “collaborations which will help with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/55939/israelis-fear-protests-globe-shakespeare-festival

But Ashtar has refuted any suggestion that its appearance in the festival four weeks before Habima’s implies any sort of balance or equivalence, and said in a letter to the Globe:

“They have insinuated cooperation with us to undermine the growing cultural boycott of complicit Israeli institutions.”[2]

7. The Israeli state explicitly utilises culture as a propaganda tool under the auspices of its Foreign Affairs ministry which launched a ‘Brand Israel’ campaign in 2005.

Nissim Ben-Sheetrit of Israel’s Foreign Ministry said: “We see culture as a propaganda tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between propaganda and culture.”

Artists who accept funding from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs are required to sign a contract which states that the artist “is aware that the purpose of ordering services from him is to promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel.”

http://www.haaretz.com/putting-out-a-contract-on-art-1.250388

8. Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has highlighted the role of theatre in bolstering the state’s policy of relentless settlement and colonisation and predicted that theatres around the world would lock their doors to Habima.

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/puppet-theater-1.310770

9. The failure of the international community to hold Israel to account for its persistent infringements of human rights, flouting of UN resolution and breaches of international law has led to a Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions modelled on the non-violent campaign to end South African apartheid.

http://pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=869

[1] Full text available on request

[2] Full text available on request