Israel-Gaza war leads to a raft of event cancellations in Europe

UK organisers say they are safeguarding artists and audiences but in France and Germany, people fear a 'shutting down' of Palestinian voices

The Paris premiere of a play based on the life of Palestinian Ahmed Tobasi, pictured, was cancelled in the fallout from the Israeli-Gaza war AFP
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Community tensions emerging from the Israeli-Gaza war have led to cultural events linked to Palestine or Israel being postponed in the UK and other parts of Europe.

But while some organisers and venues in the UK have cited security concerns, prominent voices fear that Palestinians are being silenced in other parts of Europe.

The fallout from the Israeli-Gaza war is being felt across Europe, as a rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents have been reported.

In the UK, some Jewish schools have closed and the British government has pledged to grant £3 million to protect the community.

Rallies in support of Palestine have been banned in France and Germany. A French court this week deemed the ban unlawful, and thousands gathered for an unauthorised rally in Paris on Friday.

But safeguarding concerns are being felt beyond demonstrations and rallies. British-Iranian comedian Omid Djalili cancelled a performance in Shropshire due to alleged “personal threats over the Israel situation”.

Mr Djalili joked on social media that he would be “hiding out” in Northern Ireland, as he announced the subsequent dates for his tour.

Jodie Rudd, centre manager of the Festival Drayton Centre, where he was due to perform, told the Shropshire Star: “Due to security threats made against Omid Djalili, tonight's performance at the Festival Drayton Centre has had to be cancelled.”

Events promoting Palestinian culture in London were also postponed in the aftermath of Hamas’ attack on Israel in October 7, organisers told The National.

Among these was PalMusic UK, a long-running British initiative which supports Palestinian musicians living in the West Bank and Gaza by organising concerts in the UK.

The charity was due to host its 10th anniversary at Southwark Cathedral in early October, with performances by Palestinian flautist Faris Ishaq, pianist Marc Kawwas and oud player Saied Silbak. The three musicians were set to play alongside the St Paul’s Sinfonia, a London-based chamber orchestra, with Wissam Boustany, a world renown flautist, as their conductor.

But this was postponed on the eve of the event. “Southwark Cathedral has taken the decision to postpone the concert out of concern for the safety of the audience, musicians and cathedral staff,” the organisers wrote in an announcement.

“The cathedral says it continues fully to support PalMusic’s work with young Palestinian musicians and looks forward to working with us again,” they added.

That same week, the Palestine Literature Festival announced the London launch of A Day in the Life of Abed Salama, a book by Jerusalem-based journalist Nathan Thrall would no longer be taking place.

The hosting venue, Conway Hall, confirmed they cancelled the event after being contacted by the Metropolitan Police, but could not comment as to whether security concerns had been raised.

The situation appears more strained in France and Germany, where prominent writers fear that Palestinian voices are being “shut down”.

The Frankfurt Book Fair announced it would postpone an award ceremony for the Palestinian author Adania Shibli, who won one of the country’s top literature prizes, the LiberaturPreis, as well as a public discussion with the author. Her book tells the story of a Palestinian woman who was raped and killed by an Israeli soldier.

An open letter initially signed by 350 authors including Colm Toibin and Philippe Sands lamented the “closing off and shutting down of Palestinian voices” such as Shibli’s. It also claimed that, contrary to the prize organiser's statement that the decision to cancel the ceremony had been made with Ms Shibli, she had been “presented with the decision”.

The French premiere of a play about a Palestinian who turns to theatre as a form of resistance was also “postponed” last week. The play is based on the life of Ahmed Tobasi, who was born in Jenin during the second intifada but became disillusioned with political movements.

And Here I Am, written by British playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak, first toured the UK in 2017, and is scheduled to travel across France this month. But the mayor of Choisy-le-Roi, in the suburbs of Paris, postponed the performance indefinitely days before the premiere as a gesture of “appeasement,” in light of the Israeli-Gaza war.

The Freedom Theatre, the West Bank-based group producing the play, described the decision as “simple hypocrisy”, pointing to the Eiffel Tower being lit with the colours of the Israeli flag in the aftermath of the October 7 attack.

Abdulrazzak told The National he feared the play has been “censored”. “It’s worrying for our civil liberties in the West,” he said. “Palestinians were told for years to resist non-violently. It’s as if the world is telling Palestinians to just shut up and die.”

Updated: October 21, 2023, 7:55 AM