'Puppet protest' against Israel’s ban of Palestinian children’s festival

All photos are from the Facebook page "Puppets4All". 
 
“I am not a security threat”. That’s the message from puppets – with a little help from their owners - from across Israel and the world. The goal: to denounce the Israeli government’s abrupt cancellation of a children’s theatre festival in East Jerusalem.
 
Though the festival was cancelled over a week ago, protests against this decision are still going strong, especially since puppeteers from Israel’s version of Sesame Street launched an online campaign to unite puppeteers of the world behind their cause. They’ve so far gathered about 4,000 signatures on their petitions (in Hebrew and in English), and received hundreds of photos of puppets from supporters on their Facebook page.
 
 
The annual festival, which had taken place for 18 years without interruption at East Jerusalem’s Hakwati theatre, known as the Palestinian national theatre, was supposed to start on June 22 and run for eight days. The plays, which included puppet shows, were performed by Arab Israeli, Palestinian, French, Turkish, and Nordic artists.
 
However, the festival was blocked by a special warrant issued by Israel’s Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who claimed that it was organised “with the Palestinian Authority’s sponsorship or on its behalf,” without written permission from the authorities, which is required under the 1994 Oslo Accords
 
The theatre’s executive director, Mohammad Halayka, has repeatedly denied the minister’s accusation, and explained that the festival is supported by the Norwegian representative office in Ramallah, as well as private Palestinian companies and a Palestinian non-governmental organisation. Contacted by Haaretz, a spokeswoman for the public ministry declined to say whether any evidence linked the Palestinian Authority with the festival. The theatre has retained a lawyer to challenge the festival’s cancellation.
 
Meanwhile, Jerusalem city council member Ysef Alulu, who is in charge of the municipality’s culture portfolio, has expressed disappointment with the government’s decision. “I know how much money is spent in West Jerusalem [on cultural programs],” he told 972 magazine, pointing out that there were few cultural events for children in East Jerusalem. “We have two Jerusalems divided.”
 
Contributors

“What is the point of cancelling shows that kids enjoy, and that have absolutely nothing to do with politics?”

Ariel Doron is an actor who voices the Elmo puppet on Israel’s version of Sesame Street. With his colleague Yousef Sweid, who voices the show’s Arab puppet, he created the “Puppets4All” Facebook page to denounce the festival’s cancellation. Doron lives in Jaffa.
 
When I read about the cancellation, I was just so depressed. It doesn’t make sense to me that I can perform for kids throughout Israel, but in East Jerusalem, children can’t watch puppet shows. I started talking about this with all of my puppetry friends, and we decided to denounce the situation by using all types of protest.
 
Beyond the petitions, we wanted to do things that were fun – that’s sort of what our job is all about. So Yousef and I launched a Facebook page and asked people send in pictures of themselves posing with their puppets and a sign. The response has been overwhelming. We’ve had lots of Israelis send in photos, including renowned TV and film actors like Moshe Ivgy, Oz Zehavi, Alon Abutbul, Yousef Sweid, and many more. But we’ve also gotten incredible support from the worldwide puppetry community, with people sending in photos from France, Taiwan, Spain, India, Germany, Iceland… Other types of artists sent in pictures, too; there was even a Butoh dancer from Japan!
 
 
“What has heartened me is to see that puppets have managed to unite Israelis from across the political spectrum”
 
What has heartened me most, though, is to see that puppets – and by extension, children – managed to unite Israelis from across the political spectrum. In Israel, when someone says any little thing that can be interpreted as supporting Palestinians, they’re quickly categorized as left-wingers who hate their own country. So it was great to receive a photo from a man with a sign reading: “I’m right-winged, and I still think this is a shame”.
 
The government hasn’t provided any proof that the theatre was supported by the Palestinian authority. But even if it turned out it was… what is the point of cancelling shows that kids enjoy, and that have absolutely nothing to do with politics? What harm can come of it? On the other hand, these Palestinian kids, when their parents tell them, ‘sorry, no festival this year, the government cancelled it’, well, they’re not going to carry Israel in their hearts…
 
I doubt our campaign will change the political situation, but as the images spread online, I hope that politicians will see them, and next time they think of cancelling something that brings nothing but smiles and laughter, maybe they’ll think twice.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
This joke photomontage featuring puppets from Sesame Street has been circulating on Facebook in recent days. By John Brown.

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