Blog: art censorship in Israel

The truth will set you free, but first - it will piss you off

In a special interview for the exhibition Prohibited by Curator Ami Steinitz, Issam Bader recounted how in 1969 letters began to be sent to jobs in the Arab sector instructing not to engage in artistic activity. Bader said that "a similar letter has been sent to all public workplaces and municipalities and that for an exhibition a license is required and to transfer photographs of the works to the authorities." Bader added that "the requests submitted were not answered for a long time, a year to a year and a half." Bader was interviewed about the closure of Gallery 79 in Ramallah by the army in August 1980. Bader said that "I was arrested and taken fingerprints. During the interrogation I was required to present a license. The researcher claimed that art was political and that the colors of the Palestinian flag were political."

I find the researcher's claim problematic because art at its core is political and the choice to create abstract art, whether it includes the use of Palestinian flag colors or not, is a political choice. A report by B'Tselem on human rights violations in the Occupied Territories states that "the need to place works of art for the review of a military commander and the fear of measures being taken against artists whose works will not please Maqibid, naturally, on the freedom of creation of Palestinian artists." How can there be an expectation from various sources in Israel that Palestinian citizens will not engage in art because it has the power to pass criticism? I will add that during my studies at the seminary I have heard several Arab students who study with me claim that art education is less budgeted in the Arab sector. Through Art (Appendix A, p. 45)

In the next two paragraphs I will present two more examples of cases where art was censored because it contained the colors of the Palestinian flag. The examples illustrate how punishment in Israel differs between Israeli and Palestinian artists. The first case is the imprisonment of Palestinian painter Fathi Ismail Raban for six months because of the colors of the Palestinian flag in a painting called Nationalism in 1984. In a text he wrote in the city newspaper in response to Raban's arrest, Rafi Lavi spoke out against the difference in punishment and claimed that " "To the red-white of the Palestinian flag. I demand that I also be tried, according to the same accusation that was hung at the mouths of Ismail Raban." (Appendix A, p. 41)

The second case is the cancellation of the publication of a catalog containing the colors of the Palestinian flag for an exhibition by the painter David Rib at the Tel Aviv Museum. In a special interview for the exhibition, it is forbidden to say that this was an exhibition that contained paintings based on black-and-white photographs. After the pictures were hung, Riv added prints in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Reeb claimed that the catalog that was agreed to be published after the exhibition closed did not come out and that when he contacted the museum they explained to him that the publication of the catalog had been postponed slightly. After a year of procrastination, Reeb met with museum curator Mark Sheps. In an interview, Riv claimed that Sheps explained that the catalog would not be published because Riv said in an interview with the city newspaper that he wanted to "pay homage to Palestinian artists." Reeve added that Sheps informed him that if Reeve took things out that Stripe would deny the story. (Appendix A, p. 3)

An example of a delayed exhibition is the Local Texture exhibition, which featured Palestinian and Israeli artists. The exhibition curated by Talia Rapaport in 1995 was scheduled to take place at the Kfar Saba Cultural Center. At a meeting held a few days before the opening of the exhibition, city council member Armond Nazri asked the mayor of Kfar Saba, Yitzhak Wald, to cancel the exhibition on the grounds that the exhibition is on the days of Remembrance Day and Independence Day. Wald acceded to the request and canceled the exhibition. In an attempt to persuade Wald to reverse his decision, the deputy mayor, Israel Milo, brought the mayor to the House of Culture to show him the exhibition. In a reconciliation meeting between Rapaport and two Israeli artists who participated in the exhibition and officials at the municipality, it was determined that the exhibition will open on Saturday morning.

In a special interview for the exhibition Prohibited by Curator Ami Steinitz, Issam Bader recounted how in 1969 letters began to be sent to jobs in the Arab sector instructing not to engage in artistic activity. Bader said that "a similar letter has been sent to all public workplaces and municipalities and that for an exhibition a license is required and to transfer photographs of the works to the authorities." Bader added that "the requests submitted were not answered for a long time, a year to a year and a half." Bader was interviewed about the closure of Gallery 79 in Ramallah by the army in August 1980. Bader said that "I was arrested and taken fingerprints. During the interrogation I was required to present a license. The researcher claimed that art was political and that the colors of the Palestinian flag were political."

I find the researcher's claim problematic because art at its core is political and the choice to create abstract art, whether it includes the use of Palestinian flag colors or not, is a political choice. A report by B'Tselem on human rights violations in the Occupied Territories states that "the need to place works of art for the review of a military commander and the fear of measures being taken against artists whose works will not please Maqibid, naturally, on the freedom of creation of Palestinian artists." How can there be an expectation from various sources in Israel that Palestinian citizens will not engage in art because it has the power to pass criticism? I will add that during my studies at the seminary I have heard several Arab students who study with me claim that art education is less budgeted in the Arab sector. Through Art (Appendix A, p. 45)

In the next two paragraphs I will present two more examples of cases where art was censored because it contained the colors of the Palestinian flag. The examples illustrate how punishment in Israel differs between Israeli and Palestinian artists. The first case is the imprisonment of Palestinian painter Fathi Ismail Raban for six months because of the colors of the Palestinian flag in a painting called Nationalism in 1984. In a text he wrote in the city newspaper in response to Raban's arrest, Rafi Lavi spoke out against the difference in punishment and claimed that " "To the red-white of the Palestinian flag. I demand that I also be tried, according to the same accusation that was hung at the mouths of Ismail Raban." (Appendix A, p. 41)

The second case is the cancellation of the publication of a catalog containing the colors of the Palestinian flag for an exhibition by the painter David Rib at the Tel Aviv Museum. In a special interview for the exhibition, it is forbidden to say that this was an exhibition that contained paintings based on black-and-white photographs. After the pictures were hung, Riv added prints in the colors of the Palestinian flag. Reeb claimed that the catalog that was agreed to be published after the exhibition closed did not come out and that when he contacted the museum they explained to him that the publication of the catalog had been postponed slightly. After a year of procrastination, Reeb met with museum curator Mark Sheps. In an interview, Riv claimed that Sheps explained that the catalog would not be published because Riv said in an interview with the city newspaper that he wanted to "pay homage to Palestinian artists." Reeve added that Sheps informed him that if Reeve took things out that Stripe would deny the story. (Appendix A, p. 3)

An example of a delayed exhibition is the Local Texture exhibition, which featured Palestinian and Israeli artists. The exhibition curated by Talia Rapaport in 1995 was scheduled to take place at the Kfar Saba Cultural Center. At a meeting held a few days before the opening of the exhibition, city council member Armond Nazri asked the mayor of Kfar Saba, Yitzhak Wald, to cancel the exhibition on the grounds that the exhibition is on the days of Remembrance Day and Independence Day. Wald acceded to the request and canceled the exhibition. In an attempt to persuade Wald to reverse his decision, the deputy mayor, Israel Milo, brought the mayor to the House of Culture to show him the exhibition. In a reconciliation meeting between Rapaport and two Israeli artists who participated in the exhibition and officials at the municipality, it was determined that the exhibition will open on Saturday morning.

When Nizri learned of the decision to hold the exhibition he tried to bring the issue up for discussion in the city council arguing that exhibitions of a political nature should pass the approval of the city council but Wald refused to discuss the issue claiming there were enough issues on the agenda. As a step of identification with Nizri, other Likud members withdrew their proposals from the city council discussion. Nazri screamed "How do you let the killers show up here?" He claimed that "any Palestinian who has not proved that he is not a murderer is a murderer. Palestinians will not enter here." (Appendix A, p. 13)

In response to the exhibition's censorship attempts, Suleiman Mansour claimed: "I wholeheartedly believed that art would always remain out of bounds for politicians, I was very disappointed this week. The Israeli public must understand that if you want a part in this area, you must understand and accept Arab culture." (There)

In 1989, an exhibition was presented that dealt with the state of the occupied territories and the intifada in Umm al-Fahm. Four days after the opening of the exhibition, Ibrahim Javad was detained for three months for administrative detention in the Ketziot camp, alleging that the exhibition violated public order. In a special interview for the Forbidden Exhibition, Jawwood said that at the end of the arrest he was summoned for a conversation with a soldier with the rank of officer who asked him for his opinion on peace as an artist. Jawad also claimed that during the entire period of the occupation he hid his works so that they would not be confiscated by the authorities. (Appendix A, p. 48)

To summarize the chapter, I will note that the most severe censorship I have encountered while writing the work is without a doubt the censorship of art that deals with the Israeli occupation. Censorship is the most severe in several respects, first of all the fact that the punishment of the Arab artist is much more severe than the punishment presented in the other chapters. Beyond that, if in the rest of the chapters many of the examples are for individual censored works, this chapter presents mainly entire censored exhibitions. I will also note that in the other chapters I was able to find images even though they were censored, which I cannot say about the works of art I presented in this chapter. In the book So Far and Here, Israeli Work in the 21st Century, Yigal Zalmona wrote that "the political dimension of the artistic response [...] has been replaced by the aestheticization of the conflict [...] which testifies more than anything to the same new distrust in the possibility of a political solution." I believe that a study of this chapter clarifies how the word occupation has become a problematic and even forbidden word among a large part of the Israeli public. (Amit, Zalmona, 2017)

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