Puppeteers protest cancellation of e.Jlem festival

Israeli Sesame Street actors protest gov't decision to cancel children's puppet festival over PA sponsorship.

July 2, 2013 22:48
2 minute read.
An Elmo muppet.

Elmo the puppet 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid )

One week after the government’s abrupt cancellation of a seemingly innocuous annual east Jerusalem children’s puppet festival due to illegal sponsorship by the Palestinian Authority, members of Israel’s version of Sesame Street protested the decision by creating a Facebook page.

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Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch ordered the closure of the annual Palestinian Children’s Week puppet show last week because PA sponsorship of events in Israel without prior Israeli government authorization is considered a violation of the 1994 Oslo Accords.

Performances for the festival, now in its 18th year, were scheduled to take place at the El-Hakawati Palestinian National Theater for eight days, through Sunday.

At the time of the cancellation, festival director Abdel Salam said the performances were apolitical and added that the fact it was put on hold was “simply unbelievable.”

In solidarity with Salam, Ariel Doron and Yousef Sweid, the puppeteers behind the Israeli Elmo and a popular Arab Muppet, created the Facebook page “Puppets4All.”

Written in Hebrew, Arabic and English, the page asks supporters to post photos of themselves with stuffed animals while holding a placard reading “Culture is not a security risk.”

By Tuesday afternoon, the page had already garnered nearly 700 “likes” and dozens of creative images of adults and children from all over the world posing with stuffed animals while holding protest signs.

Additionally, a YouTube video titled “Israel’s Puppet War” was recently posted online, featuring a puppet being chased by a large hammer who requests that viewers sign a petition stating, “Every child has the right to enjoy puppet shows!” “There is no political content in the plays and the shows that were supposed to be staged at the festival,” said Salam. “We are accused of political activity even though these are just children’s plays.”

Following the shuttering of the festival, the Public Security Ministry released a statement claiming the government is “not opposed to artistic and cultural activities for east Jerusalem children, as long as they are conducted according to law.”

However, the theater’s director, Muhammad Halayiqa, told Agence France-Presse that the festival was not funded by the PA, and claimed all donations were received internationally. Halayiqa described the closure as “disgraceful.”

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yosef “Pepe” Alalu also condemned it as “wrong and irresponsible” in a letter to Aharonovitch, noting the already heightened tensions between Jews and Arabs in the capital.

“[The cancellation] only increases the hatred and anger of the east Jerusalem public towards us,” his letter stated. “ This year’s event was scheduled to include performances from Arab-Israeli theater groups, as well as performers from France, Turkey and Norway, according to Salam.

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