Open letter from North American organizations: Batsheva, Take a strong, unequivocal stance against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians

February 21, 2012

To Batsheva Dance Company:

We are writing as human rights activists and artists from North American cities that you plan to visit on your upcoming tour. Palestinian civil society has issued a call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, modeled on the call for the boycott of apartheid South Africa. Respecting that call, we urge you to cut all ties to the Brand Israel campaign and take a stand against the Israeli government’s violations of Palestinian rights. Until you do so, we will not welcome you in our cities and will organize a boycott of your performances due to your collaboration with the Israeli state.

Batsheva and Brand Israel

You may claim that art and politics can be separated, but the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) knows this is not the case when it refers to Batsheva as "the best known global ambassador of Israeli culture.” Indeed, Batsheva receives funding from the MFA – which cynically uses the arts as a way to distract attention from Israel's oppression of Palestinians. In 2009, Arye Mekel of Israel’s MFA told a reporter, "We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits . . . This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.” Your upcoming tour in particular is prominently advertised on the cultural calendar of the Israeli consulate in New York City, and your host in New York, the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), aptly notes that Batsheva is “Israel’s leading cultural ambassador.”

There is no mistaking it: Batsheva is actively complicit in whitewashing Israeli human rights abuses, apartheid, and occupation of Palestinian land. Brand Israel initiatives such as your tour are designed to distract from the facts, including: Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands; Israel’s 223 Jewish-only settlements and “outposts” built on Palestinian land in violation of international law; Israel’s apartheid wall in the West Bank that further appropriates Palestinian land, also in violation of international law according to the International Court of Justice; Israel’s demolition of over 24,000 Palestinian homes since 1967; and Israel’s 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza, which killed over 1,400 Palestinians, prompting allegations of war crimes by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission. In addition, Israel has enacted over 20 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel and enshrine their status as second-class citizens.

As Batsheva artistic director Ohad Naharin admitted in a 2005 interview: "I continue to do my work, while 20 km from me people are participating in war crimes.” Even with this knowledge, Batsheva has not once taken a stand, as an institution, against the oppression of the Palestinian people.

Artists and apartheid

Hana Awwad, who spent years performing with one of the premier Palestinian dance troupes, El Funoun, explained to Adalah-NY, “Exhibits and performances by Palestinian artists are systematically banned, sabotaged, and closed down by the Israeli occupation. Artists themselves are targets of violence, arbitrary arrests, and deportations. Israel's three-tiered system of occupation, colonization, and apartheid ruthlessly suffocates the livelihoods of Palestinian communities, including our right to artistic and cultural expression.

“As a Palestinian dancer based in the West Bank, I am prohibited by the Israeli government from traveling to Gaza for performances. After Israel's 2008-2009 military assault on Gaza, our Ramallah-based dance troupe resorted to performing for our people in Gaza via a satellite link in protest of Israel's siege on Gaza. Some of our dancers are also prohibited by the Israeli government from ever accompanying the troupe when it performs in neighboring Palestinian cities and abroad."

Iman Fakhouri, director of the Popular Arts Centre, told Adalah-NY, “In 2009, for example, when the UNESCO and Arab Ministers’ Council declared Jerusalem as the capital of the Arab Culture, Israeli authorities enforced measures to hinder and impede the participation of art organizations to celebrate and perform. Our Centre experienced such unjust and harsh measures, as two of our dance performances were cancelled because Israel denied our dancers entry to Jerusalem and the theater where a German hip hop dancer was to perform was closed down by the Israeli authorities at the last minute. Israeli forces outside the theater were trying to remove people by force. Some people, both from the audience and the artists, were beaten up and arrested [when they] gathered outside the theatre and started dancing Palestinian folk dance, ‘Dabke,’ in a form of protest against the closure.”

While Batsheva travels the globe, Palestinian refugees whose families were driven from their homes in 1948 are often prevented by Israel from performing as dancers in their homeland, much less returning there to live. Houria Al Far, a dance trainer for the Kufiyeh Dabkeh Group in Ein El Hilweh Refugee camp in Lebanon, explained her experience: "The second time our group went to perform in Ramallah was in May of 2011. The night we were leaving Lebanon we received the names of the people who were granted permits by Israel to enter. As I read the names my heart sunk. I was refused entry with five other people from the group. And they were some of the older kids, the musicians who played percussions and bagpipe. . . . The first time we went they had refused entry to one of our younger girls Isra’a, who was nine at the time."

What excuse does Batsheva have for remaining silent while your government denies Palestinians the freedoms of movement and self-expression without which Batsheva itself could not perform?

Acting in solidarity

Given the continued violation of human rights faced by Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli state, it is an immediate imperative that we take a stand in solidarity. As artists and cultural workers, we must take steps to resist our complicity in the crimes being committed, and to publicly renounce the state violence and repression that Palestinians continue to be subjected to every day. While some still hide behind the excuse that art is somehow apolitical, many artists of conscience are standing up. This includes a growing number of musicians, such as Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Roger Waters, the Pixies, and Gil Scott-Heron, who have refused to play concerts in Israel.

We hope Batsheva, like a growing number of Israelis, will take a strong, unequivocal stance against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and support justice and equality for all. Until then, we will continue to urge a popular boycott of, and protests against, your performances throughout North America.

Sincerely,

New York
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
Artists Against Apartheid
Brooklyn For Peace
Columbia Palestinian Dabke Brigades
Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)
Hunter SJP
Jews Say No!
Labor for Palestine
New School SJP
New York City Labor Against War
Wespac Foundation
Women in Black Union Square

Bay Area
14 Friends of Palestine
Al Awda, The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition
Bay Area Women in Black
Birthright Unplugged
Culture and Conflict Forum
Free Palestine Movement
International Solidarity Movement – Northern California
Justice for Palestinians – San Jose

Austin
Palestine Solidarity Committee

Chicago
Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights
Palestine Solidarity Group – Chicago

Arizona
Arizona State University No More Deaths/No Mas Muertes
Arizona State University Students for Justice in Palestine
University of Arizona Students for Justice in Palestine

Montreal
Tadamon!

Toronto
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) - Toronto

National Groups
US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI)
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation