This is a guest post by Nick D
The most telling aspect of the utter failure of pro-conflict advocates to disrupt proceedings at the Globe last night came after it had all finished. I was standing in line, waiting to collect my bag, and everyone I could hear was discussing the show – that is, the performance by Habima Theatre of Israel, who carried off what by general consensus seemed to be a magnificent Merchant of Venice. My Hebrew is negligible, restricted to the odd words I recognise from Arabic, but deprived even of Shakespeare’s language the actors were able to convey to me with awesome power the tragedy of Shylock and the malice of his persecutors. A steady, droning beat on the frame drum provided a superbly ominous counterpoint to the psychodrama unfolding before us, on stage and off stage. Jews were on trial – and witless protesters proving once again to be a curse rather than a blessing to the Palestinians – were props in an awesome, all-enveloping spectacle.
They played their roles with an earnest sense of duty, if not much in the way of style. There were a few outside when we arrived, holding Palestinian flags and apartheid state banners, imaginatively, keeping politely to their allotted holding pen. Then, timed to perfection after Shylock had been beaten and humiliated during the opening moments of the play, in an enactment of hatred so potent in the context that it had this sentimentalist in tears, three women immediately in front of my group unfurled a Palestinian flag over the balcony. There were mutterings of “here we go” and security dived in. The evictees were about as endearing as the gang we had just seen on stage, putting the boot into the money-lender and jeering. One repeated, over and over again “I am not being violent, I am not being violent”- until the repeated “I’s” took on the quality of a mantra. I am still waiting for evidence that the typical British pro-war activist – they are not, obviously, pro-Palestinian, or pro-peace, or pro-justice – is not as narcissistic and consumed by hatred as they invariably demonstrate. The next group to thrust themselves towards the spotlight popped up next to me, conveniently, because space was at a premium and we could now anticipate a much more comfortable second half. Again, they produced a flag and it was taken from them in a scuffle, but this time security let them stay for the time being. There were three men and two women, probably in their fifties, grim-faced, and not to be easily removed.
At this point I should lay my cards on the table. I support a Palestinian state – alongside a secure Israeli state of all its citizens, with equal rights for all but a Jewish majority. I lived in the West Bank for almost two years, and not on a settlement. I speak (mediocre) Arabic. I am familiar with Mahmoud Darwish and Sayed Kashua as well as Amir Gutfreund. I do not believe the status quo is just, although I recognise that the Palestinians also have responsibilities for the predicament they are in. There are legitimate ways to protest their situation and to offer solidarity for their struggle. Unfortunately, most of their so-called allies in the UK forgo all legitimacy by the goals they choose and the methods they employ.
I tried to talk to the group making their brave stand next to me. I pointed some of the above out, by way of introduction. The women to my immediate left stared vacantly past me, possessed of her own righteousness. “What of the 5 million Palestinians who don’t have a voice”, she said to herself, as I attempted to find out what she knew of the siege of Nahr El-Bared by the Lebanese army in 2007 as compared with the Battle of Jenin in 2002 – whether, as people often wonder, Palestinian suffering counts when it is inflicted by the Lebanese, or Syrians, or Jordanians, or themselves – by anyone, in fact, but the Jews. No reply. I eventually got a bit more out of one of the men, who, to his credit, was prepared to talk in something approaching a reasonable manner. He assumed that I was a Jew, of course – who else would be at an Israeli production? – and proceeded to inform me that some of the strongest opponents of Israeli policy were Jews, and that “my community didn’t know what was going on”, or “refused to accept what was going on” or words to that effect. The possibility that people might know what is going on, deplore it, but reach different conclusions about its origins and solutions was evidently beyond him. Before, I had been given a taste of his convictions – or was it his comrade? Their faces were more or less interchangeable – when, on asking him why it was only the Israeli company to receive attention of this sort, rather than the Chinese, or the South Sudanese who had also performed at the Globe – he replied “because Israel is an oppressive state”. Fail. No answer to why BDS won’t support a two-state solution. It hardly needs to be said, but as Camus demonstrated in his brilliant essay on Algeria, any justice worth its name is justice for all. There is no room for Jewish Israelis in these people’s vision, and so there is no reason to treat them seriously. Certainly not as peace activists, although they spent the remainder of the half intermittently displaying the v for victory sign. Come to think of it, that’s what they meant. They don’t want peace, or justice, but victory. For the Palestinians. Tell me, how are you any different to the most virulent Kahanists? Any less deluded?
The other protests did nothing to dispel these predictable impressions. A few people in the standing section produced flags and shouted “free Palestine” as they were ejected. Aside from contributing to the tension of the theatre – you wondered where the next eruption was coming from, and whether anyone would have a scintilla of imagination and wit – they were almost totally impotent in effect. Perhaps the best one of the night – and this is not saying much – came when a man stood up and pompously intoned “do the Palestinians not have eyes” and “if you prick us, do we not bleed” as he was taken out. Someone told him to piss off, to gales of laughter. As Shylock hesitated on stage, a voice cried out for him to carry on, “we’re all with you”. And, bar a lone woman shouting out that Israel was an apartheid state built on stolen Palestinian land in the street outside, that was it. To her, and all the others I saw in action tonight, I would ask the following questions. Why are you unable, for the most part, to engage in rational discussion with people about the issues you protest? Why does the BDS movement appear to reject a solution that reflects the aspirations of both peoples for independence and self-determination? Why is your “justice” so partial, so one-sided? Why are you so palpably consumed by hatred? Why do you never, ever, address the appalling treatment of the Palestinians by the countries in which they are left to rot in refugee camps? Why do you not recognise that it is impossible to turn the clock back to 1948? Why are you so obsessed with the need to self-aggrandize yourself in actions which merely make you look foolish and ignorant and do nothing to contribute to a better future for the people you purport to represent?13 comments