An exhibition of artwork at Brandeis University featuring 17 paintings by Palestinian youths from the al-Rowwad cultural center at the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank, was removed by the university last week, after several students complained, according to Democracy Now. The paintings depicted life under Israeli military occupation. It ran for four days until it was removed. The exhibit is now showing at MIT.
A spokesman for the University said the school would consider showing the paintings again if they were to shown alongside paintings showing an “Israeli prospective.”
Brandeis official Daniel Terris claimed academic freedom doesn’t apply to Palestinian artwork:
academic freedom is not an absolute in a context in which universities have an interest in thinking about the educational fabric of the community and in thinking about how to contain and hold speech in a way that is productive and that doesn’t incite issues of hatred and violence.
Lior Halpern, a Brandeis student from Israel, who arranged the exhibit, disagreed with Terris:
[…] Because, if anything, the debate that is going on right now between the Brandeis community, which has been amazingly supportive, proved that the university community is ready to discuss those issues and is ready to see those images, and it’s a community that refuses to have a decision taken by the administration for it, saying that it’s not ready to deal with those images portrayed in the paintings of the children.
A suggestion to Terris: If Brandeis students really need a context to understand the paintings, they should read the following April 9 report by the director of the al-Rowwad center, which also contains a children’s theater, on recent attacks near the center by Israeli occupying forces:
Recent Israeli Military Operations in Aida Camp
April 9th, 2006
Abdel Fattah Abu-Srour, PhD
Israeli occupation soldiers during this whole week continued their harassment of Aida camp inhabitants, with tear gas, rubber bullets, taking hostages, and shooting 3 kids aged 11-13 years old (one of them a deaf-mute child) with rubber bullets in the head and abdomen, and provocative actions through the loud speakers of their armored jeeps.
On Thursday, two workers from the popular committee went to a store to take out some of their equipment to start working in one of the job creation projects in the camp. It was an Israeli soldier who opened the door and the weapon pointed at them ordered them to come in. The director of the Camp, who is a UNRWA employee, with another employee went to check on what happened (the building is just next to their office); they were also taken hostage so another UNRWA employee called the UNRWA direction and 2 hours later, the UNRWA employees were released. However, Mustafa Jamil Abusrour and Mustafa Shawkat Malash were kept hostages. We went to see and ‘negotiate’ the liberation of the hostages, and took a glance where the soldiers were hidden, and they were painted black on their faces. We asked if they had anyone responsible to talk with, the answer was “go home”.
Around two hours later, a military jeep came in from the military point occupying the Mosque of Bilal Ibn Rabah (transformed into a synagogue after the 1967 occupation and renamed Rachel’s Tomb) and passed back and forth, nobody moved, and they didn’t say anything. Then the jeep went into the camp, and made several tours, and then on the other end of the camp we heard some shooting. It was tear gas and rubber bullets. About 6 hours later, the 2 hostages were released and the soldiers went out of the building. It seemed that they used it as a hiding place to surprise the kids and to keep watch over the building of the new illegal wall and new Synagogue to the east of Aida, south of the mosque Bilal ibn Rabah. The most provocative day was today (April 8th) after they assassinated a “wanted” Palestinian in Bethlehem. The jeep entered the camp, near the girls school (a few meters from the illegal apartheid wall), and the other one near the Intercontinental Hotel. According to someone living in that place, one of those arrogant soldiers started shouting in a shameless tune: “Come out to me inhabitants of Aida! Come out and take your dose!” The soldier next to him was telling the one who was shooting what to shoot; once tear gas, another time rubber bullets. Some of the kids gathered a bit far away and threw stones at them, they were not even close to the jeep, but the shooting and tear gas continued. At around 4:30 p.m, a mother of twin girls who were in the theatre rehearsals called at the center, and asked me not to let the girls leave the center, because the army was just shooting tear gas near the school where their house also is located. Life continues and we continue to write and you continue to read how long will that continue. How long before those who have some authority in this world exercise their authority to force such gangsters and bandits to stop their crimes against the humans we are, and against humanity itself? Can anyone help us with an answer?
Wishing you a better day and a better night, and a better week than the one had.
Abdel Fattah Abu-Srour, PhD Director of Al-Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center (via e-mail)