Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Censorship of Palestinian Children's Artwork

by Eric Brothers (C) 2014
Artwork created by Palestinian child in Gaza.
This blog post features images that were part of an art exhibition by Palestinian children depicting the Israeli assault during 2008-09 on the Gaza strip.  During the Israeli attack approximately 1,400 people were killed, including several hundred children; Gazan children have used art therapy to process their trauma and grief. This exhibit was the result of art therapy sessions for these emotionally-battered children.

These drawings were supposed to be shown at the Museum of Children's Art in Oakland (MOCHA), entitled 'A Child's View from Gaza' which was cancelled on September 8, 2011.  The drawings in the exhibit were created by children ranging in age from about 9 to 11 and included bombs dropping, tanks and people getting shot.  "They are pictures of what these children experienced. It's their experience," said Barbara Lubin, executive director of the Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA), which was organizing the exhibition.

The Berkeley-based Middle East Children’s Alliance stated in a news release that "there was a concerted effort by pro-Israel organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area to pressure the museum to reverse its decision to display Palestinian children’s art."

Lubin was notified by museum officials on on September 8, 2011, that they were cancelling what had become a controversial exhibit that was putting the children's museum in the midst of the long-standing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Museum board member Randolph Bell said that it had become a distraction to the main objective of bringing arts education to all children.  "The pressure was ... well, we were getting calls from constituents that were concerned about the situation," Bell said. "We don't have any political stake in this thing. It just became apparent that we needed to rethink this."  In other words, the museum caved in to political and economic pressure and censored the exhibition.

The group's executive director, Barbara Lubin, described the move as censorship. “We understand all too well the enormous pressure that the museum came under. But who wins? The museum doesn’t win. MECA doesn’t win. The people of the Bay Area don’t win. Our basic constitutional freedom of speech loses. The children in Gaza lose."

Museum officials said the exhibit space is in a multi-use area that brings in children as young as 2. While art should "provoke people and generate emotion," the museum couldn't handle the divisive issue in that space, said Hilmon Sorey, the board's chairman.  "Our aim, as with all exhibits, is to foster insight and understanding," Sorey said in a statement. "However, upon further review and engagement with the community, it became clear that this exhibit was not appropriate for an open gallery accessible by all children."

However, In 2007, the museum exhibited paintings made during World War II by American children in the Kaiser shipyard child care center. Their work featured images of Hitler, burning airplanes, sinking battleships, empty houses and a sad girl next to a Star of David.  Earlier, in 2004, art by Iraqi children hung on the museum's walls. The pictures, made shortly after the U.S. invasion, included a drawing of a helicopter shooting into a field of flowers.

It was on Saturday, September 24, 2011, the day that 'A Child's View from Gaza,' was originally scheduled to open at MOCHA, that over 500 people — led by a marching band — stood outside the museum carrying the childrens’ precious artwork in their hands, celebrating both the young Gaza artists and their freedom of expression.   MECA’s executive director, Barbara Lubin, announced that the exhibit had found a new venue — a bigger, better gallery space around the corner from MOCHA. Some days earlier, Lubin said that MOCHA board members had advised her that they would reconsider putting the show back on at their museum, but it would need "modifications."

In response, MECA stated that: "We at MECA made a commitment to the children of Gaza to share their experiences and perspectives, and consider any modifications to the art exhibit as a form of censorship. Children everywhere deserve to be heard, but we have an even greater responsibility to listen to the stories of children under siege and who survived Israel’s brutal military assault in 2008-2009."

It is clear that supporters of Israel did not want the truth about the brutal attack upon Gaza in 2008-09 known to the American public.  Americans enjoy freedom of speech.  Why is it that Israeli supporters abuse the freedoms that we cherish here in the United States?  Where is the loyalty of American Zionists who censor information that places Israel in a poor light, but uses every media outlet available when anyone attempts to publicly criticize Israel, cynically invoking the same rights that they are actively crushing?


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