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Terrorism and Art By: Frimet Roth
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 18, 2005

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an art exhibit is worth a thousand times that, as is a documentary film. 

These truths have been internalized by the Palestinians who exploit them energetically. In Israel, across Europe and in the United States, they and their supporters are pummeling Israel in galleries, museums and movie theatres.

In August 2004, the Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat-Gan hosted an exhibit of the graduates of a two-year course at the WIZO Photography School in Haifa. One of the students, Nasrin Mazoi, an Israeli Arab, presented her portraits of six handsome Palestinian males. These, she averred, were prepared “to blow themselves up in order to change the present situation." Each boasts a family member who is a suicide bomber.

Mazoi’s oeuvre, as distinct from the work of the other graduates, received an extensive and laudatory review on the front page of the Arts Section of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.(“Mazoi’s portraits… challenge the viewer”). She was interviewed at length on Channel 10’s current affairs program “London and Kirschenbaum” (“Check out the exhibit; it’s very worthwhile”).

Four days after its review appeared, Haaretz published a letter from Amar Darbas, one of Mazoi’s six anonymous Arab subjects. Mazoi, he wrote, simply misrepresented her intentions to him when she solicited him as a subject. He has no relatives who were suicide bombers. He has never considered becoming one himself. She invented his profile.

Unfortunately, his letter was given no prominence. It also elicited no reaction from Mazoi’s reviewers.

On January 20, 2005, a photographic exhibit will be unveiled in the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University, Kansas.  The show, “Where We Come From," will feature 32 photographs taken by Palestinian-American artist Emily Jacir during her travels beyond the Green Line.

Each one is accompanied by a text like the one beside a photo of a pair of feet on a cobble-stoned street: “Walk the streets of Nazareth. I have never seen Nazareth. Of course, I cannot go there because of the Israeli barriers, and because the Israelis consider us ‘illegal’ if we go there.” The words are attributed to ‘George, Born in Nablus, living in Ramallah.'

No minor out-of-town side-show, Jacir's “conceptual” art has already been featured by the Whitney Museum in New York City and galleries in London, Munich, Chicago and Houston.

A Wichita State University official and the executive director of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation separately approached the museum’s director, David Butler, requesting him to present the Israeli position via some written material. When Butler and the artist objected on the grounds that this amounted to censorship, the request was withdrawn.

Butler conceded that the show is “certainly critical of the Israeli occupation and the policies of the Israeli government."  Nevertheless, he is adamant, according to the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, that, “the show is entirely appropriate for his museum unadorned with any pro-Israel explanation for the strictures placed on Palestinian-Arabs”.

The Mazoi and Jacir exhibits are not isolated examples. Hardly a month goes by that some pro-Palestinian exhibition or film does not win an award somewhere in Europe.  It seems unlikely they are being selected for their professional excellence alone.

One candid film critic put it this way: “Israeli films need to deal either with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or with the Holocaust in order to gain recognition. Otherwise, they've got to be quality films." Who ever imagined that it was only quality films that win awards?

The onslaught of art portraying Israel as aggressor and oppressor highlights the absence of a more Israel-friendly kind. Wichita’s Butler said he had searched the contemporary art world for artists who might express such a view. He was unable to find any whose work met his standards.

Moreover, the few artists and film-makers who do produce such work often face closed doors – even in Israel. The Emmy award-winning Canadian film-maker, Associated Producers, created a documentary called ‘Impact of Terror’ in 2004. The film describes the struggle of the victims of a terrorist massacre in a Jerusalem restaurant, Sbarro, to cope with its after-effects.

CNN, hardly known for its pro-Israel position, chose to purchase, brand, promote and air the film six times in each of its global markets. Yet, no Israeli television network has so far been persuaded to show it.  Most Israelis have never seen it, and probably never will.

Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, Associated’s president said he “…was surprised  to discover more resistance to the film among Israeli broadacasters than among North American ones.”

Meanwhile, our enemies have scored another significant coup in Europe. This coming April, a stage play, “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” is going to be produced by London’s prestigious Royal Court Theatre.  Directed by Alan Rickman, it will dramatize the life of the 23-year-old pro-Palestinian activist from the United States, Rachel Corrie, who was accidentally crushed to death by an IDF bulldozer.

The play will include excerpts from her e-mail correspondence.  A sampling of her venom: “…am being doted on all the time…by people who are facing dg doom…the sheer kindness of the people here, coupled with the over whelming evidence of the willful destruction of their lives…so I think when all means of survival is cut off in a pen (Gaza) which people can't get out of, I think that qualifies as genocide.”

Immediately following Corrie's death in March 2003, the IDF carried out a thorough investigation of the incident. It concluded that she had fallen off a dirt mound that stood in the path of the bulldozer and was not visible to its driver. This report has received little publicity. Corrie’s family have galvanized world opinion in condemning Israel for their daughter’s death.  This play is the next step in a campaign elevating that foolhardy and probably suicidal young woman to the status of martyr.

Last month, the film of an Israeli student was entered in an international film contest in Spain.  Each contestant was requested to submit a brief additional work conveying his country’s view of Spain.  Israel's contestant submitted a piece entitled: “Don Quixote's War against The Wall." From the footage aired on an Israeli news broadcast, it is clear this is an attack on the security fence that Israel is constructing to keep terrorists out of its towns. The journalist failed to even point out that the submission ignored the contest organizers’ specific request.  Apparently this zealousness for attacking Israel in art has grown so de rigueur it doesn't even rate a comment.

If Israel's friends would show a smidgen of that zealousness in addressing the hearts and minds of the European and American public we might not be in our present predicament. One opinion poll after another has revealed that Europeans hold Israel in rock-bottom esteem. In England this month, Israel was found by the London Daily Telegraph to be the country least desirable for a vacation, least deserving of respect, one of the least democratic and second to the least safe of all the countries in the world. Many Americans already share those views.

Lame "balancing acts" of the sort that those Kansas Jews attempted only invite cries of censorship.  As the artist Jacir commented after that request was refused, "I am pleased. We have stopped an act of discrimination and …censorship." 

How much longer will it be before our public relations pundits wake up and smell the coffee.  The truth about the Israel-Palestinian conflict has got to reach the art battlefield.  Or our military gains against terrorism will have been in vain.

Frimet Roth, a freelance writer, lives in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation ( www.kerenmalki.org ) in their daughter's memory. Malki Roth was murdered at the age of fifteen in the Sbarro Jerusalem restaurant massacre in 2001. The foundation in her name provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child. Frimet Roth can be reached at frimet.roth@gmail.com.

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