Many years ago, I was invited to lead a writing workshop at Golan Heights communities. I complied happily. This happened immediately after I expressed my unequivocal views, in the press and on television, about the need to withdraw from the Golan in order to prevent war with Syria. During the subsequent sessions, I was told that some locals spoke out against inviting a person like me. That was regrettable, yet both I and my dozens of student took this in stride, with a smile and tolerance. Radicals exist everywhere after all.
I was angrier when one of the Golan community leaders refused to appear in a television show when she heard I was taking part of it. As I said, radicals exist everywhere.
I once received a phone call from a magazine editor in Ariel who asked me to send in a story. I did so gladly, yet the story was never published. I hope the magazine disqualified the story itself, not me personally.
The above makes it clear that I’m ready and willing to appear, lecture, publish, speak, and hear other views anywhere. In my dreams, I will be invited to do so in Aleppo, my Syrian hometown. In Egypt I was received enthusiastically. I doubt I’ll be received as warmly in Ariel.
So here we are talking about Ariel. Every individual has the right to decide whether to appear on stage in the occupied territories or avoid doing so. Avoiding is ok. Boycotting is not!
We must separate culture from politics, just like we should separate religion and state. We must do so precisely because they are intermixed by their very nature. If culture intervenes in politics, it will grant politics the right to intervene in culture. Indeed, we see many examples of this at this time. The authorities are attempting to silence voices of criticism and doubt in academia and in textbooks.
The theater artists who declared a boycott on Ariel are playing into the hands of aggressive rightists. These artists are throwing a boomerang that will end up undermining the freedom of art and creation. Just like in a chess game, one should calculate the rival’s steps in advance. The first response to the boycott on Ariel was stronger solidarity between our leadership and Ariel. The second response is genuine danger of government interference in funds earmarked for theater.
The protest stemmed from ideological-political weakness, which prompted a rash move. It was a loud cry by those whose voice is not heard and whose views are being swept away in the winds of war.
My political views are well known. The settlements were established in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and are obstacles to peace. Yet each settlement is home to people who do not think like me. Some of them moved there for economic rather than ideological reasons, and they are entitled to culture just like they are entitled to food and healthcare services. The right to culture is no less important than the right to health, education, and security. Woe is on artists and creators who think that their work is only meant for people who think and act like them.
So let’s protest at the right place and to the proper extent. I’m a party to the hatred that hides deep within the protest, but I propose that we reserve this hate to those who uproot trees, torch mosques, and attack Arabs; to the “price tag” thugs and hilltop youth.
If theater and art can have an effect, it is their right and duty to affect others - different people, who think differently. It would be a grave mistake to make do with convincing the convinced and influencing those who in any case think like us.
My friends the playwrights, actors, and authors – I understand you and I agree with your views, yet the act you took is undesirable and improper. After all, we won’t respond to the uprooting of olive trees by uprooting pears or extracting teeth. Zealotry on our part would only provoke and encourage reckless zealotry on the other side.
So let’s distinguish between the legitimate political struggle and the natural, free flow of culture anywhere, to any person and any theater, either inside the country or beyond its borders. Culture has no borders.
Amnon Shamosh is an author and poet