THE opening performance by an Israeli dance company at the Edinburgh International Festival last night was disrupted three times by protesters opposed to the Israeli government’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank.
• Israeli dance company Batsheva stopped three times by protestors during performance at Playhouse Theatre
• Protestors heard shouting “free, free Palestine” and “your tickets are covered in Palestinian blood”
• EIF director Jonathan Mills criticised for ‘supporting Israel’s cultural apartheid’
The first interruption came ten minutes into the one-hour performance by the Batsheva Dance Company, who were performing Hora at the city’s Playhouse Theatre.
Four people with banners stood up in the grand circle and shouted “free, free Palestine” and “Your tickets are covered in Palestinian blood”.
The second interruption, also in the grand circle, came ten to 15 minutes later when three protesters waved placards and shouted slogans.
The final protest, in the stalls, involved two protesters unfurling a Palestinian flag. On each occasion the dancers stood still on stage, the curtain was lowered and the house lights brought up until the protestors were ushered out by theatre staff.
The audience applauded throughout each interruption. A few audience members, including a group with several children, left after the first disruption.
The protests, at the beginning of the company’s three-night booking, followed a call earlier in the week by a group of ten artists demanding Festival organisers withdraw its invitation to the dance troupe.
Signatories, including Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s national poet, and novelists AL Kennedy and Iain Banks, criticised Jonathan Mills, the Festival director, for failing to cancel the performances and accused him of supporting “Israel’s cultural apartheid”.
Earlier in the evening, around 150 protesters gathered outside the theatre chanting pro- Palestine slogans, calling for a boycott of the performance and shouted “Burn Your Tickets” at audience-goers.
There was also around two dozen demonstrators from two other groups – including Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Scottish Jews For A Just Peace.
Criticising Mr Mills, Mick Napier, chair of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “He invited Batsheva when he knew they were sponsored by the Israeli state.
“He would never have invited anyone sponsored by the Syrian state. If an Israeli performer comes here as an individual they are welcome.”
The company’s artistic director, Ohad Naharin, who stood outside the theatre watching the protests, said: “If this can help to create a dialogue instead of a conflict then it is a good thing. It doesn’t feel violent to me.”
A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said she was unable to provide information on whether any arrests had been made during the protests.