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The Dance Insider | July 2006

Boycott Israeli Dance Companies

PARIS -- I'd love to be able to start this column with the dance angle, explaining why we should boycott the Israeli companies performing at this month's Lincoln Center Festival -- including Ohad Naharin's Batsheva, opening tomorrow -- but unfortunately, in the face of the dissembling and pandering to the Israel lobby by Senator Hilary Clinton and others, even as Israeli bombs continue to kill Lebanese children (the toll at the end of yesterday: 230 Lebanese civilians killed by Israel, 13 Israeli civilians killed by Hizbullah), I'm afraid some context is in order.

"Is Hizbullah here? Only children here." This was the question put to London's Guardian newspaper in yesterday's editions by the weeping father of one of the 11 children who were playing in a canal near a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon when an Israeli bomb struck it, killing at least three of them. Another child injured by an Israeli air strike, 12-year-old Nour, "lay heavily bandaged and fighting for her life in a hospital in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre," the newspaper reported. "She is one of many children killed and injured in Israeli air strikes on this Mediterranean port in past days. 'We are praying for her,' said Fatima, a laboratory technician doubling as a nurse at Jabal Amal hospital, which is overloaded with the victims of the air strikes. Ali, the doctor treating Nour, said he did not know whether she would survive her injuries. 'She has large burns all over her body, she is losing a lot of fluids. She probably won't live; her life is now in God's hands.'"

Senator Clinton, speaking at a rally outside the United Nations the other day at which normally liberal politicians were falling over each other to pander to *what they perceive as* New York's (pro-Israeli) Jewish vote, would have us believe that this carnage *is the consequence of* Hizbullah firing rockets at civilian populations in Israel. The facts would have it otherwise, at least as pertains to the current conflict. As a member of Jewish Voice for Peace pointed out Sunday on Pacifica Radio's Sunday Salon, hosted by Larry Bensky -- and without justifying any killing, always abhorrent -- the Hizbullah incursion which started this latest round targeted a military population. It was Israel which made civilians fair game. Did the so-called 'Jewish state' ("Thou shalt not kill" -- look it up) have a right to respond to Hizbullah's initial action, in which the armed group invaded its territory? Absolutely. Did it have a right to mete out collective punishment to Lebanese civilians, as it has so often done with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories? No. Even after Hizbullah's retaliatory strikes on Israeli civilian populations, the death tally remains disproportionate. (Perhaps the shared "values" between the U.S. and Israel Senator Clinton referred to in her speech are the low worth our respective governments place on Arab lives.)

In addition to the release of two soldiers captured by Hizbullah (which also killed eight in its initial attack on Israel), Israel's other conditions for ceasing the bombing, as of yesterday, were the disarmament of Hizbullah and its replacement on Lebanon's southern border by the Lebanese army.

Here's how the American Heritage Dictionary defines the word 'terrorism':

"The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons... the unlawful use or threat of violence, esp. against the state or the public, as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion."

It is clear that Israel has terrorized Lebanon's civilian population -- on a much broader scale than has Hizbullah Israel's -- in the pursuit of aims that are largely political.

If this is not terrorism, what is?

And yet, American politicians so ready to (rightly) denounce terrorism in other quarters continue pandering to the Israel lobby; for Hilary Clinton, apparently, the road to the White House is paved with Arab blood.

The rest of the world is, as the Guardian put it in another headline yesterday, looking on, a position most eloquently caught by yesterday's front page cartoon in the Paris daily Le Monde, of a group of suited men circling and placidly observing a table on which the Mideast is going up in flames; on the men's backs is written "Diplomacy."

The tableau -- as well as the terror being wreaked on the civilians -- was eerily reminiscent of the scenario of German choreographer Kurt Jooss's 1932 "The Green Table." (Click here to read my review of a 1972 BBC production featuring Pina Bausch; here to read Gus Solomons jr's DI review of the recent American Ballet Theatre staging; and here to see Robin Hoffman's illustration of the ballet.)

That ballet, in which masked diplomats play with real lives, was a response by a choreographer to war.

How have Israeli choreographers reacted to this war, to their country's bombing of innocent civilians, to its killing of innocent children out for a summer swim -- not to mention Israel's continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian territory?

That I know of, none of the three Israeli companies performing at the Lincoln Center Festival -- including Batsheva and Yasmeen Godder -- have issued public statements against the Lebanon invasion or the occupation. (Naharin, the Batsheva director who has previously criticized Israel in other publications, did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.)

Unlike voices sympathetic to the Palestinian point of view who, these days, seem to be regularly silenced by even liberal forums under pressure from the Israel lobby (New York Theater Workshop infamously cancelled of "My Name is Rachel Corrie" -- now slated to open at New York's Minetta Lane Theater October 15 -- while Brandeis University nixed a planned exhibition of art by Palestinian children), these Israeli choreographers have a forum. And yet they have apparently issued no statements.

In the face of this, my colleague Christine Jowers says, in a Flash View published today here, "Do not boycott dance companies because of their country's politics." Politics?! This is not about 'poltics'; this is about wanton death and destruction being reigned down disproportionately by one country on another, for which very few people seem to want to hold Israel to account. (Indeed, today's Guardian indicates that our president, abetted once again by Tony Blair as they preside at their own green table, has given Israel the green light to continue for another week.) How elitist to posit that dance artists should somehow be aloof from this! When children are being killed, conscienteous and conscious witnesses -- yes, even artists, Christine -- have a responsibility to not just stand idly by but to say something. The Israeli artists have not done so. In the absence of any statements by them condemning their country's actions, I believe it is appropriate to boycott their remaining appearances at the Lincoln Center Festival. For those who would continue to contend, "We're just dancers," I would remind them of what Picasso said more than 60 years ago in this town when officers from the occupying German army, regarding "Guernica," asked him if he made it. "No," the artist replied. "You did."

For more, see Omar Barghouti's Flash View, also posted today: [url=][/url]

Posted on 20-07-2006

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