Israeli authorities have taken action to shut down and censor two theaters – one Palestinian-run, and one Israeli – for performing cultural theater performances that Israel considers to be critical of its political agenda and policies.The affected theaters are the El-Hakawati Puppet Theater in East Jerusalem, and the Khan Theater in West Jerusalem.
The Puppet Theater was scheduled to begin this summer with a festival (the 19th annual El-Hakawati Puppet Festival), but the Israeli minister of internal security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, shut down the festival by claiming that the El-Hakawati Puppet Theater was somehow connected with the Palestinian Authority. The theater owners vehemently deny that any of their funding came from the Palestinian Authority, and have opened their account books publicly to verify this fact.
The puppet festival was supposed to open on June 22nd, featuring Palestinian, Nordic, French and Turkish puppeteers. But the ruling by Aharonovitch prevented the festival from taking place as planned. Over 1300 Israelis, including many actors, directors and artists, signed a petition condemning the shutdown of El-Hakawati Puppet Festival and Theater.
A write for the Israeli 972 Magazine reports, “One can find many Israeli theater actors amongst the signatories on the petition, including playwrights and directors such as Itay Tiran, Yehosuha Sobol, Norman Issa, Einat Weitzman and more. Hadash MK Dov Khenin also wrote to Aharonovitch, demanding the warrant be rescinded.”
According to the 1993 Oslo Accords which created the Palestinian Authority, the Authority is not allowed to engage in any activity in areas under Israeli control, including east Jerusalem, where the theater is located. Although Israeli authorities have violated the Oslo Accords hundreds of times through the creation and expansion of settlement colonies on land owned by Palestinians and designated as Palestinian under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority has been prevented from engaging in any activity in Jerusalem, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians still live.
The Israeli Khan Theater was challenged by the deputy mayor of Jerusalem David Hadari for its plan to stage a performance of the play ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’ on July 7th. Hadari called on the municipality to cut off funding for the theater if they decided to go forward with the performance.
However, performers went ahead with the show, which is based on the life of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed at the age of 23 in 2003 in southern Gaza, while standing in the way of an Israeli armored bulldozer, to try to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home.
Although the performances faced censorship for different reasons and using different means, the actors and other artistic staff have connected the two events, saying that they indicate a pattern by Israeli authorities to stifle artistic expression that is critical of the regime.
Some critics have also connected these events with the unsolved murder of the director of the Jenin Freedom Theater in 2011. The Jenin Freedom Theater, the most famous theater in Palestine, is located in a refugee camp in the northern West Bank. It was founded by an Israeli and a Palestinian with a focus on using theater as a means of resisting the daily realities of life under military occupation. The directors encouraged children in the refugee camp to get involved in theater in order to express themselves and their frustrations through art.
In 2011, the theater’s co-founder, Israeli Juliano Mer-Khamis, was gunned down in Jenin, and his killers have not yet been found. Two months after his murder, Israeli forces raided the theater, and abducted and interrogated his co-workers.