By Vacy Vlazna
Palestinian-Australian Samah Sabawi’s finely crafted lyrical play, Tales of a City by the Sea, continues to be under fire from B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission Chair, Dvir Abramovic, since the play was added to the Victorian curriculum. His accusations against the Palestinian-Australian playwright are preposterously spurious.
“This is one of the most disturbing and cleverly conceived cases of unvarnished anti-Israel propaganda and delegitimization masquerading as art,” said Abramovich, who described the play as “unabashedly one-sided”.
Abrahmovich wrote in Australian Jewish News:
“We welcome the review by Minister Merlino and thank him for the leadership he has taken on this issue. We told the minister that the VCE curriculum should not have been allowed to be hijacked by an Israel-bashing play whose core message and demonization of Israelis and Jews as ugly, cold-stone murderers go against the fundamental objective of creating a safe and inclusive environment in schools.
No Jewish student should be placed in the poisonous and unfair position of having to defend Israel’s—and by extension the Jewish religion’s— immoral and cruel conduct in the face of the inevitable anger that will be felt by their classmates after watching the play. Victorian parents have the reasonable expectation that their children will not be exposed to any pedagogical materials that distort the truth, incite to hatred and create tension and disharmony between their friends at schools … The multicultural Victorian community will not countenance any element that plants the seeds of division in the minds of young minds and hearts.”
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission’s honorable mission – ‘To counter anti-Semitism we need to challenge prejudice whenever it occurs, whether it is directed at Jews or at other minorities’- is demeaned by Abramovich’s bogus cries of ‘wolf’ with its ironic prejudice arising from a concocted threat to Israel.
Of course, one agrees with Abramovich that, “No Jewish student should be placed in the poisonous and unfair position of having to defend Israel’s … immoral and cruel conduct” but this is not Ms. Sabawi’s responsibility.
The Age publishes my oped re Tales of a City by the Sea: Vision of everyday life in Palestine too bleak for some https://t.co/Z9YKBAs5mZ
— Samah Sabawi (@gazaheart) June 2, 2016
Surely it is up to the Israeli government to cease its ‘immoral and cruel conduct’ i.e. ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide against the Palestinian people – all of which are well documented by the UN Goldstone Report on Israel’s Operation Cast Lead assault on Gaza: the play’s setting.
Given the above grave international law violations, Sabawi’s artistic restraint is extraordinary particularly as she has family in Gaza, whom, along with all Palestinian families trapped there, have suffered the unimaginable trauma of three monstrous military assaults in six years by the world’s fourth largest nuclear military power. Remember Palestine has no airforce, no drones, no navy and in effect no army (merely a liberation militia with homemade rockets).
Speaking of rockets, Abramovich’s complaint about Ms. Sabawi’s alleged one-sidedness is picked up by Australian Jewish News journalist, Peter Kohn:
“The play…focuses on the relationship between a Palestinian journalist and an American doctor of Palestinian origin who visits Gaza in 2008, portraying Israel as an aggressor, without referring to Hamas rocket attacks and other provocations to Israel.”
Hamas rockets during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge are described by Jewish intellectual Dr. Norman Finkelstein as ‘enhanced fireworks’:
“How could only one Israeli house have been destroyed and 11 others hit or damaged by a mega barrage of rockets? The obvious, and most plausible answer is, most of these so-called rockets must have amounted to little more than enhanced fireworks … Hamas’s long-distance rockets during Pillar of Defense lacked explosives; an Israeli official dismissed them as ‘pipes, basically.’”
Neither Kohn nor Abramovich dare call the cynical euphemism “other provocations to Israel” legitimate Palestinian resistance – a right confirmed by Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and former UN Special Rapporteur to the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel:
“In essence, international law grants to the Palestinian people a right to resist Israeli occupation that is reinforced by Israel’s failure to withdraw from occupied Palestine as decreed back in 1967 by unanimous vote of the UN Security Council in Resolution 242 and by its own refusals to abide by the limitations imposed on an occupying power by the Geneva Conventions.”
The vitriolic bullying of Samah Sabawi parallels the Zionist template of quick fire accusations of antisemitism and incitement at the whiff of any criticism or truth-telling of Israeli violence and illegal occupation. This censorship ruse to silence criticism violates freedom of expression and is integral to Israel’s spreading of fascism such as Erdan’s “international coalition” to monitor and limit criticism of Israel.
Recently General Ya’ir Golan, the deputy Chief of Staff, made the comparison between Israel and the fascism of the Weimar Republic, “If there is something that frightens me about the memories of the Holocaust, it is the knowledge of the awful processes which happened in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding traces of them here in our midst, today, in 2016.” Other Israeli elite have echoed concern about Israeli fascism.
Tales of a City by the Sea by Samah Sabawi on iBooks https://t.co/2iOaYXsVnE
— Truth Razor (@truthrazor) June 1, 2016
Ms. Sabawi is not alone. Stuart Rees’ recently published novel, A Lover’s Country, has incurred a barrage of Zionist hate mail. Sabawi and Rees are adults who can withstand Zionist slings and arrows, however, how does a British-Palestinian schoolgirl, Leanne Muhamad, cope being denied her rightful place in the final rounds of the ‘Speak Out Challenge’ last week? The misnamed Speak Out Trust that buckled under Zionist pressure reinstated Leanne affirming Zionist vulnerability to international protest.
Sabawi’s creative integrity has been very publicly slandered by B’nai Brith’s defamatory gambit. Abramovich’s accusations have crossed the defamation line by his outrageous assertion that Ms. Sabawi showed malicious intent to incite antisemitism that could impact Jewish students in the Victorian school system:
- disturbing and cleverly conceived cases of unvarnished anti-Israel propaganda and delegitimization
- Israel-bashing play whose core message and demonization of Israelis and Jews as ugly, cold-stone murderers
- pedagogical materials that distort the truth, incite to hatred and create tension and disharmony
- whose entire purpose is to indoctrinate them with a one-sided, blatant anti-Israel propaganda
- plants the seeds of division
Ms. Sabawi’s artistic and political principles are exemplary and she is respected for her reconciliatory stand. In I remember my name, a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry by 3 poets, Sabawi’s poetry (as well as her articles and talks) promote a remarkable forgiveness and call to a peaceful shared humanity between Palestinians and Israelis:
“To the people of Israel who fear our freedom: Don’t be afraid, we will liberate you too.
The day I rise from the ruins of your oppression
I promise you I will not rise alone
You too will rise with me
You will be liberated from your tyranny
And my freedom will bring your salvation
I don’t want to obliterate nor humiliate you
I refuse to hate you
Don’t care to demonize or proselytize or theorize your intention
We will be free
I will be your equal
And only then you will be mine
My other self
My fellow human being” — (Liberation Anthem)
“I will not fall for this game
Of demonizing an entire people…
I will defend my enemy’s rights
Because freedom is not a commodity
To be had by some and denied to others”
“There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’
Every death will be mourned by a grieving mother
Her tears… more precious than any flag” — (Against the tide)
It is disappointing that after the Anti-Defamation Committee met with James Merlino, the Victorian Minister for Education capitulated and called for a review of the selection criteria for the VCE Drama Playlist.
Hey, minister, leave those texts alone https://t.co/sa7ODUpf1c
— Samah Sabawi (@gazaheart) May 27, 2016
Disappointing it is, and yet not surprising when one recalls former Foreign Minister, Bob Carr hit out at what he calls the “pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne”, saying it wielded “extraordinary influence” on Australia’s policy during his time in Julia Gillard’s cabinet”.
One hopes that the VCAA possesses the scrupulous independence to verify that Samah Sabawi’s exquisitely poetic Tales of a City by the Sea, does not harbor an iota of delegitimization of Israel nor demonization of ‘Israelis and Jews as ugly, cold-stone murderers’. Rather, it can only affirm that Sabawi explores Palestinian identity within Palestine and in the diaspora – her play reveres the life-force of love and ultimately salutes Palestinian sumoud– heroic steadfastness:
“Yes, we are trapped behind a wall, but Rami, look around you. Open your eyes. See all the stories of how we survive; the trees we’ve replanted, the homes we’ve rebuilt. Inside these walls, Rami, old men still fiddle with their prayer beads. Mothers still bake maamoul on Eid. Families still gather under canopies with loaded bunches of grapes dangling above their heads, they nibble on watermelon seeds and drink maramiah tea. Women still perfect the art of matchmaking. Men still dream of freedom and democracy. Children climb on almond trees. Lovers woo in secrecy. And no matter how the conditions are adverse, over here we have learned to defy the universe! Every day inside these walls, Rami, we defy the universe!”
Beware! The real threat lies in the likes of Abramovich who behave as agents of a foreign entity who, wielding extraordinary influence over craven governments globally, gnaw at democratic rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press, by superseding truth with mendacious untruth. This betrayal of the democratic ideals of their host-country covertly, insidiously spreads Zionist fascism worldwide.
– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convener of Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.