Culture Minister Miri Regev said Thursday that a show about the destruction of Palestinian buildings will be vetted before it is allowed on stage at an upcoming alternative theater festival in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Acre.
The play, one of several entries for a competition, will be watched either by a representative of the ministry’s theater and fringe department or by a figure from the statutory Council for Culture and the Arts, Haaretz reported.
A statement from Regev’s office said the minister had “agreed” with Acre’s mayor and chairman of the festival board, Shimon Lankri, that city hall will review the play, Palestine Year Zero, to determine “whether it includes inciteful subjects that harm the state and its symbols.”
“As I have said in the past, there is a clear distinction between freedom of speech and freedom of funding,” the minister said.
“No country, and Israel is among them, will fund performances which undermine their existence.”
According to the program of the Acre Festival of Alternative Theater, scheduled for October 17 to 20, the play, directed by Israeli Jew Einat Weizman, is a “documentary comedy” which tells the story of a building assessor who decides to appraise the cumulative damage caused to Palestinian buildings which have been destroyed or damaged.
He goes from house to house, from Jerusalem to the West Bank, and finally to Gaza and writes a report on the damage. In each place, the nature and reason for the damage is different. He visits buildings that are falling down, bombed, sealed and split in two. The damage comes from the bottom, the top and the sides.
“Through his report, the assessor reveals the Palestinian reality. The valuer becomes an archaeologist of the present, writing about Palestinian history through destruction,” the program says.
Regev was apparently tipped off about the play by a right-wing activist, Shammai Glick, Haaretz said.
In a letter to Regev, Lankri and Uzi Dayan, head of Israel’s Mifal HaPayis national lottery, Glick wrote “Throughout the play, they talk about buildings destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza and Jerusalem, and they forget to note that a moment before, rockets were fired from them and they murdered Jews, our sons and our brothers. The IDF has never destroyed a house for no reason, each house has its reason and the reasons are not shown. A twisted reality is shown. And I ask: Is that what you’re funding?”
Glick, who has not seen the play, found out about it through a newsletter of Zochrot (Remembering), an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the Palestinians’ experience of Israel’s independence and encouraging the return to Israel of Palestinian refugees.
A statement from the Acre Festival and Acre Municipality said “Throughout all the years of the festival, plays have been performed that reflect a wide variety of opinions, theatrical perceptions and freedom of creativity….”
“The Acre Municipality and the festival management do not intervene in artistic content and protect freedom of expression and creation. Furthermore, the repertoire of plays is chosen solely by the artistic director in conjunction with the artistic committee.”
“The festival management relies on their professionalism. As in every year, if it is found that the content of a play contravenes the law, the Municipality acts as it is required.”
A statement from Mifal HaPayis, which helps to fund the festival, said the lottery’s culture and arts council awarded funds on the basis of criteria such as the artistic quality of a creation and the professional experience of its creators.
Regev has repeatedly locked horns with the cultural establishment in Israel, saying that it is elitist, does not have a monopoly over the definition of culture, and cannot expect anti-patriotic art to be funded from public coffers.
Two weeks ago, she stormed out of an Israeli awards ceremony when two performers included work by the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, who she said called for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Speaking at a press conference the following day, Regev called Darwish, regarded as the Palestinian national poet, the “leader of the Palestinian industry of lies,” adding that “in his poems he preaches objections to the existence of a Jewish state.”
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