August 2, 2010
I note with interest the Manchester Jewish community's indignation about the exhibition of Gaza drawings held at the cathedral there. I read about the Manchester exhibition on Daphne Anson's blog (reproduced on the fantastic CiF Watch site) and saw there excerpts from the exhibition organiser's blog, which would seem to confirm an earlier assertion by a CST official that the organiser, Cox, is antisemitic. I live in a small town in Wales. Quite regularly members of the local Peace Network – perhaps a baker’s dozen of ‘em – gather in the main street and "sing for peace"; basically, they also double as the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and so “Free Palestine” and “End the Siege on Gaza” placards always accompany their performances. I tackled them once, during Cast Lead, and was told by a very angry chap with a petition that Israel should never have been created. Now I just give them a wide berth – as do most passers-by.
About a fortnight ago, from Monday to Saturday, under the auspices of the local PSC, the exhibition that's caused such a row in Manchester came to town. Determined that as many people as possible should see it, the County Council lent it prominent premises near the town centre. There was an assortment of leaflets on hand demonising Israel and I noticed that one of the captions to the exhibit implied that Jesus was a Palestinian rather than a Jew. I saw a former mayor of the town taking in chairs for the talk by Cox (that came towards the end of the exhibit's stay in town) which he delivered twice. I went along to the first one. A press photographer was snapping the exhibits. Our local Lib Dem MP, Mark Williams, was on hand to express his staunch support for “Palestine Solidarity” and his delight at the exhibition – “a brilliant case for ending injustice in Palestine” - and pledged: “Anything I can do to raise these issues in Parliament, I will do my utmost”. The local Plaid Cymru member in the Welsh Assembly, Elin Jones, spoke similarly, noting that, although international issues are not normally raised in that chamber, an exception was made for Palestine. (Well, how about that!!!) With the enthusiastic help of those two politicians, a plan is afoot to twin schools in Gaza with schools in Wales.
The exhibition itself is aimed especially at children. Cox takes the drawings to schools (incidentally, the PSC/CAABU have issued a “teacher’s pack” aimed at bringing discussion of the plight of Palestinians into the classroom through discussion and role-play.) About 30 people were present at the talk – a curious mixture, it seemed, of old Daily Herald types and more bourgeois Guardianistas. As we gathered round, Cox talked us through the drawings, which depicted scenes of trauma, and often featuring Israeli soldiers, tanks, drones, and other weaponry. One drawing showed scattered limbs and severed heads – the result, we were told, of Israel using DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive), a micro-shrapnel anti-personnel weapon which is most lethal against children, since the bigger and stouter you are the more likely your survival. (At this point one activist present interjected with the assertion that Israel is wiping out the next generation in order to grab the land; heads nodded and there were murmurs of agreement.)
Cox spoke of “resistance fighters”, never of “terrorists”, and when we’d all resumed our seats I asked him politely what outcome he would like to see. Perhaps sensing a trap by one of those “Zionist bastards” (to use a phrase on his website), he demurred. (Probably the fact I'd been taking notes made him suspicious of me, because I can't think of anything else which would have; I'd been the soul of discretion.) “One State?” I prodded. “Or Two?” He still demurred. “I’ve heard the phrase ‘Palestine must be Free from the River to the Sea’”, I persisted, asking whether that was the view of the group. The speaker, his affability vanished in a flash, told me I was impertinent. A nuggety old guy in the front row fixed me with a wild-eyed stare and shouted at me to “Shut up!” “Some of us want one state, some want two!” cried somebody else. Turning round in her seat to eyeball me, the head of the local PSC – who according to one of her frequent anti-Israel letters to the local press would appear to be halachically Jewish - made an emotional denunciation of the Balfour Declaration and declared that injustice towards “Palestine” had been ignored for 100 years. A posh-voiced man told me that before any political solution could be worked out Israel would have to stop all its “human rights abuses” and obey the UN and the Geneva Convention.
It was then that I pointed out that in defiance of the Geneva Convention Hamas has held Gilad Shalit for four years with no Red Cross visits. “Who’s Gilad Shalit?” somebody demanded. I explained, reminding them what an eternity four years is when you are his age. “Why do you use the word ‘kidnapped’?” asked the speaker irritably. Again, I explained. There were rumbles of laughter among my fellow-audience members. “He’s a soldier!” scoffed the PSC head. “A PoW!” added the speaker, grinning. “A POW who has been treated like no POW under the Geneva Convention” I continued, pointing out that the Free Gaza Movement had reportedly refused to deliver a letter and package from his family. The audience broke out into peals of prolonged mirth. At that point I swept up my belongings and regained the fresh air, with Cox snarling at me that they'd been more tolerant with me that "the Zionists" would be with them.
This exhibition is pure vitriol - I'm glad the Manchester community has raised a stink about it.