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Police, Israel’s Burning Man reach final agreement

Midburn organizers told to limit nudity, install CCTV cameras as work on 70+ art installations proceeds before next week’s launch

'Sabale' or Grandfather, which was lit up with LED lights each night at 2014's Midburn (Courtesy Faluja)
'Sabale' or Grandfather, which was lit up with LED lights each night at 2014's Midburn (Courtesy Faluja)

After five days of intense negotiations, police and organizers of Israel’s Burning Man Festival came to a final agreement on Monday evening that will allow the event to go forth.

Midburn is scheduled to take place on May 20-24 in the desert in the Ramat Negev Regional Council. Some 6,500 people are expected to attend.

“This evening we held a meeting with Southern District Police Commander Yoram Halevy and his top officers,” organizers wrote in an email to participants. “In the meeting we were able to bridge the gap and most points of contention were resolved. It seems that after a huge community effort, the police are beginning to understand the values and purpose of our community.”

“The festival will go forward as planned with full cooperation from the organizers regarding conditions for permits and security as was decided by the courts and during the meeting,” said Negev District police spokeswoman Navah Tavou.

Police and festival organizers have been arguing over various aspects of the permit for four months, according to Dan Peguine, Midburn’s head of communications, but he said that in the past week police have upped their demands. After police refused to grant a permit for the event last week, Midburn organizers turned to the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court. The court imposed a stop work order over the weekend until it could hear the case, which froze the building of more than 70 art installations and dozens of theme camps for 48 hours.

The court on Monday ordered police to provide a permit for the event, but laid down rules about nudity and security cameras.

The court ordered the festival to comply with police demands that nudity be allowed only in closed-off areas where minors are not permitted. Also, glass bottles and motorized bikes are not permitted. The police also demanded the posting of CCTV cameras that cannot film inside tents and private areas.

Even as late as Monday afternoon, before the meeting with police, organizers considered canceling the event outright. “It’s an unprecedented act to set up cameras aimed at peoples’ camping areas where people sleep and shower,” said Peguine. “Right now we’re thinking about canceling the event. There’s a limit to what we can do, there’s a line that cannot be crossed. We don’t let the police put cameras in our homes it’s not a Big Brother. It seems like they think we’re all criminals.

“There are 500 people from abroad who came for this, and this is what our image is going to be — Big Brother at a festival?” he asked.

Negev Region police spokeswoman Navah Tavou denied that the police had a personal vendetta against Midburn. “We have no reason not to have the event, but above and beyond the most important thing is the safety of the public,” she said. Regarding the cameras, she denies that the police asked for cameras in “intimate places.”

“There’s a ruling by the courts so that the event will occur and they are working on the requirements they must meet,” she said.

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)

The festival, modeled after the annual one-week event held in Black Rock Desert, Nevada, sets up a temporary city “creating a platform which will allow a communal life style, creativity, art and radical self-expression,” according to the Midburn website.

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.

Midburn 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.

Times of Israel staff and JTA contributed to this report.

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