U.K. Funding of Palestinian Play Angers Local Jewish Community

'The Siege' deals with the a 2002 incident in which a group of armed Hamas fighters took refuge from the IDF in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

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One of the Palestinians holed up in the Church of the Nativity grabs food left by sympathizers during the siege.
One of the Palestinians holed up in the Church of the Nativity grabs food left by sympathizers during the siege.Credit: AFP

The funding of a Palestinian play by the United Kingdom's Arts Council England, a taxpayer-funded body, has aroused the ire of the British Jewish community the Mail Online reported.

"The Siege," which recounts the story of how armed Hamas fighters hid out in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity for 39 days in 2002, is due to begin touring the U.K. in mid-May.

Arts Council England has donated $22,700 (88,000 shekels) to the staging of the play in the U.K. Defending its decision to fund the play, the council said in a statement that it was not the body’s role “to censor the artists’ message”.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of British Jewry, expressed concerns over the funding in a statement on Saturday. “We would be extremely concerned if British taxpayers were funding a play that promoted terrorism as positive and legitimate,” the board said.

The play's British co-director Zoe Lafferty responded to the criticism by saying that the production "is pro-human rights, pro-justice and pro-equality. Our work is trying to talk about the truth of what’s happening on the ground and counter the propaganda that’s constantly being directed at the Palestinians."

Eight people were killed during the course of the 39-day siege of the church, which ended with the fighters agreeing to be exiled in Europe without first seeing their families. One man was killed by a sniper while tolling the church bell, and seven others died inside the church from sniper fire.

Put on by the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre, the production has already received cash from the British Council and the EU for performances in the West Bank.

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