Image from Puppets4All Facebook page protesting Israeli ban of Palestinian Puppet Festival
The El-Hakawati theatre was colorfully adorned for its annual International Puppet Festival when a closure order by the Israeli authorities dashed the expectations of the Palestinian children living in East Jerusalem. Now signs announcing the closure of the theatre from June 22 to 30 have replaced the festive decorations.
This “puppet war” was launched by the Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, transforming a festival for children into a security issue. Officially, the order has been issued on the grounds that Israeli law prohibits the Palestinian Authority from funding or holding any gatherings in Israel without government authorization. The theatre’s director, Mohamed Halayiqa, was summoned by Shin Bet and questioned about the funds’ provenience. Halayiqa denied the involvement of the Palestinian Authority and so far no evidence of PA involvement has been offered by the Israeli police to justify the closing order.
This “puppet war” was launched by the Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, transforming a festival for children into a security issue
The festival, which would have been in its nineteenth season, hosts a large number of international performers and theatre groups. Mohamed Halayiqa said the theatre closure was “disgraceful,” and claims that the Palestinian Cultural Foundation, which is supported by donations from Palestinian businesses and European Donors, provided funding for the project.
The cancellation of the puppet festival raises questions about Israel’s democratic principles. The Security Minister says he is not opposed to Palestinian cultural and artistic events as long as they are conducted according to Israeli law. However, if PA funding of cultural activities for Palestinians is prohibited and the Israeli government does not provide any alternative, the result is a system that regulates access to culture on the basis of ethnicity.
According to a study conducted by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, 78% of Palestinians in Jerusalem – and 84% of the children – are living below the poverty line. Israel neglects the Palestinian population’s basic needs, including access to education and professional training. Such practices make it hard to believe that any effort would be made by the government to promote cultural events even if they are in line with Israeli regulations.
As harmless as a puppet festival may be, Israeli authorities view Palestinian art as part of a national struggle that must be contained. Israeli authorities did not see the festival performances prior to their cancellation, suggesting that the theatre closure was not ordered on the basis of unacceptable content. It seems that any opportunity to enrich Palestinians is viewed as a potential threat to an Israeli system based on the exclusion and segregation of one group.
Among those protesting the cancellation of the festival are the puppeteers from the Israeli television series “Sesame Street.” Ariel Doron, who gives voice to the Israeli puppet Elmo, and Yousef Sweid, who gives voice to the Arab puppet Mahboub, have launched a campaign through the Puppets4All Facebook page, in which Israeli television and stage actors, as well as protestors from all around the world, are posting pictures with puppets and slogans such as “Culture is not a security issue”.
The Facebook page provides the link to a petitionthat states, “Every child has the right to enjoy puppet shows”. A short video, entitled “The puppet war”, was created by Doron to accompany the petition. In the video Israel is represented as an inflatable blue and white hammer chasing scared puppets that cry out for help.
Ariel Doron believes that every child has a right to culture. In an interview with Haaretz, he expressed his disbelief in regards to the measure adopted by his own government: “It sounds incredible to me that they’re keeping Palestinian children from seeing puppet shows. It seems ridiculous and cruel and sad and completely unnecessary, and hypocritical too. When an Israeli artist attends a festival abroad and is boycotted because he gets Israeli funding, Israel speaks against it, and now it [Israel] is saying the same thing.”