Ariel cultural center
The empty Ariel cultural center before its opening. Photo by Alon Ron
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Ahead of the approaching opening of the new cultural center in Ariel, the public debate is resurfacing over the letter from artists refusing to appear there, and another letter urging artists planning to perform in Ariel to also boycott the center.

The range of reactions to the letters indicates that there still exists a deep misunderstanding regarding the reasons for the boycott and the ensuing calls and there is a need for additional discussion to clarify the logistics of these steps.

An oft-repeated argument against the position voiced in the artists' letters is that no person should be delegitimized and kept from access to the arts (or any other type of discourse ) due to his political beliefs alone, and all the more so because of his place of residence. It has been argued that is inappropriate and also unhelpful because it spurs antagonism and hurts effort to engage in meaningful dialogue.

It should be stated immediately - even though it is perhaps possible to conceive of ideologies that disqualify their advocates from being legitimate partners in dialogue - that the ideologies of most Ariel residents are not such.

There is no justification therefore for refusing to perform for them in any place within the Green Line and to the best of my understanding, the letters' signatories indeed agree.

Refusal to perform in a specific place is also for the most part not a legitimate move: If the artists were to refuse to perform someplace because it is hot, crowded or just unpleasant there, such a step would of course be unacceptable by any standard.

The refusal, therefore, relates to actually being in Ariel, and understanding its legitimacy necessitates recalling what unfortunately is not clear from the start: the significance of the existence of Jewish settlements beyond the Green Line and the difference between its two sides.

While within the Green Line there still exist important qualities of a democratic regime, as doubtful and under assault as they may be, beyond the Green Line there is an occupation regime of discrimination and separation both de facto and de jure.

There is no denying, of course, that in sovereign Israeli territory as well non-Jewish citizens experience many and varied forms of discrimination and suppression, which should be fought against uncompromisingly. There can also be no ignoring the significant differences between an urban, established community such as Ariel and small and more isolated communities, if only because of the need to grasp the variety of motives, which are not necessarily ideological, responsible for the populating of settlements deemed part of the consensus.

But the decisive factor is that the Palestinians inside the Green Line have (at least for now ) Israeli citizenship, which enables them to demand their rights when these are violated and to fight using legal means for equality and against discrimination. Beyond the Green Line, however, only the Israeli residents enjoy civil rights, while their Palestinian neighbors lack even this minimal legal and political tool. Some settlements are communities for Jews only, they are supported by a network of roads where travel on them is permitted only to Israelis and the Palestinian towns are separated from them by walls, fences and checkpoints. The settlements - all settlements! - implement separation on an ethnic and religious basis between people with rights who live in fair conditions and enjoy state-sponsored protection and security networks and their disenfranchised neighbors whose lives are chaos.

These separation mechanisms are on a completely different plane from that of the mechanisms that discriminate against and compartmentalize Palestinians who carry Israeli citizenship. Ariel is a legal settlement that has the full backing of state institutions, and its residents are seen as normal citizens who are not party to the open hostility of the "extremist" settlers.

However, it turns out that this is precisely the problem: the perception of Ariel or any other settlement as being an integral part of the state of Israel is nothing more than a distorted show that blurs a decisive difference. Those who denounce the artists' letters are quick to note that Tel Aviv, like many other places inside Israel, is also built on the ruins of Arab villages whose residents were expelled and Tel Avivians would be wise to remember this.

However, Tel Aviv is open in an important respect, a legal respect, to non-Jewish citizens, whereas the law that legitimizes Ariel does not apply to the Palestinians who are trying to live on the other side of the fence separating it.

Therefore, what right do the artists have to intervene and voice an opinion in public on a controversial political issue such as the settlements? It is their right, no more and certainly no less than it is the right and obligation of everyone. Ariel is part of the oppressive separation regime that is trying to camouflage itself and the refusal to perform there - which entails professional and financial risk - is not only legitimate but indeed most commendable.

 

The writer is a doctoral student in philosophy at Tel Aviv University.