Published in Haaretz 01:03 09.11.10 Latest update 01:03 09.11.10
Ariel Boycott - For / Not just another town
Ariel is part of the oppressive separation regime that is trying to
camouflage itself and the refusal to perform there.
By Itai Snir
Ahead of the approaching opening of the new cultural center in Ariel,
the public debate is resurfacing over the letter from artists refusing
to appear there, and another letter urging artists planning to perform
in Ariel to also boycott the center.
The range of reactions to the letters indicates that there still
exists a deep misunderstanding regarding the reasons for the boycott
and the ensuing calls and there is a need for additional discussion to
clarify the logistics of these steps.
An oft-repeated argument against the position voiced in the artists'
letters is that no person should be delegitimized and kept from access
to the arts (or any other type of discourse ) due to his political
beliefs alone, and all the more so because of his place of residence.
It has been argued that is inappropriate and also unhelpful because it
spurs antagonism and hurts effort to engage in meaningful dialogue.
It should be stated immediately - even though it is perhaps possible
to conceive of ideologies that disqualify their advocates from being
legitimate partners in dialogue - that the ideologies of most Ariel
residents are not such.
There is no justification therefore for refusing to perform for them
in any place within the Green Line and to the best of my
understanding, the letters' signatories indeed agree.
Refusal to perform in a specific place is also for the most part not a
legitimate move: If the artists were to refuse to perform someplace
because it is hot, crowded or just unpleasant there, such a step would
of course be unacceptable by any standard.
The refusal, therefore, relates to actually being in Ariel, and
understanding its legitimacy necessitates recalling what unfortunately
is not clear from the start: the significance of the existence of
Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line and the difference between
its two sides.
While within the Green Line there still exist important qualities of a
democratic regime, as doubtful and under assault as they may be,
beyond the Green Line there is an occupation regime of discrimination
and separation both de facto and de jure.
There is no denying, of course, that in sovereign Israeli territory as
well non-Jewish citizens experience many and varied forms of
discrimination and suppression, which should be fought against
uncompromisingly. There can also be no ignoring the significant
differences between an urban, established community such as Ariel and
small and more isolated communities, if only because of the need to
grasp the variety of motives, which are not necessarily ideological,
responsible for the populating of settlements deemed part of the
But the decisive factor is that the Palestinians inside the Green Line
have (at least for now ) Israeli citizenship, which enables them to
demand their rights when these are violated and to fight using legal
means for equality and against discrimination. Beyond the Green Line,
however, only the Israeli residents enjoy civil rights, while their
Palestinian neighbors lack even this minimal legal and political tool.
Some settlements are communities for Jews only, they are supported by
a network of roads where travel on them is permitted only to Israelis
and the Palestinian towns are separated from them by walls, fences and
checkpoints. The settlements - all settlements! - implement separation
on an ethnic and religious basis between people with rights who live
in fair conditions and enjoy state-sponsored protection and security
networks and their disenfranchised neighbors whose lives are chaos.
These separation mechanisms are on a completely different plane from
that of the mechanisms that discriminate against and compartmentalize
Palestinians who carry Israeli citizenship. Ariel is a legal
settlement that has the full backing of state institutions, and its
residents are seen as normal citizens who are not party to the open
hostility of the "extremist" settlers.
However, it turns out that this is precisely the problem: the
perception of Ariel or any other settlement as being an integral part
of the state of Israel is nothing more than a distorted show that
blurs a decisive difference. Those who denounce the artists' letters
are quick to note that Tel Aviv, like many other places inside Israel,
is also built on the ruins of Arab villages whose residents were
expelled and Tel Avivians would be wise to remember this.
However, Tel Aviv is open in an important respect, a legal respect, to
non-Jewish citizens, whereas the law that legitimizes Ariel does not
apply to the Palestinians who are trying to live on the other side of
the fence separating it.
Therefore, what right do the artists have to intervene and voice an
opinion in public on a controversial political issue such as the
settlements? It is their right, no more and certainly no less than it
is the right and obligation of everyone. Ariel is part of the
oppressive separation regime that is trying to camouflage itself and
the refusal to perform there - which entails professional and
financial risk - is not only legitimate but indeed most commendable.
The writer is a doctoral student in philosophy at Tel Aviv University.