A We Are All Hana Shalabi activist has written to Theatre Ad Infinitum challenging their decision to accept Israeli State funding for their production at this year’s Fringe.
An Open Letter to Theatre Ad Infinitum
Having received several recommendations to see any show produced by Theatre Ad Infinitum by friends who had seen, and been moved by, ‘Translunar Paradise’, I was surprised to see that this year’s production presents the perspective of an ex-IDF soldier. I was dismayed by the description of the play which, while certainly making ample use of every military and violence -related pun possible, uses ‘ conflicted Jewish State’ with no clear geographical definition:
“Armed with music, killer heels and a lethal troop of divas an enraged Israeli executes a story of victim-hood, persecution, aggression and love. With shrapnel sharp voices and moves as smooth as an oiled tank chain, this cabaret troop invites you on a journey into the core of a conflicted Jewish State.”
How do you define the ‘conflicted Jewish State’? Is the production about that state created in 1948 after the massacre and displacement of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinians, the one that is continuously growing through the increase of settlement activity? Is it the more ideological Eretz Yisrael – Judea and Samaria? Do you differentiate between these two notions of the ‘Jewish State’ or do they both describe and enact an end-goal?
Nevertheless, I intended on seeing your production of ‘Ballad of the Burning Star’ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival currently taking place. As the daughter of two Palestinian refugees, I have an intrinsic interest in the ‘conflicted Jewish State’. I also enjoy art that challenges me, whether it be politically or through destabilising preconceived notions of ‘art’ and the way in which it interacts and engages with the world.
That is, however, until I discovered that Theatre Ad Infinitum had applied for and received BIARTS funding. BIARTS is a cultural cooperative body made up of the British Council and the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport, alongside the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, conceived in 1995 while Ehud Barak was Minister of Foreign Affairs. Ehud Barak also imposed the siege on Gaza that has effectively incarcerated 1.5 million Palestinian residents, making Gazan educational, financial and health infrastructures vulnerable. Ehud Barak then in 2008 ordered the bombing of Gaza during ‘Operation Cast Lead’ (I wonder if you can somehow make a pun on “white phosphorous”?), resulting in 1,300 deaths, an acute rise in PTSD particularly in children, and the absolute destruction of any existing infrastructure.
The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, also Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, continues to flagrantly abuse international law by repeatedly announcing the creation of more ‘illegal’ settlements in the West Bank, recently legislating the displacement and re-settlement of tens of thousands of Bedouins in the Negev in the Prawer-Begin Plan.
Frankly, I do not think that it is ethically acceptable to financially support a production that has received any funding from a source like BIARTS, a source that is complicit in every way imaginable in the continued oppression of and violence against Palestinians. Not only have you chosen to make the content of the production explicitly political, based on the testimony of an ex-IDF soldier taken from ‘Breaking the Silence’, but you have also chosen to use the financial support of the Israeli State. As you have proved, art does not exist within a vacuum and should not be treated as such. Playwrights, artists and intellectuals such as Harold Pinter, Caryl Churchill, Alice Walker, Judith Butler, and Iain Banks acknowledged and supported the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for the cultural boycott of the Israeli state until the end of the Occupation and Apartheid. It is dangerously naïve to think that by accepting the financial support of a violent, oppressive regime, you are not in turn perpetuating and normalising the practices of this regime.
By accepting BIARTS funding, tied to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Ballad of the Burning Star’ became a production funded by an Apartheid state, in service of the Occupation. For this reason, I cannot support Theatre Ad Infinitum by seeing this play, and I urge both spectators and theatre companies to consider the political implications of such funding.