A UK tour by Palestine’s Freedom Theatre started successfully in Manchester last night, despite scurrilous attacks from right-wing British newspapers.
According to a spokesperson for the tour’s support group in Manchester, around 600 tickets had been sold for the two nights The Siege, a production by the Jenin-based drama group, is running there.
And although the Manchester venue allowed Zionist Federation members to hand out leaflets after the play, no attempts were made to disrupt it.
Further performances are scheduled for Colchester, London, Leeds, Hastings, Frome, Birmingham, Nottingham, Halesworth and Glasgow.
The Siege is based on interviews with Palestinians who took refuge in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during Israel’s spring 2002 invasion, and who were besieged there for six weeks.
The Daily Mail, a right-wing paper with a long history of both anti-Semitic and anti-Palestinian slurs, launched an attack on the tour under the headline: “UK taxpayers fund ‘pro-terrorist’ play: £15,000 of public money given to show based on the words of Hamas killers.”
The article calls the play “unashamedly one-sided” and quotes unsubstantiated claims by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, a standard voice in attempts to silence Palestinian narratives.
The article suggests that the play’s co-director, Zoe Lafferty, “sympathized” with “terrorism,” but did quote her as saying that Palestinians became involved in armed struggle “not because they’re crazy religious fanatics [but] to defend their families … This production is pro-human rights, pro-justice and pro-equality. Our work is trying to talk about the truth of what’s happening on the ground and counter the propaganda that’s constantly being directed at the Palestinians.”
In response to charges from The Daily Mail that the play was “pro-terrorist,” Lafferty said: “That’s just insulting and comes from a very biased misunderstanding of what we’re doing. To have to engage in whether Hamas and the al-Aqsa Brigade are terrorists is the wrong question to ask.”
The Daily Mail’s reporter, Nick Craven, fails to mention that neither he nor other critics quoted in the article had actually seen the play.
Predictably, The Daily Mail’s coverage has been accompanied by articles in The Jewish Chronicle, which generally adopts a Zionist position, although in less inflammatory tones than the Mail.
It also admits that the Zionist Federation members it quotes as calling The Siege a “whitewashing of the second intifada” had, like Craven, not seen the play.
And it quotes David Jubb, head of Battersea Arts Centre, where the London performances of The Siege will be held, as insisting that: “Battersea Arts Centre would not present any show that is pro-terrorist propaganda. The Siege does not present or identify any specific characters — it draws on a wide range of source material from people of different backgrounds and faiths.”
In a second article, The Jewish Chronicle acknowledges criticisms of the “pro-Israel lobby” from high-profile members of the British arts and theater community.
The letter, signed by high-profile figures including playwright Caryl Churchill, actors Miriam Margolyes and Maxine Peake, and comedian Mark Thomas, brands The Daily Mail’s article “inflammatory” and called the Board of Deputies an “organization with a shocking record of acting to suppress both cultural and academic events which explore the bitter reality of Palestinian existence.”
The Daily Mail and Board of Deputies, the letter adds, “want us to believe that theatre-goers in the UK cannot be trusted to hear [Palestinian] voices and make their own judgments.”
- Freedom Theatre
- second intifada
- Daily Mail
- Board of Deputies of British Jews
- Zoe Lafferty
- Nick Craven
- Jewish Chronicle
- David Jubb
- Battersea Arts Centre
- Caryl Churchill
- Miriam Margolyes
- Maxine Peake
- Mark Thomas
- Zionist Federation
- Church of the Nativity
- Artists for Palestine