Tag Archives: habima

PROTEST BRAND ISRAEL THEATRE ‘TERROR SPECIAL’

Sign up here by Tuesday 11th November (10:00 GMT) to protest the participation of European theatres in a Brand Israel exercise led by Israel’s national theatre, Habima. The ‘Terror Special conference’ is part of ‘TERRORisms’, a two-year project by the Union of Theatres of Europe, under the leadership of its current president, Habima’s Artistic Director Ilan Ronen. 

Letter in French here

Dear members* of the Union of Theatres of Europe:

We write as citizens of various countries in Europe, as enthusiastic patrons of independent and challenging theatre, and as people who cannot forget the terror visited on the civilian population of Gaza in July and August this year.

We note with some amazement that the Union of Theatres of Europe is about to hold its general assembly in Israel, a country that is not in Europe. We note with equal surprise that the current president of the Union of Theatres of Europe, Ilan Ronen, is Israeli.

Ronen is the artistic director of Habima, the national theatre of Israel. His name became familiar to a wider public in Europe in 2012, when he argued that Habima could not refuse to perform in Israel’s illegal settlements, including Ariel, in the West Bank: ‘Like other theatre companies and dance companies in Israel, we are state-financed, and financially supported to perform all over the country,’ he told theObserver newspaper in the United Kingdom. ‘This is the law. We have no choice. We have to go, otherwise there is no financial support.’ This is the line Ilan Ronen continues to take.

In the spring of 2014, an open letter was sent to Norway’s National Theatre (NT) asking it to withdraw from the partnership with Habima. The National Theatre responded by asking Habima to stop performing in the illegal settlements, as a pre-condition for continuing their collaboration. However Habima’s director explicitly refused to meet this pre-condition. Then in August came the Israeli assault on Gaza that left 2,000 Palestinians dead – 500 of them children – and over 10,000 injured. A further petition against NT’s collaboration was delivered to them, signed by actors from a range of Norwegian theatre companies. Responding to the controversy the Haifa-based Palestinian theatre, ShiberHur, did decide to withdraw from the project. Nevertheless, and despite Habima’s refusal, the National Theatre dropped its principled pre-condition, and decided to continue its partnership with Habima.

In other countries in recent years, people alleged to have broken international law have been referred to the International Criminal Court – but you, theatres of Europe, appear on the face of it to be willing to endorse Habima’s participation in the Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land and the apartheid practices of the settlers (how many Palestinian villagers whose land was stolen by the settlement of Ariel, for instance, do you think are allowed to attend theatre performances by Habima in Ariel?).

To say we’re surprised is an under-statement. To say we wish you were not holding your general assembly in Tel Aviv – and not participating in a four-day colloquium on the theme of TERRORisms (sic) conceived and organised by Habima – is to put it mildly.

We’ve had a look at the synopsis of God Waits at the Station, the Israeli play which will premiere on the first night of your meeting. It’s about a suicide bombing by a Palestinian woman inside Israel. Such things have happened. But we’ve scoured the rest of what’s publicly available of your programme to see where the terror experienced by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank at the hands of the Israeli army and air force and Israeli settlers might be explored as dramatic material, workshopped for its potential to reach audiences in Norway, Germany, and so on. We can’t find any such thing.

You are using funds from the Culture Programme of the European Union to run a programme that sounds as if it was written by the Israeli foreign ministry: a one-day ‘Terror Special’ conference on the challenge of suicide bombings to democracies; a round-table on cultural boycott that sounds as though it’s already made up its mind: ‘Shouldn’t artists and cultural institutions make every effort to become a “bridge’ in conflict zones’, you say (while you sit in a country whose government uses culture not as a bridge, but as legitimisation for its project of colonisation).

We’re amazed. We think you shouldn’t go. We don’t understand how you’ve got yourselves into this relationship with Habima. Europe had experience of oppressive military occupations not so long ago. Have you forgotten the terror inflicted on those civilian populations?

Signatories (continuously updated until deadline):

Jenny Morgan, film-maker, UK
Miranda Pennell, film-maker, UK
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead, UK
Dror Warschawski, researcher, France
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, UK
Eleanor Kilroy, Artists right to say ‘no’, UK
Ofer Neiman, co-editor of The Occupation magazine, Israel
Michel Bühler, singer, writer, Switzerland
Hafid Melhay, bookseller, France
Mohamed Paz, Artistic director of Prana Natyam, France
Caryl Churchill, playwright, UK

* The following theatre companies are listed as participating in the ‘TERRORisms’ project:

Staatsschauspiel Stuttgart, Germany 
National Theatre of Oslo, Norway 
Jugoslovensko Dramsko Pozoriste, Belgrade, Serbia 
Habima – National Theatre of Tel Aviv, Israel 
Young Vic Theatre London, England [an associate member of the project, not attending the Tel Aviv meeting] 
Shiber Hur Company, Palestine [withdrawn] 
Comédie de Reims, France


About the Union of Theatres of Europe (U.T.E.):

U.T.E. was founded by French politician Jack Lang in 1990 and established under the presidency of Giorgio Strehler and the directorship of Israeli director-producer Eli Malka. Jack Lang served as France’s Minister of Culture from 1981 to 1986 and 1988 to 1992. It has been funded by the French Ministry of Culture since its establishment.

Jack Lang continues in the role of U.T.E. ‘member of honour.’ ThisElectronic Intifada article from 2003 offers an important insight into the sympathies of U.T.E’s founder:

…a mere statement by the administrative council of the prestigious University of Paris-VI has caused an uproar in Europe over alleged “boycotts” of Israeli academics. On December 16, the French university’s administrative body approved a motion calling on the European Union to suspend financial support for Israeli universities on the grounds that “The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza renders impossible teaching and research by our Palestinian colleagues.” This decision produced a near hysterical reaction among some of France’s celebrity intellectuals and political figures. Philospher Bernard Henri-Levy declared that “The professors who voted for this motion conducted themselves like the most extremist of extremist Palestinians,” and went on to compare the motion to the 1933 Nazi laws against Jews. The leftist Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, called the resolution a “shocking act and a tragic error,” while former French culture minister, Jack Lang, opined that “Israeli universities are oases of tolerance,” and calls for a boycott “encourage fanaticism.” http://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-academic-freedom-defended-while-palestines-destroyed/4325

See also an article in Aftenposten (Norwegian for ‘The Evening Post’), Norway’s largest newspaper: ‘It is the artist’s right to say no

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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

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/

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.