Israeli NGO "Breaking the Silence" has called on Eurovision goers to experience "the full picture" of Israel's occupation by taking a tour to the West Bank city of Hebron.
The group yesterday erected a giant billboard on a highway between Israel's Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv – where this year's Eurovision Song Contest is being held – in a bid to highlight Israel's now 52-year-old occupation of the Palestinian territories.
The billboard shows two images of Israel; on the left, an idealised image of a Tel Aviv beach and the Mediterranean Sea, while on the right a concrete watchtower, Israel's Separation Wall and illegal West Bank settlements can be seen. The poster is emblazoned with the words "dare to dream of freedom", playing on Eurovision's slogan and calling on concert goers to "see the full picture" by joining a Breaking the Silence tour.
The group, which is comprised of former Israeli army soldiers, regularly runs tours to the West Bank city of Hebron, where Israel's extreme H1 and H2 settlements are located. It aims to expose the reality of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories and its impact on the daily lives of Palestinians, which Israel has been accused of "art-washing" during its hosting of Eurovision.
Executive Director of Breaking the Silence, Avner Gvaryahu, said of the poster: "We invite Eurovision guests from all over the world to celebrate with us in Israel, and join a tour of Hebron to see the full picture."
The same image was posted to Breaking the Silence's Facebook page, where the organisation wrote: "Hey Eurovision, thanks for coming to party with us! Enjoy the sunny beaches and exciting nightlife, just don't forget that there's a lot more to this place than fun and games."
The post continued: "An hour away from your hotel, throughout the occupied territories, millions of Palestinians are still living under military rule. We know this because we were the soldiers sent to serve in the territories, and we would like to show you the full picture."
The NGO's campaign has sparked a backlash from controversial Knesset Member (MK) Gilad Erdan, who serves as Israel's Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs and spearheads Israel's efforts to quash the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Responding to the campaign on Twitter, Erdan called Breaking the Silence a "despicable hate organization [which] once again finds the time to spread lies against the State of Israel". He continued: "Here's a tip. Instead of inciting against the pioneering settlers in [Hebron], take tourists on an introductory tour of the dreadful human rights violations by the Hamas government in Gaza, or a tour to get an impression of the Palestinian Authority, which insists on sponsoring terrorists and praising despicable murderers."
BDS has called for artists, viewers and concert goers alike to boycott this year's Eurovision, which begins in Tel Aviv this week after Israeli singer Netta Barzilai won the 2018 contest. Since Israel's Broadcasting Authority is a member of the European Broadcasting Union, which is responsible for the event, Israel is allowed to field a contestant despite its extra-European location.
Eurovision's contestants yesterday attended the event's opening ceremony while protesters gathered outside. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) tweeted pictures of the demonstration, in which protesters can be seen kneeling on the floor, blindfolded, wearing "free Palestine" t-shirts.
International and Israeli protesters blocked the @Eurovision ticket entrance in apartheid Tel Aviv today, in support of Palestinian rights.#BoycottEurovision2019 #MadonnaDontGo #DareToDream #ESC2019 #Eurovision2019 #Eurovision pic.twitter.com/lkuTVw0YCQ
— PACBI (@PACBI) May 12, 2019
According to Haaretz, "as the ceremony began, more than a dozen local and international activists held a solidarity protest with Palestinian prisoners, briefly blocking one of the main entrances to the opening ceremony for 20 minutes". "They were removed by 20-30 police and border police, who relocated the protestors to a different section, where the protest was allowed to continue," Haaretz added.