The UK Taxpayer is to fund the British tour of a play which sympathetically portrays the actions of Palestinian terrorists who killed Israeli citizens. Jewish leaders have reacted angrily, saying that they are “extremely concerned” that the play promotes “terrorism as legitimate”.
The West Bank-based theatre group behind the production has already received cash from the EU and the British council, allowing them to stage the play in the Palestinian territories, the Mail on Sunday has reported.
Now Arts Council England is adding another £15,000 to that tally enabling them to take their show on tour across the UK. It will be staged in ten British cities over the next few months, starting in Manchester in mid-May.
The Seige tells the story of gunmen and bombers from Hamas and the Al Asqa Martyrs’ Brigade who, in 2002, took refuge inside the Church of the Nativity Bethlehem, revered as Christ’s birthplace. Their stand-off against the Israeli military forces surrounding the church lasted for 39 days, only being brought to an end when a deal was struck granting 13 of the ring leaders safe passage and sanctuary in Europe.
The two directors of the play, one of whom is British, traced those men across Europe in order to record their version of the events. It is from their partisan testimonies only that the script was constructed.
One of those ring leaders was Jihad Jaara, who told journalists that he had kidnapped and murdered Avi Boaz, a 71 year old US citizen living in Israel. He fled to Ireland after the siege.
Another was Ibrahim Abayet who admitted to the New York Times that he and his men had shot dead an Israeli woman near Jerusalem. He escaped to Zaragoza in Spain. Israeli authorities also hold him responsible for a number of other atrocities.
Another has been linked to a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem suburb which killed eleven Israeli civilians.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews was unequivocal in describing the men as terrorists, saying: “We would be extremely concerned if British taxpayers were funding a play that promoted terrorism as positive and legitimate.”
Yet the Freedom Theatre, which staged the production and cites “cultural resistance” against “occupation” as it’s mission, unapologetically portrays the men in a sympathetic light, calling them “fighters” involved in a “struggle” in it’s promotional material.
Zoe Lafferty, the play’s British co-director, is adamant that the men are simply trying to “defend their families”.
“This production is pro-human rights, pro-justice and pro-equality,” she said. “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.”
Asked if the play was pro-terrorists, she replied: “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.”
Arts Council England has confirmed the £15,000 grant, saying that it is “not our role to censor the artists’ message”. The British Council has also confirmed their £14,000 grant for the West Bank tour, adding: “We also support projects in Israel.”