Opinion |

Israel's Largest Live Music Club Is Legitimizing the Extreme Right. The Artists Are Mum

The Zappa B’Gai festival is linking up with the City of David, which is operated by a messianic right-wing organization that funds efforts to Judaize East Jerusalem

Uri Agnon
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East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.
East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood. Credit: Emil Salman
Uri Agnon

Next week will mark the beginning of the Zappa B’Gai (Zappa in the Hinnom Valley) festival – a cooperative effort of the Zappa Jerusalem club and the City of David. Maybe we can hope that Zappa doesn’t understand with whom it’s getting into bed. Maybe the artists participating in the “festival” – Danny Robas, Arkadi Duchin, Noam Horev, Revital Vitelzon Jacobs, Moshe Lahav, Shlomi Koriat – are also unfamiliar with the complex politics with which they are getting involved.

Here it is in brief: The City of David is a national park in the heart of the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. This park is operated by the Elad association, a messianic right-wing, nonprofit organization that is making tremendous efforts to Judaize the area, with the help of a discriminatory system of laws and loads of money from anonymous sources.

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Just a few weeks ago the Siyam family, a single mother and her children, were thrown out of their home after decades of feverish activity by Elad, which took over their house – as has been the case with many others in the neighborhood. Emotional and economic damage was done not only to the family evicted from its home, but to the entire area. Increasing numbers of armed settlers and their security guards are moving to Silwan, where 50,000 Palestinians live in very crowded conditions, and are completely disrupting their fabric of life.

To strengthen the settlement enterprise, Elad creates tourism projects that are ostensibly apolitical, which turn Israelis and foreign visitors alike into unknowing collaborators. Under the organization’s auspices people are led through tunnels under the homes of Palestinian residents, in an attempt to present a one-dimensional picture of Jewish sovereignty that may have existed here thousands of years ago, thereby exploiting present-day sovereignty to wrest control over more and more houses and to promote an extreme-right agenda.

Bayit B’Gai, the new center where Zappa and the City of David are planning to hold their festival, is an attempt to achieve legitimacy for acts of expulsion. It is located, and not by chance, on the seam between Silwan and the western part of Jerusalem, on land Elad purchased from a man serving a life sentence, who admits that he was never actually the owner of the property, and only lived there for a short time. Zappa whitewashes this as being “beneath the open sky – opposite the walls of the Old City.”

A show Zappa club in Jerusalem. Credit: Daniel Bar-On

At present the Siyam family, like many families before it, is trying to figure out how to rebuild its life. Without a house, with huge legal debts and deep emotional scars, they have to create a future for themselves. What will the future of this family, and of dozens of others in Silwan, look like? What will the shared future of all of us in this city, in this country, look like? The answers to these questions are in the hands of all of us, residents of the city and the country, artists, cultural institutions and consumers of culture.

Art is always political, but not all artists, and not all cultural institutions, choose to speak up against the occupation, just as not everyone actively or openly opposes it. There are innumerable subjects for artistic works. In a democracy, artists and institutions can even express opposite – i.e., ultranationalist and anti-democratic – opinions, but it’s hypocritical and deceitful to conceal extremist opinions disguised as apolitical mainstream.

Zappa clubs throughout the country serve as a home for a varied audiences and provide a stage for artists, many of whom are not identified with the far right of Israel’s political map. Hadag Nahash, Shlomi Shaban, Chava Alberstein, Corinne Allal and Ran Danker – these are just a few of the artists who will perform at Zappa in the coming months. How do they feel about the connection between their stage and the Elad association?

If only the managers of Zappa would realize who they’re dealing with and cancel this dubious partnership. It’s not too late. If they decide to go forward with their dance with the messianic right, all of us – the audiences and the artistic community – will know which opinions Zappa supports. I hope that each one of us, audience and artists alike, will know to choose whether or not to participate in providing a seal of approval for this abomination.

The writer is a Jerusalem-based composer and an activist in the Free Jerusalem group.

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