A Bay Area children’s museum shut down a planned exhibition of Gaza children’s drawings. Pro-Israel organizations pressured an Oakland children’s museum to cancel an upcoming exhibition of drawings by Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip. Community leaders say the shutting down of the exhibition is the result of a disturbing — and well-funded — campaign to silence Palestinian voices across the US.
On September 8, just two weeks before the exhibition was set to open to the public, the board of directors of the Museum of Children’s Art (MOCHA) announced that they had canceled “A Child’s View of Gaza.” The board shut down the show due to pressure from “constituents,” according to a statement made by Randolph Bell, the board’s chairman, in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The show was curated in partnership with the Berkeley-based non-profit group Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA), which has been working for 23 years to advocate for Palestinian, Iraqi and Lebanese children’s rights. Barbara Lubin, MECA’s executive director, told The Electronic Intifada that it was “upsetting and infuriating” that the show was canceled, but she wasn’t surprised.
“Anybody who knows this issue knows that the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs have launched a multi-million dollar project to combat what they call the `delegitmization’ of Israel. They try and suffocate the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and censor Palestinian cultural initiatives. What they’re doing is financing the work of silencing and shutting down anyone who wants to talk about what’s really happening to Palestinians.”
The Chronicle also reported that the board of directors at MOCHA vaguely cited the “inappropriate nature” of the content of the children’s drawings in their decision to shut down the exhibit. Some of the Palestinian children’s illustrations show tanks, guns and explosions, but the board’s assertion that these images are “inappropriate” enough to censor is clearly selective.
In years past, MOCHA had successfully exhibited strikingly similar artwork by children in Iraq who drew from their personal experiences of war following the 2003 US-led invasion and subsequent occupation. Another exhibition several years ago showed artwork by children made during the Second World War that “featured images of Hitler, burning airplanes, sinking battleships, empty houses and a sad girl next to a Star of David,” the Chronicle added.
Lubin said that the difference in this context is simple: “The pro-Israel groups are afraid that people will start understanding what’s really going on with Israeli policy through seeing exhibits like the one we put together. They don’t want people to know that Palestinian children are suffering. They’re afraid of us hearing that other side. For 63 years we’ve heard one side in this country and around the world, and it’s time for the other side to be heard.”
Following the announcement by the MOCHA board of directors, MECA has been flooded with phone calls and emails from supporters not only just across the Bay Area but worldwide who are appalled at the shutting down of the children’s art show. And Lubin said that while outrage at the museum is understandable, the institution is not the enemy.
MECA has started an email action campaign in an effort to counter-pressure the board of directors with support and gratitude for hosting the Palestinian children’s artwork. They are also asking people to come to the gallery on 24 September, on the planned opening day of the exhibition, in a show of support for the show even if it remains canceled.
Meanwhile, Lubin and the MECA staff are busy figuring out alternative venues for the exhibition. “We’re not sure where the show will be yet, but we’ll continue to work on seeing that these voices are heard and that these pictures are shown. People want to do something, and have been offering space in their homes, shops and even in schools,” Abbas said. “They won’t shut down these children’s voices.”
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