Wanted: “Non-Political” Palestinian Refugees Only

Sheffield Indymedia on 28 June (spelling tidied up), concering the visit to the UK of a Palestinian teenage dance group:

The Al Asria folk dance group from Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza, Palestine has made it to the UK – only just – and will be performing at the Merlin Theatre, Sheffield 28 and 29 June 2005. They will also be in Bakewell, Liverpool, York, and Birmingham. Tickets are still available but are selling fast.

Travelling from Gaza is always difficult – but for Al Asria folk dance group it has been nearly impossible. On the third attempt to come to Britain they have finally succeeded! The first two attempts in November and February had to be abandoned.

But it was a tortuously tiring two day trip They suffered an arbitrary delay of SEVEN hours at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt as the Israeli Occupation Forces delayed them. Then the Egyptian police kept them under armed guard for the whole of their trip through Egypt to Cairo. The men and boys were locked up at the airport overnight and the women and girls had to sleep outside of the airport in the cold.

The tour was arranged by the Yorkshire Palestine Cultural Exchange, which quotes Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti to explain its purpose:

‘What is not present [in the Western media] is the image of the Arab as a human being, a person. This image can best be presented through culture. Culture is probably the best gateway between the thinking and spirit of the grass roots in the Arab world and the grass roots in the West. So I would say open wide the door of cultural exchange and let the West see us as we are: not all bad, not all good, not victims, just ordinary humans; people.

But now, the Yorkshire Post adds (emphasis added):

A ROW has broken out after the Lord Mayor of Sheffield walked out of a production staged by refugee teenagers from Palestine.

Liberal Democrat Roger Davison and his wife Cartherine got up in the middle of a performance staged by Palestinian dance group Al Asria in Sheffield Council’s Children’s Festival.

Coun Davison claims the group were “being too political” and that is why he felt compelled to leave.

The council has now banned the group, made up of a dozen teenagers who live in the Jabalia refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, an area occupied by Israel since 1967, from taking part in the Lord Mayor’s parade today [July 2]

What the “political content” was is not explained, although a forwarded email from one of the organisers that has reached my inbox gives some more details:

The mayoress and the children’s festival organiser walked out as soon as the Palestine national anthem was played, and the mayor walked out a little later very publicly since they were all sitting right in the middle.

They said they cannot support ‘political events’ and also accused us that the group were adults not children (they later had to retract this). The effect was of course to make the event far more political as word got round the audience (who responded by wildly cheering everything all evening and giving the group a standing ovation) and both Musheir and I spoke on stage about what had happened.