West Bank’s shadow on Delhi International Arts Festival


New Delhi : The tension between the West Bank and Isreal is echoing at the sixth edition of the Delhi International Arts Festival in India with an umbrella group calling for the boycott of the Cameri Theatre, which will stage relationship drama “Stempenyu” here Nov 4.

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However, the Delhi International Arts Festival said Friday the production would go ahead as scheduled, noting that the “featival was a platform for cultural diplomacy and artists from any country that had diplomatic ties with India could perform in the country”.

In an appeal, the Indian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (InCABI) said the “Cameri theatre serves as an official propaganda tool for the Israeli state that occupies Palestinian lands and practises apartheid policies for Palestinian people”. The company’s performances are sponsored by the Israeli foreign ministry.

InCABI was formed in 2010 by a cross-section of intellectuals, activists, artists, academics, filmmakers and writers in India.

Addressing a media conference to counter the InCABI campaign, festival director Prathibha Prahlad said: “We do not endorse human rights violations in the world. Art touches souls, hearts and transforms people with beautiful things. No artist endoreses human rights violations and we are not making political statements.”

She introduced the cast and director of the Cameri theatre – mostly Jewish immigrants from all over Europe – to the media.

“We had Palestine in the past. This year 33 countries including Algeria, Morocco and Irasel are taking part in DIAF. One of our objectives is to develop tolerance,” Prahlad told IANS after the media briefing.

The Delhi International Arts Festival that began Oct 27 is being presented by the Prasiddha Foundation and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. It is supportd by several organisations, including the Hindustan Times.

The Cameri Theatre has brought to India their latest production, “Stempenyu”, a play by Edna Mazya based on a novel written by Shalom Aleichem, a Yiddish writer, 120 years ago. It narrates the life of a gifted violinist, who leads a wedding band. The musician is also a renowned home-breaker because of his roving eye. Stempenyu falls in love with Rochele, a beautiful but married woman. Matters come to a head when Rochele falls in love with Stempenyu as well.

Sahlom, one of the greatest Jewish story-tellers, is also the creator of the tale of the “Fiddler on the Roof”, an iconic performance tale full of colourful characters, music and dance.

Choreographer-director of Cameri Theatre Yehezkel Lazarovy said the production was not political. “One must not confuse between art and politics. But in a way, both art and politics talk about human beings. Art should stay crystal clean in terms of not letting politics involved in it,” Lazarovy told IANS.

It is the way one interprets it, he said. “You can talk about politics at the show within your art, but not outside it. You must let it shine and make it way into people’s hearts,” Lazarovy said. Lazarovy has choregraphed the dramatic and musical acts in the production.

However, InCABI is relentless in its campaign. In a signed statement by more than 50 artists like N. Pushpamala, Githa Hariharan, M.K. Raina, Saeed Mirza, Anand Patwardhan, Arundhati Roy and K. Satchidanandan said, “the construction of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land violates international law and accounts to war crimes”.

“The Cameri performs in Israel, one of the largest illegal settlements in the West Bank. Ariel contaminates Palestinian water and agricultural lands …A theatrical performance in this illegal settlement is by definition, a performance for an exclusively Israeli audience,” the statement said.

The protesters said “renowned British director Peter Brooks, much admired in India, cancelled his troupe’s participation at the international festival of plays of the Cameri Theatre in Dec 2012” because of the theatre’s support of the brutal action of colonisation by playing in Ariel.