Barbican defends photo exhibition

By Rachel Fletcher, May 2, 2008

The Barbican arts centre in London has defended a pro-Palestinian photographic exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of the “Nakba”.

Referring to the Arabic word meaning catastrophe, which describes the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the exhibition Homeland Lost displays 18 photographs of Palestinian people and scenes and refers to Israel’s “collective punishment”, Deir Yassin and al-Tantura “massacres” and “forced dispossession of over half of the indigenous Palestinian Arab people”.

The exhibition, by photographer Alan Gignoux, which ends today (May 2), coincides with the London Palestine Film Festival, which the Barbican has hosted for four years.

Text accompanying the photographs reads: “In that year [1948], close to 800,000 men, women and children were uprooted and over 500 of their villages were destroyed. Sixty years after the Nakba, they still long for lost houses, villages, communities and land as well as the more abstract ‘homeland’. They struggle to build lives, often in impoverished circumstances, without the basic rights of citizenship.”

Lior Ben Dor, the Israeli embassy press counsellor, said the exhibition text “does not reflect the historic reality. We all know that the refugee problem was created after the Arabs, not Palestinians, as they did not define themselves as Palestinians at that time, refused to accept the UN resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish state alongside an Arab one.

“As a result of that, they started a war against us with the aim of throwing us to swim in the Mediterranean. The solution for the refugee problem will be found once a Palestinian state is established alongside the State of Israel, not on the ruins of it. This is why we are negotiating with the Palestinian leadership.

“We have requested the Barbican more than once to open their doors to us to exhibit Israeli cinema. Some Israeli films show aspects of the Palestinian narrative. Israeli film is very open-minded and can show the suffering of the Palestinians.”

A spokesperson for the Barbican said it was not planning an equivalent Israeli film festival.

“This is a matter of artistic judgment, as opposed to politics. We don’t think it is artistically appropriate to put on an Israeli film festival when there is a successful UK Jewish Film Festival.”

The spokesperson said the Palestinian exhibition “examines issues of home and exile, but we appreciate interpretation of historical events can be controversial”.

The exhibition had shown in Jaffa, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Belfast and Amsterdam and the British Council had been “very much involved”.

“We are an artistic organisation rather than a broadcaster, so our decisions are made on artistic merit. We are planning a Yiddish film festival next year, and we held one in 1990,” she said.

Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation said: “If the Barbican thinks a Yiddish film season in 2009 goes any way towards balancing four successive years of Palestinian film festivals, they are wrong. It is about as much balance as would be putting chicken soup and salt beef on their restaurant menu.”

Last updated: 3:50pm, May 13 2008