Monday, December 13, 2010

Being Gay and Orthodox in Israel

Orthodox Jews Protest at Gay Pride Parade in Israel

Being gay and an orthodox Jew – don’t mix. In the Bible, Leviticus 18:22 states: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind, it is an abomination.” For Orthodox Jews, especially those living in Haredi communites in Israel or anywhere else in the world, this prohibition is taken very seriously.
 Israel has some of the world’s most progressive gay rights legislation. (Rosenthal, 371). But when it comes down to it, more than Askenazim, Mizrahim (who tend to be more conservative and religious) still are hiding in closets, scared to come out and face rejection by their families. (Rosenthal, 372). Among the orthodox, there is absolutely no tolerance or acceptance of homosexuality. “In our world, being gay is like eating pork on Yom Kippur” says Nurit, who lives in an Orthodox religious West Bank settlement near Jerusalem (Rosenthal, 373). Many gay Orthodox Jews attempt to ignore their sexual impulses or keep them hidden.  A gay man who wants to remain in the haredi community has to do more than merely keep his sexual identity hidden; he will often marry. ( Rosenthal, 378). In the Orthodox community, the number of gay men marrying in pursuit of traditional lives is much higher than in the secular world. Among  gay orthodox men, some act on their impulses to a point--avoiding intercourse because of the biblical prohibition. And then there are those who lead fully gay lives, ignoring the Jewish legal ban on gay sex. This often leads to them leading a double life and secretly meeting other gay men in places far from their communities. One such place is Tel Aviv’s Independence Park, known as a meeting spot for “hit and run” homosexual encounters. Donna Rosenthal recounts the case of a haredi man at the park explaining that he was not really breaking the biblical prohibition that a “man shall not lie down with a man” because he doesn’t lie down – he does it standing up. (372)
Orthodykes symbol
The issues for Orthodox lesbians are different than for Orthodox gay men, in part because the Torah does not specifically prohibit lesbian sex. OrthoDykes is a group for Orthodox Jewish lesbians that had its start in Israel about ten years ago. They have a very simple website in which they extend an invitation to women who are orthodox (another word they use for orthodox is “frum”) who would like to talk to other women like them.  On the website, in discussing this group and other orthodox gay underground groups, journalist Naomi Grossman talks about the fact that like men, orthodox lesbian women are often married and have children, and coming out would mean isolation for them. If you’re lesbian in the orthodox community, you keep silent and go along with the program. Growing up religious means the women are raised to be wives and taught that fulfillment means bringing children into the world. (Rosenthal, 375) Orthodoxy is all they know - they love the rituals, the Sabbath and the praying, but then religion becomes the thing that means they have to reject another important part of themselves. The underlying message of Orthodykes is that the spiritual side of a person is as powerful as the sexual side and that one can’t be ignored at the expense of the other.

JOH provides counseling and support for LGBT people from all walks of life

 There are a growing number of organizations to support LGBT people who would like to reconcile their sexual orientation with their desire to remain observant Jews.  In recent years, support groups, community centers, chat rooms and websites have enabled people to safely meet and talk about topics that would normally be viewed as taboo.  In Jerusalem, one of these support systems is the Jerusalem Open House. When the JOH was founded in 1997, many were incredulous as to whether LGBT people even existed in Jerusalem, let alone whether it could sustain a vibrant LGBT center. It is a community center for LGBT people from all walks of life – and the fact that it is thriving in Jerusalem is a testament to the fact that there is a need for counseling a support even in Jerusalem. A website called Orthogays, provides resources and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions. Is it possible to be Orthodox and gay or lesbian? What does the Torah say about homosexuality? What can I do about sex as an Orthodox gay Jew? Can I still be Orthodox if I have gay sex? Why did God make me gay? What about the mitzvah of peru urevu (procreation)? How can I contribute to the continuity of the Jewish people?
According to Shlomo Ashkinazy, a gay-rights activist and Orthodox Jew, these groups and sites are transforming orthodox communities. For a long time, he says, "people couldn't conceive that it was possible to be gay and frum (observant/orthodox), so they were leaving [Orthodoxy] in droves." Now, he says, "More and more people are staying frum--because of the support system and the role models."
My sources consisted of 4 websites. Two of them were support groups inviting membership – Orthodykes and JOH.  Orthodykes’ website is very plain and in English only, seeming to indicate that it is geared to English speakers living in Israel. The JOH site is in Hebrew, English and Arabic and describes itself as an advocacy group while also seeking funds to support its efforts.  The other two sites provided information and links and were written with a positive bias towards LGBT orthodox Jews.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Popular Israeli TV sitcom “Arab Labor” highlights lives of Arab-Israelis

Cast of Israeli hit sitcom "Arab Labor"
Arab- Israeli journalist, Sayed Kashua, works at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writing a weekly column about Arab and Palestinian issues, but he is better known as the writer of a sitcom that has become very popular on Israeli TV called “Arab Labor” or “Avoda Aravit” in Hebrew, which is a derogatory term describing shoddy or second rate work. The series is popular with its mostly Jewish audience, which finds it irreverent and funny. The series' main character is Amjad Alian, an Israeli-Arab journalist living and working in Jerusalem, who tries to fit into mainstream Jewish society, often with comic results. Mr. Kashua resorts to some unflattering stereotypes on both sides for the sake of comedy, but he is also a master of subtle nuance in dealing with both Arab and Jewish society. The show has a prime time slot in Israeli TV even though 70 percent of the dialogue of “Avoda Aravit” in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles.
 “Avoda Aravit” reflects a society still grappling with fundamental issues of identity and belonging in a Jewish state. The series is highly controversial in Israel's Arab community and has engendered criticism in the mainstream Israeli press over its treatment of delicate issues of discrimination, religion and coexistence. In the left leaning newspaper Haaretz, journalist Alon Idan asks, What’s so Funny?” and criticizes Kashua for presenting painful truths that are tamed by the sitcom's script and extensive use of slapstick comedy. He states that the sitcom hatches a kind of deal with the Jewish viewer, promising not to present anything too disturbing, even though the plots now and then fleetingly touch upon potentially explosive subjects. Many among the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, 20 percent of the population, say it borders on insulting. The Arabic press reviews have been “deadly — the critics are attacking everything I’ve done,” Mr. Kashua said. The lavish praise by most Hebrew-language critics has not helped.
One of the problems is that Israel, still largely relates to its Arab minority as “a fifth column or a demographic problem” says Kashua. While Israel’s Arab citizens are guaranteed full equality under the state’s 1948 Declaration of Independence, and they even participate in Parliament, discrepancies in budget and land allocations have resulted in wide gaps between many of the state’s Arabs and Jews. The Intifadas and increased violence have also sparked increased suspicion of all Arabs, without discriminating between moderate Arabs and radical extreme ones. Donna Rosenthal describes this reality in Israel by telling a story about a secular Arab doctor, part of an expanding Muslim bilingual and bicultural middle class, living and working in Haifa side by side with Israelis. The Arab doctor was a respected staff member of an Israeli hospital, but when he traveled with a group of Jewish doctors to a conference outside the country – he was humiliated to be the only individual singled out for a special security screening because of his name and looks (Rosenthal, 258). This moderate Israeli Arab doctor supports the creation of a Palestinian state, but feels that Israel is his home and that Jews and Arabs have to think seriously about “what kind of future it will be because we’re all going to be sharing it.”(Rosenthal, 262) He is a proponent of peaceful coexistence but not all Arab Israelis subscribe to that belief, nor do all Jewish Israelis.
The article from the New York Times praises Kashua for successfully launching a TV series in Israel, but the writer presents a negative view of Israel when he described Kashua’s upbringing and the dominance of Israelis over Arabs –seeming to say that no matter what Kashua did, the Israelis would always hold him in low regard. The article from Haaretz criticizes Kashua for sugar-coating difficult and painful issues with comedy and slapstick. This journalist sees the need within Israel to confront these problems, not laugh about them. That is easier said than done. The truth is that with his sitcom, “Avoda Aravit”, Kashua has managed to barge through cultural barriers and bring an Arab point of view into the mainstream of Israeli entertainment.  It is his way of trying to address the undercurrents of unease and maybe diffuse the growing polarization among both Israelis and Arabs in Israel.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Women of the Wall – Seeking not only Religious Pluralism, but also Egalitarianism in Israel

Western Wall in Jerusalem - divided areas for men and women
Achieving religious pluralism in Israel, where equal rights and recognition is granted to all forms of Judaism, is a becoming a goal for more and more Israelis who are seeking non-Orthodox, spiritual alternatives to secularism (Rosenthal, 241). Adding on an additional goal of struggling for religious equality for women, is the purpose of an organization called The Women of the Wall.  On their website, Women of the Wall state that their central mission is to achieve the social and legal recognition of their right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They work to further their mission through social advocacy, education and empowerment. The majority of Jews living outside of Israel embrace the egalitarian ideals of Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal Judaism, and encourage women to participate fully in all prayer and ritual activities. Orthodox Judaism does not. One of Judaism’s most holy sites for prayer, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, has become a battleground for determined, observant Jewish women who seek the freedom to worship as they please.
Nofrat Frenkel arrested for carrying Torah
Women of the Wall gained global publicity when an Israeli nurse, Nofrat Frenkel was arrested last year after attempting to bring out a Torah in the main women’s section at the Western Wall, which is against the law. The Western Wall, which Israel gained back from Jordan after the Six Day War, was a symbol of Jewish survival and pride for all Jews. Today, it is often a site of controversy. “Israelis have given up on the Wall,” said Anat Hoffman, who serves as chairwoman of Women of the Wall. She was also arrested at a Woman of the Wall event six months ago. “They feel uncomfortable there... People have made them feel as if they’re not coming home, but trampling on someone else’s place.” Hoffman is also the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center which is the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel founded with the goals of advancing pluralism in Israeli society and defending the freedoms of conscience, faith, and religion. Both the Women of the Wall and the Israel Religious Action Center are activist movements and advocacy groups so they both present their cases from a very biased point of view. They bring attention to their causes with demonstrations and protests aimed at bringing nationwide and worldwide attention to themselves.

Women wearing prayer shawls
 In support of Women of the Wall, Los Angeles Jewish Renewal Rabbi Pamela Frydman, organized a letter writing campaign asking Jerusalem police to protect women at the Western Wall who want to pray and read Torah together. She stated that “It is extremely important to us that there always be a place for Haredi men and women in a way that is comfortable for them and in accordance with their understanding of Halacha, but it is equally important for us that those of us who are Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal that we have a place where we can pray in accordance with our understanding.” This statement is made in a way that is much less confrontational an antagonistic towards the Haredi leaders in Israel than we see made by the Israeli Reform Rabbi Azari or WOW leader Anat Hoffman. This is probably due to the fact that Rabbi Frydman lives in Los Angeles and not in Israel, so she is less affected by the daily struggles and outrages experienced by women like Hoffman. She has most probably never experienced having soiled diapers and water bags thrown at her while she is being cursed and called names by Haredim who are opposed to her actions.
If the extent of the Orthodox rabbinate’s control over the lives of Israelis was reduced, there would be a much better chance that women would be allowed to worship along with men at the Wall in Jerusalem, but until that day, the ultra-Orthodox see the actions and demands of the Conservative and Reform Jews as “far more dangerous” than non-observant secular Jews (Rosenthal, 242). Donna Rosenthal quotes Israeli Reform Rabbi Meir Azari’s comments about the ultra-Orthodox control of Jewish law in Israel; “In their eyes, only Orthodox Judaism is kosher, they believe that recognizing us would undermine their monopoly as the Judaism of Israel. Israel is the only democracy in the Western world to deny religious freedom to Jews. What we’re fighting for is the right for Israelis to have the freedom to choose how they want to be Jewish.”(Rosenthal, 242). The animosity between the various religious groups in Israel is a very difficult issue.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ethiopian Israelis

Gathering of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel
One of the most difficult challenges facing the Ethiopian Jews who have immigrated to Israel is the huge disparity between the agrarian and very traditional way of life they left behind in Ethiopia and the realities of an industrial, western and modern country like Israel. Donna Rosenthal describes the cultural differences they faced; from the shock of being introduced to electricity, TV, running water, disposable diapers to  the attitudes and cultural norms that are so different in Israel.
The first few Ethiopian Jews began trickling into Israel in the 1950’s and later the mid 70’s. By the mid 80’s, because of severe famine and political turmoil in Ethiopia, thousands of Ethiopian refugees, among them approximately 12,000  Ethiopian Jews, escaped from Ethiopia to Sudan, trekking over very difficult terrain, facing bandits, starvation, exhaustion and disease. Nearly five thousand Ethiopian Jews died in that trek and today there is a large granite memorial in Israel, in memory of those lost. Those who survived the trek lived in Sudanese refugee camps for months, suffering beatings, rape and disease. In 1984-85, nearly eight thousand Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in a series of secret airlifts called Operation Moses. When news of the airlifts leaked to the public, the Sudanese government halted the rescue operation, stranding many thousands. Later, in 1991, during another secret rescue operation called Operation Solomon, in the course of thirty six hours, Israel smuggled 14,324 Ethiopian Jews aboard thirty three jets in history’s largest and human airlift. The new immigrants were housed in absorption centers and temporary housing and are one of the immigrant groups facing the most challenges and difficulties in adjusting to life in Israel.  
In my research, I discovered the website of an organization in Israel called the IAEJ - Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews,, which serves as an advocacy organization for Ethiopian Israelis, who are often uninformed about the means for receiving their rights with regards to education, health care, fair employment practices, and who face a myriad of obstacles hindering their successful absorption into Israeli society. They explain that over 75% of the 116,000 Ethiopian Jews now living in Israel left rural, agrarian environments and entered an urban, industrialized one, possessing few skills marketable in a modern industrialized economy. This has resulted in severe inequalities between Ethiopian citizens and other citizens of Israel. The organization exists to help teach Ethiopian Jews how to assert their rights, so they can become effective partners in their successful integration in Israel. This is an advocacy organization that takes no government funding and relies on volunteers. It has had a positive effect in organizing community educational meetings and bringing the needs and concerns of the Ethiopian Israelis to the attention of the general population and government. They are a reliable source of information.
Ethiopian Israeli at Sig'd celebration
Sig'd celebrated in Jerusalem
I was also fascinated by some of the blog posts of a young American woman, by the name of Becky Kupchan, who has been volunteering as an intern at the IAEJ since September ‘09. She started a blog called "How do you say "blog" in Amharic??" in which she describes her impressions of the children and adults she meets in the absorption centers and towns and the accomplishments and challenges of the IAEJ. Most notably, in one of her blogs  she describes a special Jewish Ethiopian holiday called Sig’d which was celebrated at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem this year. This was especially remarkable because it was the first year Ethiopians celebrated the holiday in Israel on such an official level since it was legislated a national holiday in the Knesset in 2008, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the IAEJ. Becky Kupchan is a white, American, Jewish, college graduate whose voice in her blogs reflects the unfamiliar but engaging reality she is experiencing first-hand while she volunteers for the IAEJ. Her accounts are reliable, but she may not know all the information such as the fact that government resources allocated to Ethiopian immigrants is roughly four times as much as any other immigrant population, as mentioned in the Donna Rosenthal book.  

Ethiopian Israeli parent discuss "at risk" teens
As new generations of Ethiopian Jews are born in Israel, they are adapting and embracing the modern Israeli ways and attitudes. Over half of the Ethiopian population in Israel today is under the age of 19, and even though there is a definite problem with Ethiopian “at-risk” youth, many of them go to school and succeed and go to the army and excel.  They adopt the norms and behaviors of the native born Israelis, but unfortunately many problems still exist today for the older generation and newer immigrants who are facing challenges they find difficult to overcome.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Will the Arab League or the UN play a role in the current Mideast peace process?

Earlier this month, at the Arab League’s conference in Libya, its monitoring committee on the Arab Peace Initiative gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas support for his decision to suspend direct talks with Israel as long as settlement construction continues. The Arab Peace Initiative is a Saudi inspired peace plan first presented by the Arab League in 2002 and then endorsed again in 2007, which calls for a Palestinian state with borders based explicitly on the UN borders established before the 1967 Six Day War. It offers full normalization of relations with Israel, in exchange for the withdrawal of its forces from all the occupied territories, including the Golan Heights, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution for the Palestinian refugees. Of course, the Arab League, a 22 member league of Arab nations, is not negotiating with Israel, but PA president Abbas has similar demands and is seeking the support and coercive power of the League to pressure the US to get Israel to impose an absolute moratorium on construction in the West Bank before returning to negotiations. He argued that the Palestinian issue was one that affected all Arabs and that if the Arab League refused to intervene, it would mean that it was giving up on the matter. One of the problems according to Haaretz, reporters Avi Issacharoff and Akiva Elldar, who used the London based Al Hayyat newspaper as the source for this article, is that Arab League members seem to be at odds over their role in the Mideast peace process. An example is Syria’s president Bashar Assad who argued that the Arab League’s monitoring committee doesn’t have the authority to give the PA the license to continue negotiations. He felt that the League was focusing on settlements rather than the bigger picture of territories and refugees. As the case has been for decades, the Arab nations are not all like-minded and often have diverging opinions and motivations, but they are all weighing in on the question of Israel/Palestinian negotiations. The question is how much influence will they have in the matter?
It is interesting to note that one of the co-editors of the Palestine-Israel Journal, Hillel Schenker had high hopes that additional Arab participation might be of more influence during these negotiations. In an article he wrote in September, before this round of talks began, he stated that the existence of the Arab Peace Initiative and the fact that both Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah were present in Washington at the inauguration of the current round of talks was promising and might make a difference. He saw this as an advantage over the Camp David peace talks in 2000 because he presents these two Arab leaders as seeing the context of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations as embedded in a broader regional peace between Israel and the Arab world. Mr. Schenker is very left-leaning in his opinions and the article I’ve chosen is an opinion piece he wrote, so it is not objective, but I used it because he addresses the increased Arab involvement. He presents Mubarak and King Abdullah in a more positive light than Israel’s current leadership and calls on the Knesset Members who are more left leaning to seriously discuss the Arab Peace Initiative. He also stated that if these negotiations stalled, it would be up to the US to offer creative bridging proposals to ensure the negotiations don’t completely fail. He concludes with a well known saying attributed to the late Abba Eban about the history of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in which all sides seem to “never miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity” and hopes that all concerned will not miss this opportunity for peace.
In the meantime, skeptics are saying “I told you so” and the negotiations have stalled. According to an article in Haartz, taken from the Associated Press, Abbas and the Arab League are now saying that they are considering going to the UN as soon as next month to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state if Israel continues to build settlements. The AP is just reporting the facts, but in essence what would going to the UN accomplish? Is it a symbolic gesture? Would it lead to armed conflict? Also, Abbas is threatening to step down if Israel resumes building which would lead to dissolution of the PA. This would cause all civil and security to revert to Israel or the UN – both cases would result in chaos and are not something Israel would like to see happen. These are in essence threats being used by Abbas and the Arab League in the continual political game being played in the course of these negotiations.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Golan Heights Wind Farm

A new alternative energy project will soon be launched in the northern Golan Heights. A 70 wind turbine farm, which is capable of producing 200 megawatts of energy, will be built by an Israeli company called Multimatrix in collaboration with an American company AES, a worldwide developer of power projects. It will help alleviate growing concerns over the potential of future energy shortages in Israel.

Yosi Omid and his brother Uri Omid serve as the director and CEO of Multimatrix and are extremely enthusiastic about the project. As quoted in the article, they call the project a “revolution” and feel that it will be their “contribution to Israel, showing that we can make electricity in a green way.”
 The wind farm will be built in the Golan Heights, an area that was captured from Syria by Israel in the 1967 war. Syria seeks the return of the Golan with any peace deal with Israel, so it is also a political issue. Nevertheless, the Omid brothers call it a “peace project” and are confident that no matter who will be there and where the electricity will go, it will be a good, clean, green energy that will benefit people. They also commented that this type of green energy is proven to be efficient and profitable and will put an end to the jokes about green projects that are made by people who don’t take it seriously.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be taking green energy seriously and has declared the wind farm a national project. It has also gained the support of government officials, who recognize the need for alternative energy sources in Israel. Before this project was approved by Israel’s Public Utility Authority (PUA), the agency responsible for issuing licenses to build power plants, they had to ensured that the company had valid contracts proving that they owned the land, showed a sound financial situation and had the capability to deliver the power nationwide.
A related article in the Jerusalem Post dated Sept. 21st, mentions that when Netanyahu gave the project national priority, that helped to abbreviate the time it would take for the farm to be up and running. It will take six months to a year to install the turbines and the current plan is for the farm to begin operation in 2012. Each turbine will be 80 meters tall and have a blade diameter of 50 meters. Each turbine will use 300 square meters and be set 300 meters apart. The land will still be used for agricultural purposes and cows will even be free to roam on the land - and interestingly enough, it apparently has been shown that cows use the turbine poles to scratch their backs. (Interesting - I'd love to see a photo of that!)
Wind energy is stated to be the most economically competitive of alternative energies to fossil fuels and has seen a massive surge in development around the world. European countries like Denmark and the Netherlands have been using wind farms for years. Apparently, there are some skeptics who have questioned whether Israel has sufficient wind speeds to sustain a robust wind power industry, but several experts believe that Israel does have greater potential than the skeptics believe.

I found both articles in the Jerusalem Post and it's interesting to note that one of them is by an independent reporter working for The Media Line. I found that The Media Line is a non-profit news organization which describes itself as being established to enhance and balance media coverage in the Middle East. I understood that the Jerusalem Post probably works with  reporters from other organizations as supplements to their own staff. The information that The Media Line reporter provided included interviews with people involved in the project. The other reporter included more descriptive information about the size and scope of the project. Both are reliable types of information. They also both seemed to favor the construction of the wind farms (indicating a pro-alternative energy point of view) and portrayed it as beneficial to Israel while any reference to the potential problem of it being built in the Golan Heights was only mentioned in the first article in the context of it being a "peace project." 
I feel it would have been more reliable to provide actual statistics about the efficiency of wind power compared to other alternative energies and fossil fuels. Also, more information about why the skeptics think that Israel doesn't have sufficient wind speeds to sustain a wind power industry. I would imagine that before investing hundreds of millions of dollars in such a venture, the experts and investors involved would have made sure that Israel has sufficient wind speeds to merit such an investment.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Theatre Festival in Acre

The 31st Acre Festival of Alternative Theater will take place from September 26 – 29, 2010 in and around a Crusader Fortress in the Old City of Acre (also known as Acco) in Northern Israel. A series of plays, outdoor street performances, special projects, art installations, music and dance will be featured during the 4 day festival. The organizers of the festival “seek to provide new theatrical language for familiar themes” and they also seek to address and question the extent that artistic expression can affect the reality – especially the complex reality of life in Israel and the political situation in the region.

Performers and artists from 15 different countries were selected by a committee to present “alternative” styles of performance. There are street performers from Romania, Spain, German, Slovenia and Holland, a collaboration performance between Israeli and Croatian performers, political cabaret shows, various clowns, and a bus ride combination thriller performance with an Israeli component about religiosity and faith.

Nine plays will be competing in the festival for top honors. A favorite is likely to be The Family Table, which is a three hour multi-layered work by David Ma’ayan. It is a play that takes eight groups of performers through the alleyways of Acre’s Old City and brings them together around a huge dining table. Other entries include an Austrian/Israeli collaboration of cousins Markus Kupferblum and Pablo Ariel called Response to a Letter My Father Never Wrote Me, where we see what happens when ideas and ideologies clash and another is a cheeky and political take on Israeli reality called Don’t worry, Be Happy by Roby Edelman.

There are also three Arabic language monodrama plays from the recent Masrahid festival which will be guests at the Acre festival and an installation by artist Iman Abu Hamid dedicated to her grandmother. Some of the plays and performances require advance purchase of tickets but many of the performances and the outdoor music can all be enjoyed for free.

The Jerusalem Post reporter, Helen Kaye, is a reliable source, informing the public of the many offerings at the Acre Festival and for more details and information she gives a link to the festival website Israel hosts many cultural, music and art festivals year round. As exemplified on the Acre Festival website, the advertisements for the events will often appear in Hebrew, English and Arabic – highlighting the multiethnic and multicultural backgrounds of participants or members of the audience. Although the reporter does not express a point of view on the Festival, the organizers of this Festival explain that they seek expressions of “alternative” theater, which is characterized by daring and original thinking about familiar themes and offers a different take on them, including political issues. Often, in a democracy that allows freedom of speech, artists and theater productions will serve as a means of self examination, raising awareness of people to overlooked issues and often can lead to criticism that leads to change.

Although I did not find articles relating to current art and theater in the Palestinian publications, possibly because they may not exist or be considered worthy of coverage, I came across an article in Ha’artz called Where would Palestinian art be without Politics? The article interviews three Palestinian artists who are members of an organization called Palestinian Peace & Youth Forum and is written by reporter Philip Kleinfeld. Of course, by interviewing Palestinian artists who are members of such a Forum, the expected views would be considerably more progressive and left of center than artists in Gaza might be. The newspaper Ha’aretz, being left of center itself, makes a point of seeking out and finding like minded Palestinians. The artists interviewed discuss Palestinian street artists who produce graffiti in the streets of the West Bank and are so influenced by the political messages of the PLO that their art consists almost solely of topics dealing with the conflict with Israel, the occupation and the Palestinian people as either victims or heroes. Being so political has been a drawback for Palestinian artists, claims Majd Abdel Hamid, 22 a graduate of the International Art Academy of Palestine and the Malmo Art Academy of Sweden. He argues that self criticism in art and in society in general will benefit the art, culture and people of Palestine. This is the same point made by the organizers of the alternative theater festival in Israel - art of any kind often serves as a people's response to their political and social realities, but in order for artists to grow, there must be a chance to self examin so that their artistic expression may even one day affect reality. Hopefully in a postive way.