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.
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.”
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
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
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 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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