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Israeli play expelled from Edinburgh venue as Scots protest against Gaza attack

 

(Mohammed Asad / APA images)

 

Sarah Irving posted on Thu, 07/31/2014

gazachildren.jpg

A family evacuates its home in response to Israeli air strikes on Gaza City yesterday; campaigners in Scotland say there is widespread revulsion against the attacks on Palestinians.

(Ezz al-Zanoun / APA images)

Campaigners in Scotland have succeeded in pressuring the organizers of an arts festival into removing the Israeli state-funded Incubator Theater Company from a city center venue in Edinburgh.

Protests against Incubator’s play, a “hip-hop opera” titled The City, began with a letter signed by over fifty of the most high-profile artists and writers in Scotland, including the Scots Makar (poet laureate) Liz Lochhead.

The play was on the program for the Edinburgh Fringe, reputedly the world’s largest arts festival.

Other signatories to the open letter calling for a boycott of Incubator included novelist and painter Alasdair Gray and playwright David Greig.

A daily picket of a pop-up theater organized by Underbelly, the festival’s promoters, had been planned.

The demonstrations were called by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other Palestine solidarity groups.

But Underbelly announced after just one protest that it was removing Incubator from its listings.

A spokesperson for the promoters was quoted on STV, a news website, as saying:

“Earlier today, after discussions between Underbelly, Incubator Theater, the University of Edinburgh and Police Scotland it was agreed that future performances of The City at the Reid Hall would be cancelled. Today’s performance of The City went ahead as planned, but the logistics of policing and stewarding the protest around the Reid Hall … make it untenable for the show to continue.”

However, Underbelly also stated that it would be trying to find Incubator an alternative venue for its planned month-long run at the Fringe.

Albie O’Neill, a spokesperson for the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the level of public support for the protest against Incubator was “overwhelming” and that it reflected the “revulsion over what is happening in Gaza.”

 

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It is Jawhariyyeh’s lack of status that makes his memoirs so unusual, revealing new facets of Palestinian life before the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing that led to Israel’s establishment — and challenging many preconceptions and stereotypes.

Wasif Jawhariyyeh was not from the elite families. His father was associated with the Husseinis, performing administrative jobs for the family alongside his activities as a merchant and silk farmer.

According to Wasif’s account, his father was a close and trusted advisor to Salim al-Husseini and his son Musa Kazem.

This association with a well-off family meant that, although the Jawhariyyehs’ financial situation was sometimes precarious, gifts from his father’s patron ensured that Wasif and his siblings rarely noticed.

The descriptions of his childhood center around a large house shared with tenants, situated around a courtyard and with communal facilities.

“If you entered the house on a Sunday,” writes Jawhariyyeh, “you would find families and relatives of both sexes with their children, some playing cards or backgammon, others singing or playing music with their friends, some smoking argileh [water pipe], or telling stories and anecdotes… .

Our Muslim neighbors, both men and women, used to join us at times of sorrow or joy alike. On the first night of Lent, we would all dress up — men and women.”

This is a rare glimpse into “middle-class” life in Jerusalem at the end of the Ottoman period, where the important things are food, family and getting an education, not palatial homes and political goings-on.

Talented musician

Wasif, however, was found at a young age to be a talented musician, playing instruments such as the oud and the rababah or rebeck.

This ability gives his autobiography an extra perspective, because he often worked as a personal musician to members of the Jerusalem elite, including men of the Husseini and Nashashibi families.

We may be used to seeing these names in history books, making decisions which affected the political fate of Palestine.

Wasif Jawhariyyeh played his oud in the bachelor pads — called odas — of the young men of elite families, and in the cafes they frequented, and taught music and singing to their mistresses.

Jawhariyyeh’s access to the upper echelons of Jerusalem society, as well as his formidable memory for anecdotes, also deliver personal insights into Britain’s colonial governors.

They include the “cunning” Ronald Storrs and the eccentric Edward Keith-Roach, who cycled round the roof of the government building in his pyjamas and locked his beloved cat in to protect her from the advances of felines from the neighboring Morcos Hotel.

Vibrant nightlife

Far from being an austere, religious place at the heart of political events, Jawhariyyeh’s Jerusalem is a city with a vibrant nightlife, performances by famous musicians from Cairo and Beirut, songs satirizing contemporary events and personalities and partygoers dabbling in recreational drugs.

Jerusalem in the 1920s, it seems, was less the traditional backwater depicted in some accounts of the British Mandate, and more a city whose affluent cultural scene was a smaller version of that to be found in other cosmopolitan capitals in the region and across Europe.

As well as this unique insight into the leisure lives of the upper classes, Jawhariyyeh’s depictions of late Ottoman and Mandate Jerusalem give us eyewitness accounts of the diverse society destroyed by the establishment of the State of Israel.

Muslims, Christians and Jews not only lived alongside one another, but participated in each other’s religious festivals and cultural celebrations, drawing no meaningful distinctions between one community and another.

According to these descriptions, the Jewish festival of Passover and Christian Easter were celebrated almost as one huge event in Jerusalem, with participants from the highest ranks of Muslim officials.

The Jewish festivities included a procession from Jerusalem to the shrine of Moses near Jericho, which was also the destination for Muslim pilgrims during the Islamic festival of Nabi Musa.

Sense of darkness

Perhaps there is an element of nostalgia to Jawhariyyeh’s reminiscences of the earlier years of his life.

Even allowing for this, there is a growing sense of darkness throughout the latter part of his memoirs, as political events — Zionist immigration and growing discrimination against the local population by the British Mandate authorities — start to impinge on everyday life.

Music — including technological innovations such as radio — remained central to Jawhariyyeh’s professional and personal existence but even this was touched by the impending crisis.

Jawhariyyeh recounts, for example, how a Jewish musician who had represented his home country, Iraq, at the 1931 Arabic music conference in Cairo went to play in a new orchestra, separate from the Palestinians, after political clashes split the artists.

With the exception of a few minor inconsistencies in transliteration, this is a book about which one can be unequivocally enthusiastic. For those with background knowledge of Palestine under Ottoman and Mandate rule, it will be source of fresh perspectives and details.

For those new to the period, the book — edited by Salim Tamari and Issam Nassar, and translated by Nada Elzeer — provides a highly readable, intimate account of life for urban Palestinians.

And for all readers, its portrayal of a diverse, vibrant society is a bitter-sweet glimpse into what Palestine might have been, in a world without European and Zionist colonialism.

Sarah Irving worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06.

She is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-editor of A Bird is not a Stone, a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry in translation.

She is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Documentary: How Western media covered Israel Gaza attack?

Only two English-language journalists, Ayman Mohyeldin and Sherine Tadros, reported from Gaza as it suffered an all-out attack from Israel in late 2008 and early 2009. The War Around Us is a powerful new documentary through the eyes of these two reporters.

Sarah Irving, posted in The Electronic Intifada on 15 June 2012:

 In The War Around Us, reporter Sherine Tadros reflects on the roles and responsibilities of journalists during wartime. 

“Directed by Abdallah Omeish (Occupation 101), The War Around Us is 75 minutes long.

Tightly focused and intentionally restricted in its scope and aims, it follows in chronological order the course of the conflict, intercut with post facto interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros.

At the time, both were reporting for Al Jazeera English. Mohyeldin was based in Gaza, but Tadros was there on an assignment to cover reactions to the election of US President Barack Obama.

With apparently free access to Al Jazeera footage of the attack, as well as images from the Palestinian news agency Ramattan, the film is extremely graphic and disturbing.

Scenes include that of a mother and her two dead children lying side-by-side on a hospital floor; another man screaming with grief as the body of his little girl flops on a blanket; young men lying in the courtyard of a police station hit by Israeli air strikes, each with one hand raised as they say the final prayers of the dying.

A victim of the horrific burns inflicted by illegal white phosphorous munitions (made in the US, fired by the Israeli military) lies in a hospital bed; huge pools of blood lie clotting on the steps of a school in Jabaliya refugee camp run by the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).

Icy fury

Less graphic but equally devastating is the interview footage.

Rima, a beautiful and intensely dignified young mother, tells Tadros how her children no longer say they are afraid of dying — they just want to make sure that they die along with her so they’re not left alone.

John Ging, then a leading figure in UNRWA, speaks with icy fury as desperately needed food supplies burn behind him.

And 16-year-old Ahmad Samouni’s face writhes in pain: He is describing how he was lying for days surrounded by the bodies of his family, waiting for the Israeli army to allow ambulances to fetch him.

Many viewers think they are perhaps inured to the kind of violence we regularly see on YouTube and activist media.  Watching news media footage — where cameramen have often risked their lives to chase the most graphic images, and which has been edited and soundtracked for intensity and impact — for over an hour is hard to stomach, even now.

It is a relief that the film intercuts the material from the attack on Gaza with extended interviews with Mohyeldin and Tadros.

The two reporters reflect on the roles and responsibilities of journalists in such a situation, on their “anger” at finding that they were the only mainstream Western journalists reporting from inside Gaza, and on the personal impacts of covering such a horrific story.

“Where was the outrage?”

Mohyeldin, already a seasoned conflict reporter when he was posted to Gaza, is the more political one in his comments. He is patently furious at the Western media for their failure to adequately deliver to their audiences the truth of what he calls in the film “a story of great shame to humanity.”

American and British news channels “neglected the story and then had the audacity to question the only journalists on the ground … they tried to spin it in a way that would marginalize or diminish what was happening.” Mohyeldin went on to condemn the “silence of the international community. Where was the outrage?”

Tadros’s comments are more personal. A newcomer to frontline reporting, she is frank in saying that she will never put herself in that position again.

Hugely affected by the mothers and children she interviewed — in their homes and hospital beds — she recounts how, coming home to London after the attacks, she couldn’t hold her one-year-old nephew because she imagined blood seeping through his clothes. She also describes vividly the difficulty of facing death day after day, not from one’s own perspective, but from that of the family, thousands of miles away, who are powerless to help.

Tadros admits that during the attacks, Mohyeldin found her to be a “princess.”

But behind-the-scenes footage shows a drained, haggard woman working 19 hours a day, snatching sleep on an office floor, desperate to achieve her role of showing the human impacts of a conflict which much of world was seeing only from Western reports in southern Israel or the insidious lies of Mark Regev and Avital Leibovich, chief mouthpieces for the Israeli government and military.

Specific aim

Ayman Mohyeldin, in a question and answer session following a screening of the film in Amman, acknowledged criticism of the documentary for its focus on two mainstream journalists, rather than telling the story from a Palestinian perspective.

Although Mohyeldin has a Palestinian mother, he doesn’t labor this as a claim to authenticity. Instead, he insists that the film has a very specific aim — to speak to Western audiences, to use himself and Tadros, two Western journalists of Arab origin, as a bridge to the sympathies of Western viewers, and to “make people question their own media for not telling [the truth about the attacks].”

Ultimately, The War Around Us is a damning critique — from within the industry — of the Western media’s reporting of Palestine, as well as a powerful tool in the hands of Palestine solidarity campaigners.

There is no way to walk away from this film not feeling angry and deeply distressed, but also with a visceral and fundamental grasp on the depth of Israel’s denial of the Palestinian right not only to life and liberty but, in Ayman Mohyeldin’s words, “of the right to aspire.”

Apparently, Israel started the genocide after it managed to “coax” all Gaza-based foreign correspondents to vacate the region…

For details of future screenings of The War Around Us, see http://thewararoundus.com.

Sarah Irving is a freelance writer. She worked with the International Solidarity Movement in the occupied West Bank in 2001-02 and with Olive Co-op, promoting fair trade Palestinian products and solidarity visits, in 2004-06.

Sarah is the author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine and co-author, with Sharyn Lock, of Gaza: Beneath the Bombs.


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