Initiatives like these are arguments against boycotts

By Martin Bright, August 19, 2010
Ha Dag Nahash, a left-wing rap group, performing protest songs at The Lab in Jerusalem

Ha Dag Nahash, a left-wing rap group, performing protest songs at The Lab in Jerusalem

The other week I spent the evening in a beautiful garden in east Jerusalem listening to sublime music that brought together the best of the traditions of western, Arabic and Jewish music, ancient and modern.

It was a unique event, bringing together two of the most prominent musicians in the region, one Jewish, one Palestinian. Also performing for a small audience of friends and invited outsiders was a group of rappers from the Shuafat refugee camp. Everyone agreed that it was an astonishing moment.

And everyone agreed that it could only happen behind closed doors. I have been asked not to mention any names in case it compromised those involved, especially on the Palestinian side.

I spent a week in Jerusalem, experiencing a sometimes overwhelming array of cultural events.

I saw an inspiring film at the Cinematheque made by Israeli and Palestinian youth about their mixed football team. I talked to artists at the Daniela Passal Arts Centre at Ein Kerem about their project for recording the stories of the village, captured by Israeli forces in 1948.

At the same place I talked to two radical Israeli film-makers, about their satire of the annual fundraising telethon for the army. I spoke to visual artists and photographers in the Musrara neighbourhood about the Israeli Black Panther movement.

I discussed the brilliant work of The Lab, a centre for the performing arts, which works across the two communities. To cap it all, I visited the Museum on the Seam, a gallery devoted to promoting co-existence, where Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian, Afghan and Palestinian artists exhibited alongside their Israeli counterparts and artists from western Europe and America.

I was a guest of the Ministry of Tourism and the Jerusalem Season of Culture, which will take place next year, so draw whatever conclusions you choose about the propaganda purposes of my trip.

I would argue that each of the projects I have mentioned are an argument against the cultural boycott. Not everything on the cultural scene here is critical, subversive or political.

Much is celebratory of Jerusalem, in all its troubled complexity and diversity. And yet there is a serious opportunity in this initiative to argue for a more subtle and nuanced reading of the culture of Jerusalem, if not Israel itself.

There were, of course, some dissenting voices. During a visit to the Al-Hoash Palestinian Art Court in east Jerusalem, the director Rawan Sharaf told me: "I'm not sure we are celebrating. The Palestinian community is the community being oppressed by the Occupation.

"Our role is to maintain the Palestinian visual arts. These are a key factor in maintaining our identity."

I salute the planned Jerusalem Season of Culture in its attempts to show the city in all its complexity. I hope it will become an annual cultural festival.

However, the true mark of its success will be the participation of artists from the east of the city. Only then will those present in that garden in east Jerusalem be able to celebrate their musical partnership openly. That must be the ultimate aim.

Last updated: 12:28pm, August 19 2010