Theater of the Absurd

Canceling the puppet festival for Palestinian children cannot be justified by saying it threatens Israel's security.

Members of Israel’s theater world held a protest Saturday night over the cancelation of a puppet theater festival for Palestinian children that was supposed to have taken place at East Jerusalem’s El-Hakawati Theater in late June. The festival was canceled because of an eight-day closure order issued by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch. The reason given for the closure was that the theater was funded by the Palestinian Authority, in violation of the Oslo Accords.

The cancelation of the festival is not the most egregious injustice that Palestinians are suffering because of the occupation; it caused no bodily harm or property damage. Neither was it an action taken by soldiers or other Israeli representatives in the field, in a situation that required lower-level functionaries to make decisions under the pressure of a situation that developed unexpectedly. It also wasn’t an event documented and distributed to the media by people seeking to hurt Israel. Nor did it involve someone who violated or exceeded his orders, or directives that were insufficiently clear.

The claim by Public Security Ministry officials that the festival was funded by the Palestinian Authority, and therefore contravened the Oslo Accords, was made without supplying any proof and in disregard of the theater director’s denial of the allegation. Yet based on this claim, the ministry shuttered a festival that had taken place for 18 consecutive years, and which was intended for children, a segment of the population that is supposed to be particularly protected, even under conditions of conflict.

Moreover, as noted, this was a puppet festival − the type of cultural activity in which it used to be customary to scrupulously uphold the rights of freedom of speech and thought, and to enable international cooperation, despite differences of opinion. The closure order was also issued without taking into consideration the damage Israel’s reputation would suffer once the festival’s cancelation became known.

No one argued that the event could in any way threaten Israelis’ security, and therefore it was urgent to prevent it from taking place. Nor is it possible to claim that the festival’s cancelation caused excessive damage, not counting the children’s disappointment. But the very fact that no consideration was given to the implications of this act, combined with the thoughtlessness and bureaucratic pedantry of the decision, underscore the human and political blindness generated by a situation in which Israel controls the Palestinian population without doing enough to define and regularize the relationship and reach some sort of accord. This is yet another incident to which Talleyrand’s famous dictum could apply: “It was worse than a crime, it was a blunder.”