Eurovision 2019 participants began touring around Israel on Sunday morning and rehearsing for next week’s semifinals, despite the continuing barrages of rocket fire from Gaza that killed four Israelis, injured dozens and ended with Monday’s ceasefire.
The five-day gala event is scheduled to open in Tel Aviv on May 12 with 41 countries participating. Madonna is scheduled to perform at the final, May 18, Saturday night event.
Many of the delegations from participating countries began arriving Saturday and Sunday, while Israeli communities in the south were pummeled with more than 450 rockets over the weekend.
Some of the delegations were touring major sites in the Jerusalem area on Sunday and Monday, including the Old City and the Mahane Yehuda market.
At the Tel Aviv Expo, where the Eurovision Song Contest will take place, rehearsals for the first, May 14 semifinals were taking place every 40 minutes on Monday afternoon, followed by meetings with the press.
The security situation in Israel had no effect on Eurovision rehearsals, according to the European Broadcasting Union.
“We continue to work alongside Kan [the Israeli broadcaster] and the Home Front Command to safeguard the wellbeing of everyone working at and joining us at Expo Tel Aviv,” said the EBU in a statement. “The rehearsals have been unaffected and continue as normal. The artists, delegations and production crew are working hard and everything is running to schedule and going well. ”
Jon Ola Sand, the Norwegian television producer who is the executive producer of the song contest, stated Sunday that safety and security is always of paramount importance for the Eurovision Broadcasting Union.
“We will continue to closely monitor the current situation and rehearsals will continue as normal,” said Sand.
Sand had told Norwegian paper Aftenposten in April that there was no good replacement for holding the song contest in Tel Aviv as scheduled, following a late March barrage of rockets prior to Israel’s April 9 national elections.
Sand said then that the Eurovision organizers “always have a Plan B,” but that he didn’t have a “good replacement for Eurovision in Tel Aviv. That’s where we want to be, and it’s what we’re working towards.”
We're ready for the second day of first Semi-Final rehearsals! Follow Eurovision on Instagram and watch our Stories for behind the scenes clips from every rehearsal.
— Eurovision (@Eurovision) May 5, 2019
The contest, first held in 1956, has never been canceled or had its location moved prior to the event.
The inclusive song contest, which is also the world’s largest, is a once-a-year event, bringing together Europe and EBU members. Last year’s Eurovision was watched by 186 million viewers worldwide.
Sand wouldn’t elaborate on the details of Eurovision’s Plan B to Aftenposten. He was asked if he feared some artists would withdraw from the contest because of safety concerns in Tel Aviv, and said it could happen “but we haven’t had any indication of that so far.”
Sand, who has now been in Israel for several weeks, added that daily life in Tel Aviv was proceeding as normal, and that Eurovision representatives were following the situation closely, working with their own security experts, Israeli authorities and Kan, the Israeli state broadcaster.
“There’s not much else we can do right now,” Sand told Afterposten.
As a former rock drummer I can’t resist a drum kit when I see one somewhere backstage or in the props area ????????. Stage designer Florian Wieder on guitar, Show Producer Yuval Cohen on contrabass #Eurovision #TakeItAway pic.twitter.com/1Z1THNmwCC
— Jon Ola Sand (@jonolasand) April 27, 2019
Sand commented that there are always attempts to use Eurovision politically, whether by calling for a boycott of Eurovision in Tel Aviv, something he said he was prepared to hear about right up to the final event on May 18.
“As of today, there’s little to indicate this year’s final will be used in some big political initiative, but there can surely be a lot of noise,” Sand told the Norwegian newspaper.
Ticket sales have also been slow for the event, particularly for the May 14 and May 16 semi-finals, with tickets costing NIS 1,000 to NIS 1,250 ($279 to $348). Some 30% of Eurovision tickets are sold outside Israel.
Verdens Gang, or VG, a Norwegian tabloid newspaper, reported recently that the political climate in Israel may have contributed to the lukewarm sales.
Sand commented to VG that while prices are higher than last year in Lisbon, it is the state broadcaster that determines the ticket prices, and Kan chose to set prices based on those of other international events and concerts that take place in Israel.