Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ariel Cultural Center: To Boycott or Not

I was not happy to hear that a new cultural center is about to open in the city of Ariel, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. I never like it when new buildings are constructed in the occupied territories. In the long term, they will be very costly to the Israeli treasury and to me as a taxpayer, when we will eventually exit the West Bank. Many Israelis think that Ariel would be one of the settlement blocs that would remain a part of Israel in a future deal with the Palestinians, even though it is quite a distance away from the Green Line, but there is no reason to believe Palestinians would agree to that. Even if they did, it would be unwise of us to have such a long and narrow corridor surrounded by the Palestinian state and to give so much territory from inside Israel proper in exchange for Ariel.

Now, having said that, I'm not quite sure what I think about the events of the last few days. Israeli theater companies, who travel away from their home theaters to other cities regularly, have announced that they will add Ariel to the list of places where they'll stage their plays. Various actors, directors and playwrights declared that, for political and conscientious reasons, they will not perform there. University professors and other public intellectuals, including such authors as A. B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz, have signed declarations in support of these theater people. On the other hand, the Israeli Union of Performing Artists has condemned them.

I'm not a fan of boycotts. I rarely join one, and usually vehemently oppose them. With settlements, though, I neither support or oppose a boycott. If someone doesn't want to participate in what he sees as support or normalisation of the occupation, I won't try to convince him otherwise, but I won't join in. That's the same with Ariel. I have no problem with Israeli theaters performing in Ariel, but neither do I think any member of the cast or crew should be forced to go there. I wouldn't have signed either one of the petitions for or against the actors' boycott. But I'm not sure what I'd say to an actor who is having trouble deciding whether to perform in Ariel or not. It is a tough decision, and either action - going there or staying home - is a sort of public political statement. Either action can also be construed as a different statement than what the actor intended.

Ariel is not the same as Be'er-Sheva, as Treasury Minister Yuval Steinitz was quoted as saying this week. Ariel is not a part of Israel and does not have the same legitimacy as Be'er-Sheva. But on the other hand, neither is Ariel the same as Kiryat Arba or Bat-Ayin, two of the most radical settlements in the territories. Most residents of Ariel are just normal, moderate people who would comply peacefully with a government decision to evacuate them. This, too, should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to perform there.

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