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Theatre community slams Israel lobby attack on touring Palestinian play

Leading actors, directors and other figures from the theatre world have condemned efforts by pro-Israel groups to silence a Palestinian production set to tour Britain.

‘The Siege’, by the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre, was attacked in the Mail on Sunday last week, after organisations such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews expressed concern about whether the Arts Council-funded project “promoted terrorism.”

Now, in response to what they describe as the “demonization” of Palestinian theatre, a letter signed by Wolf Hall star Mark Rylance, Young Vic artistic director David Lan and playwright Caryl Churchill among others, expresses support for the Freedom Theatre.

Neither the Daily Mail nor the Board of Deputies has seen Freedom Theatre’s play The Siege, yet both somehow feel qualified to suggest that it is “promoting terrorism”. Not for the first time, Palestinian voices are in danger of being drowned out by a vociferous pro-Israel lobby that smears all Palestinians as terrorists and antisemites. This lobby wants us to believe that theatre-goers in the UK cannot be trusted to hear these voices and make their own judgements.

The letter, an initiative of Artists for Palestine UK, comes as the Freedom Theatre prepares to embark on a 10-city tour of Britain over May-June, including dates in Manchester, London, Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham, and Glasgow.

Writer and performer Mark Thomas, a signatory to the letter, noted that “free speech for Palestinian artists is increasingly threatened, more often than not by supporters of Israel’s apartheid occupation. Palestinian voices not only have a right to be heard, we have duty to listen to them.”

The piece in the Mail by Sunday claimed that the play, based on dramatic events in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 2002, would be “an unashamedly one-sided drama” based on the testimonies of “men with blood on their hands.”

None of those smearing the play have seen the production, as they have admitted.

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