One imagines the crossover readership between luvvies journal The Stage and Jewish News is not that great. So few of our readers will have read a headline telling us how Britain’s theatre glitterati, encouraged by Royal Court artistic director Vicky Featherstone, broke cover to condemn the ‘bombing of a cultural centre in Gaza by Israeli forces’.
Even ardent Israel supporters might have concerns over the retaliatory strike against the Said al-Mishal Cultural Centre in Gaza City in response to Hamas violence. But the willingness of the cream of UK theatre production including Rufus Norris artistic director of the taxpayer funded National Theatre, Phyllida Lloyd the director of Mamma Mia and the playwright Caryl Churchill along with others to lay the blame for events at Israel’s door was not very measured. This at a moment when British Jewry finds itself under siege from the Labour Party.
My wife works in performance and The Stage is delivered to our home every week. But I don’t recall Britain’s directors, producers and playwrights making too much fuss about the cultural vandalism of ISIS is northern Iraq or Syria.
My concern is not about the willingness of theatre royalty to protest. It appears that the UK’s creative community had developed closes ties with the cultural centre in Gaza City. It is more about the knee-jerk rush to judgement by the UK artistic community and the reporting of The Stage, which provided almost no context for what happened.
All that the prominently headlined story noted, in an attempt at balance, was that the Israeli strike on 9 August took place because it was ‘believed that [the building] was being used as a headquarters by Hamas’.
We have been here before, knowing how Hamas, an internationally denounced terrorist organisation, has systematically appropriated civil institutions, from hospitals to schools, for raining terror rockets on Israel. What is most off-putting about the condemnation and the way it has been reported is the lack of balance.
Tension on the Israel-Gaza border dates back to March, with the ‘March of Return’ protests, which demanded the return of homes in Israel belonging to Arab refugees and their descendants. At their peak, thousands of people, including embedded Hamas operatives, took part. In May, when the protesters threatened to overwhelm the border, 50 people were killed.
The agitation has continued. Young Gazans have set fire to thousands of acres in Israel by flying burning kites and balloons over the border. Militant groups have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, driving citizens, including children, into shelters from the border town of Sderot to Ashkelon. What the luvvies might not understand is how this impacts on innocent children in Israel, how their cultural activities and education are also interrupted, and how many of those affected are in need of some kind of therapy.
Moreover, the Israeli Government (to the chagrin of the political right) has been working flat out to try and reach some kind of lasting ceasefire with Hamas so as to quell the assaults on its population. As a confidence-building measure, it has opened the Erez crossing between the two countries and traffic is up by 58 percent in recent months.
No one can be happy when civil institutions such as Al-Mishal are affected by the tit-for-tat violence. But there has been no independent verification of the circumstances of the strike, including Israel’s claim that the centre had been used for military purposes, or Hamas’ denial.
The willingness of the theatre community to rush to the defence of the Hamas version of events is disturbing. It demonstrates an unjust prejudice against Israel and a military and security apparatus that was at pains to warn the Gazans of its intentions. Hamas doesn’t bother with such niceties.