Arts Briefing

27 04 2009


Mohammed Ali on the BBC

Mohammed Ali on the BBC

Because art always captures my attention, and because I know in my heart that when politics fail, arts become the alternative, here’s a list of some arts news:

1. The Palestinian Festival of Literature is going to take place in May, from the 23rd to the 28th. This is going to be in the form of a roadshow in the West Bank, highlighting the many problems that Palestinians face today. There will be 20 participants, not only Arab but from across the world. I would go to each and every event if I were there.

2. Third Generation is a work-in-progress form of play that is now featuring in Germany, combining young German, Israeli and Palestinian (Palestinian-Israeli) actors. It explores one of my favorite issues: identity, especially in the context of history. You can read Gal Beckerman’s review on the Forward, that was also on the Haaretz.

3. Palestinians filmmakers get a stage in London, and as CNN says, beating all the odds and difficulties of filming in a place that lacks cinematic infrastructure. There has been several Palestine Film Festivals, in Chicago, Toronto, even Texas. So much can be gained from art exposure. I will see “Salt of This Sea” this Friday through the New York Tribeca Film Festival and will let you know what I think.

4. Stanford University professor, Ronald Levy, becomes the first Jew to win a King Faisal International Prize (regarded as the Arab Nobel Prize), in Medicine. The prize consists of $200,000, a medal, a certificate in Arabic and English and dinner with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. I realize that this is not an arts update but it’s worth the mention. I wonder if Levy was super thrilled.

5. This is an old article that I kept in my records. Jerusalem art comes out to combine homosexuality and religiosity, called Out of the Sacred Closet – Beauty, Belief and Identity.” This is interesting and juicy. Reactions vary but artistic expression is always commendable.

6. Muslim graffiti in the UK by artist Mohammed Ali gets the attention of the BBC


Marking Passover

8 04 2009
Passover 2009 - Jerusalem Post, AP

Jerusalem Passover, 2009 - Jerusalem Post, AP

Today is an important day for many Jews around the world. It is Passover, a seven-day celebration marking the Jews’ exodus from Egypt and their liberation from slavery. It is a day of appreciation, humanity and, of course, food!

This photo captured my attention on the Jerusalem Post. If you click on the link titled “Blessing of the Sun” right below this photo on the actual website, you will see many more beautiful pictures taken today. The article also reports the different events and celebrations that are taking place these next couple of days among the Jewish community in Israel and around the world.

East Jerusalem’s Al-Bustan Neighborhood

1 03 2009


Photo taken by Rebecca Manski,

There have been several articles in the news lately about the Palestinian-populated Al-Bustan area in the Silwan neighborhood, East Jerusalem. The Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality had given warnings of evacuation to 88 houses in the area. Nearly 1,500 people are now under threat of homelessness. The case is both curious and unclear. Initial reports said that the municipality gave these warnings because it intends to demolish the homes and build a public park. Then came news that there is archeological importance to this area and the municipality intends to dig in and explore. After that came further news that these houses were built without permit, all of them, and it was time for the authorities to correct the wrong.

There were rumors that the residents might be compensated by relocating them to another village in Jerusalem such as Beit Hanina in the north. No details are in yet, however. The residents went on a strike last Saturday, which I doubt affected anything.

Topics like this provoke many comments online. In the Haaretz’s article, some commentators screamed “land theft” and “ethnic cleansing.” Although that might be a stretch, these ideas do cross some people’s mind when 1500 people are threatened to be left on the streets. Others justified this move, citing the archeological importance of the area (though the municipality has not announced any planned explorations). Some others used the idea of “eye for an eye” saying that in the late 1930s, Jews were evacuated by Arabs. A commentator said, “It was a Yemenite Jewish area from 1882 until all the Arabs ethnically cleansed the Jews in the 1936-39 Intifada. Some of the houses still have mezuzah marks on the door frames and Magen David designs in the architecture.”

I have a lot of problems with this last statement. I cannot dispute or agree with the claim of the 1930s ethnic cleansing. I don’t have enough knowledge about that. But I wonder this: does one ethnic cleansing justify another? Does it justify putting many people out on the streets again, like the old Yemenite Jews? I don’t get it. If you hate it when it’s done to you, why do you do it to others? There no sense of mercy or humanity here, this is revenge and hatred talking. I don’t think people understand the catastrophe here if these houses are evacuated completely without compensation whatsoever. I don’t think they understand that children would be homeless. Actually, I don’t think they care at all.

The claim that these houses are built without a permit may well be true. But consider also that many Palestinians find it very difficult to get permits in the first place. Moreover, if we talk about illegality here, then under international law Israeli settlements in the West Bank are altogether illegal, yet Israel continues to give permits to settlers. In fact, the Israeli database on settlements was finally published a month ago, in both Israeli and international news agencies, despite resistance from the Defense Ministry. The database recorded that 75% of the settlements constructed were carried out without Israeli permits, or contrary to the permits issued. More than 30 settlements and extensive construction of buildings and infrastructure were done on private lands of West Bank Palestinian residents. Does Israel intend to demolish these settlements too now that the news is all out and the shame is oh so great? No plans have been declared yet. I have my doubts. Do you?

A Shoe at Israeli Ambassador in Sweden

22 02 2009

On Wednesday, February 4, 2009, the Israeli Ambassador in Sweden, Benny Dagan, received an unpleasant welcome at Stockholm University. He was giving a lecture about the Israeli elections and later moved to talk and defend Israel’s latest military operation in Gaza. Two protestors, a man of 35 years and a woman of 25, threw a shoe and a notebook at the diplomat. They yelled, “Murderers!” and “Intifada!” Later, they were both arrested by the police and received charges for assault and public disturbance. A student who attended the lecture caught this shaky video on his cell phone camera…


The two protestors got their point across: an extreme disapproval, if not disgust, of what the IDF has done in the Gaza strip. I wonder, however, about this action’s effectiveness, aside from the publicity. The Swedish have shown much support to the Palestinian cause, from boycotting Israeli products to protesting against the partnership between their company Veolia and Israel in building a tramline two years ago in Palestinian-populated East Jerusalem.

A shoe, notebook, or whatever it is, thrown at a diplomat does not shed good light on the cause, however. It portrays a level of violence and disrespect that undermines it and all those people who support it. Pro-Palestine supporters, then, get called barbaric, violent and even insolent. They become the bad guys in the eyes of others. Is that the image aimed for here?

There are other means to fight, protest and express disapproval. Propelling objects in the air could work momentarily, get a first page space in newspapers, but it’s not effective in the long-run.