Israeli Burning Man faces permit challenges
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Israeli Burning Man faces permit challenges

Midburn Festival, set to begin Wednesday with 6,000 participants, runs into difficulties with police

The art installation known as the 'Temple,' a giant, climbable structure built to resemble three trees, was burned at the end of Midburn in 2014 after more than 24 hours of negotiations with police. (Sharon Avraham/MIdburn)
The art installation known as the 'Temple,' a giant, climbable structure built to resemble three trees, was burned at the end of Midburn in 2014 after more than 24 hours of negotiations with police. (Sharon Avraham/MIdburn)

Preparations for Israel’s equivalent to the Burning Man Festival have been temporarily halted, as organizers of the desert art event deal with disagreements with the police over permits. Midburn is a five-day freewheeling event modeled after the storied Nevada festival, which promotes self-reliance and radical self-expression.

According to an email from the organizers, Midburn leaders have negotiated with the police for the past four months over various permits.

“Over a month ago we filed a document expressing our concerns regarding the licensing conditions set out by the police,” the organizers said. “Discussions were held in various forums with the police, and the more we insisted on clear explanations of said requirements, the more we were faced with new, stricter requirements and no explanation whatsoever. From then on, all of our requests for further meetings were met with a negative reply.”

The Beersheba Magistrate’s Court imposed a stop work order on the festival, halting preparation work including building more than 70 art installations and dozens of theme camps.

“Police submitted this request after the organizers did not act in full compliance with the police’s requests — regulating proper conditions to ensure, in a suitable and appropriate way, that police can protect the safety and security of the public and the event participants — but rather continued their preparation for the event,” said Negev police district spokeswoman Nava Tavou.

“Based on what we’re seeing, we cannot overstate the risk of allowing this event to go forward without a business permit and without the appropriate permits from the Israel Police. For these reasons, and because there is serious concern about the safety of the public and the safety of the future participants coming to this area, I forbid the respondent to hold the event,” police stated in their appeal to the courts.

Itamar Paloge and Lior Peleg's 'Grandfather' installation from last year's Midburn (courtesy Faluja.net)
Itamar Paloge and Lior Peleg’s ‘Grandfather’ installation from last year’s Midburn (courtesy Faluja.net)

The court is expected to rule on the event on Sunday morning. All festivals and large gatherings of people in Israel are required to receive permits from the necessary authorities, which can include fire, police, and army. Tavou declined to say what conditions the Midburn organizers had failed to fulfill.

Last year during the event, which was the first full Burning Man festival in Israel, police denied permission to burn some of the art installations. The name “Burning Man” comes from the central event of the festival: burning an enormous wooden statue of a person in a wanton ceremony of fire dancing and drumming. Police eventually allowed the festival to commence with burning two major art installations after 24 hours of negotiations.

Getting some of the installations ready at the alternative, open community of Midburn (courtesy Burning Man Israel)
Getting some of the installations ready at the alternative, open community of Midburn (courtesy Burning Man Israel)

There are 6,000 participants in this year’s Midburn festival, more than double the size of last year’s. It is the third-largest “Regional Burn,” a Burning Man-licensed event that takes place in another country.

Many participants create theme camps revolving around music, art, meditation, food, or performance. Artists work in teams for months to create giant art installations across the desert floor. There is no money exchanged during the festival (except for ice). Participants dance at all-night raves under the stars, hug rather than shake hands, and try to leave the desert spotless when they leave.

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