Culture Minister Regev Orders Play Vetted for 'Insulting State Symbols'

The Acre Festival play, 'Palestine, Year Zero,' deals with a building assessor who evaluates the damage done to Palestinian homes by Israeli military activity.

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Culture Minister Miri Regev.
Culture Minister Miri Regev.Credit: Ilan Assayag

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev has instructed her staff to vet a play that is currently in rehearsal ahead of the Festival of Alternative Theater in Acre over Succot (October 17-20.)

Regev ordered the assessment of "Palestine, Year Zero," written and directed by Einat Weitzman, after "receiving complaints that the play contains messages of incitement that undermine the state and insult its symbols," according to her office.

Regev has also agreed with Acre mayor Shimon Lankri that the municipality will reassess the suitability of the play.

"Palestine, Year Zero," which will be performed in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles, is described by its producers as a "documentary comedy." It deals with an insurance assessor who is estimating the cost of damage done to Palestinian homes by Israeli military activity in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The play is performed by George Ibrahim, director of al-Kasbah Theater in Ramallah, Ghassan Ashkar, Amjad Badr, Anat Hadid and Khawla Ibrahim.

A publicity image from the play 'Palestine, Year Zero.'Credit: Screenshot/Gadi Dagon

It is supported by a grant from the Mifal HaPais Council for Culture and the Arts and will be performed in the context of the Acre Festival, which last year was supported by the Culture Ministry to the tune of some one-and-a-half million shekels.

The play's credit page on the festival's website give special thanks to three human rights non-profit organizations: Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Zochrot and Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

The person who complained about the play to Regev and others was right-wing activist Shamai Glick. "I was astounded to see that, in the context of the Acre Festival, you are funding a play from the Zochrot workshop," Glick wrote in his letter to Regev, a copy of which is in the possession of Haaretz.

"The entire play deals with homes destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza and Jerusalem, but they forget to mention that missiles that killed Jews, our sons and brothers, were fired from those houses," Glick wrote.

"I demand that you put a stop to it. Kick the performance out of the festival."

Glick, who hasn't seen the play, told Haaretz that he learned about it from a Zochrot newsletter. "It said that the play is based on the activities of the organization, the vision of which is to overwhelm the state with millions of refugees and destroy it."

In response to the complaint, Regev said that she had ordered the play to be vetted for possible damage to the state and its symbols.

"As I have said in the past, there is a distinction between the freedom of speech and the freedom of financing," she added. "No state, including Israel, will finance plays that undermine its existence."

The festival organizers responded that "throughout its existence, the festival has staged plays that reflected a wide range of opinions, theatrical methods and creative freedom, which is among the leading roles of theater and art.

"The municipality of Acre and the organizers of the festival do not intervene in the artistic content of the festival and maintain freedom of expression and creativity. Similarly, the repertoire is chosen solely by the artistic director, in coordination with the artistic committee.

"The management of the festival trusts their professionalism. As in previous years, the municipality will take action if the content of any play violates the law."

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