Far-right Israeli Culture Minister, Miri Regev, has asked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to block funding for Tel Aviv’s Tmuna Theater in revenge for the “Get Out of Gaza” event held there on Sunday evening, July 8. In a letter to Kahlon, Regev claimed the event was a violation of the “Nakba Law,” anti-democratic legislation written into the country’s budget which gives the finance minister the power to withhold funds from government-supported institutions if they hold events “which deny Israel’s right to exist.”
“Do you think it’s proper for cultural institutions to be turned into a political arena?” Regev asked Kahlon in her letter. “For how long will you close your eyes and give a pass to those who do their utmost to tar Israel’s image as a cruel and racist country?” “I approach you because time after time I receive further proof that theaters and cinemas receiving [state] support are turning into the property of far-left political groups whose main aim is to libel Israel,” Regev wrote.
Hundreds participated in the “Get Out of Gaza” event, organized by leading Communist Party of Israel (CPI) activist and Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman and Meretz MK Mossi Raz, to mark four years since the start of Israel’s deadly 2014 offensive in Gaza. Also participating were the former chairwoman of Meretz, Zehava Galon, General Secretary of the CPI, Adel Amer, and representatives from human rights and peace organizations including Breaking the Silence, Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Kol Aher (“Another Voice”) and B’Tselem.
In response to Regev’s attack Touma-Suleiman and Raz accused her of persecuting progressive Israeli culture, saying “This is a peace event, which plays an important role in the Israeli discourse,” adding that democracy “should be able to tolerate a variety of views.”
The incident is the latest in Regev’s war against what she and her right-wing backers see as the country’s left-wing cultural establishment. In September, the Finance Ministry said it would consider cutting funding to the Jaffa Theatre, a Jewish-Arab theater Regev claims has overstepped the boundaries of freedom of expression.
Since assuming her ministerial position in the spring of 2015, Regev has been locked in an almost unending battle with Israel’s cultural community. Regev has completely cut funding to the Arabic language Al-Midan Theater in Haifa for hosting a play that she maintained, “glorifies terrorism.” Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ruled she had no authority to deny the theater funding and, with its future hanging in the balance, the Supreme Court has been called on to intervene.
The Impact of the Gaza Blockade on Women
Last month, a heated discussion took place in the Knesset on the impact of the Israeli-imposed closure on women in the Gaza Strip, held by the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, chaired by MK Touma-Sliman. Many Members of Knesset attended the discussion, including several who are not members of the committee but who arrived especially to express their support for Committee Chairwoman Touma-Sliman’s decision to devote the discussion to the situation of women in Gaza. MK Touma-Sliman indicated that government officials who had been invited to take part in the discussion chose not to attend the session.
Gisha Public Advocacy Coordinator Noa Galili opened the discussion by presenting the unemployment rate among women in the Gaza Strip, which currently stands at 71.5%. Galili stated that the number of women in Gaza who are able to work and seek employment has increased dramatically by over 200%.
Gisha Research Coordinator Qamar Taha explained that women merchants currently hold only 2.5% of the valid trade permits which allow access to Israel and the West Bank to conduct business. Taha drew attention to the way in which Israel’s ongoing control over sea and land access to Gaza has also pushed women out of economic sectors they used to participate in before the closure was tightened: The number of women who work in the fishing and agriculture sectors, for example, plummeted from 36% in 2007 to just 4% today.
International Communications Coordinator Miriam Marmur spoke about the impact of Israel’s “separation policy” between Gaza and the West Bank on Palestinian families. “Restrictions imposed by Israel cut many women off from their families and compound the difficult situations they face by often making a woman’s decision to leave her home a one-way journey.”
During the discussion, representatives of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) told of the distress of cancer patients in Gaza who need medical treatment unavailable in the Strip but are denied travel permits by Israel. “We have witnessed a decline in the number of permits issued by Israel to medical patients in 2017. The entire system seems to be very arbitrary,” noted Mor Efrat from PHR, adding that “due to the dire economic situation in Gaza, some patients can’t even afford the cost of the trip to the hospital or to provide for the persons who accompany them.”
MK Touma-Sliman addressed the objections expressed by other MKs in the days before the committee session and during the discussion itself: “We all see the significance of women’s involvement in the discourse on key issues. It is unfortunate that the committee is under attack for ‘engaging in politics.’” In her closing statements, Touma-Sliman stated that “Israel is responsible for this situation, make no mistake about it.”
Vivienne Silver, a member of Kibbutz Beeri and an activist with Women Wage Peace and Yeela Raanan, a member of the Kibbutz Kisufim, both located near Gaza’s perimeter fence, also participated in the meeting. Raanan said: “I’m happy that this discussion is taking place. As far as I am concerned, these women are my neighbors. Every effort must be made to reduce the distress of women in Gaza. Israel is party to a system that creates suffering for Gaza residents. It is not the only one, but it is a part of it. The Israeli government has the power to influence the situation. ”
Hadash MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) said: “The voices of Gaza’s women cannot be heard in this discussion. I’m very grateful to the representatives of the organizations for working to bring us some of these voices.” Mariam Abu Alatta, a resident of Gaza who works at Aisha, an NGO devoted to protecting women and children in the Strip, addressed the committee in a short video-clip presented by Gisha.
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