It was the last night of the much anticipated three-day performance at the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) by the Batsheva Dance Company. The show, Hora, had received five star reviews almost everywhere it had been staged, so the Festival seemed like a fitting place for the Company’s last performances before heading back to Israel.
The show finished, the audience left, and Ohad Naharin (director of the company) stood alone on the street outside the Playhouse, tired and ashen-faced. Why wasn’t the director back stage with the rest of his cast, popping champagne and celebrating the completion of their stint at the prestigious Festival?
The reason was that human rights activists had been present – both outside and inside the Playhouse – for the duration of the three days, calling upon members of the public to boycott the performances and for EIF Director Johnathan Mills to cancel the remaining shows.
The atmosphere inside the theatre had been described by critics as ‘tense, nerve-racking, uneasy and disturbing,’ whilst outside the protesters chanted energetically, excitement building as individuals who had gone inside to disrupt the performances (about 15 disruptions in total over three nights) came back out to join the throng, and as members of the public returned their tickets to the box office upon hearing about Batsheva and it’s relationship to the Israeli State. Tickets were burned on the pavement outside the Playhouse, and as the audience entered and left each night the crowd chanted ‘Your tickets, were covered, in Palestinian blood!’
The poor attempt at a counter-demonstration called for on the first night of the show by the UK Zionist Federation amounted to 5 people walking around draped in Israeli flags distributing leaflets. They did not return for the second or third nights.
A letter published earlier this week in the Herald newspaper called for festival director Johnathan Mills to dis-invite the dance group, citing their participation in the Brand Israel initiative and criticising the group for touring internationally as cultural ambassadors for the apartheid state of Israel. The letter was signed by leading Scottish cultural figures including Liz Lochhead, who also wrote an article for the Herald this Sunday explaining why she supports the full academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
The sight of Ohad Naharin standing outside the Playhouse on Saturday evening, deliberating on whether he could publicly distance his company from Brand Israel and call for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza demonstrated that this week has been momentous in the history of the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
Where our own governments fail to take action regarding the ongoing atrocities committed against Palestinians by the Israeli state – and in fact, continue to reward Israel through trading concessions – we must respond in force. When Batsheva return to the UK later in the year they can expect the same reception they received in Edinburgh this month.
Art cannot distract from the reality of apartheid. We will continue to fight for a Free Palestine.