Appeal to ensure Middle East Fringe shows go ahead

Scottish playwright David Greig is behind the drive to ensure the shows go on. Picture: Greg Macvean
Scottish playwright David Greig is behind the drive to ensure the shows go on. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A £10,000 appeal is launched today to enable Israeli and Palestinian theatre groups to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe without state support.

The initiative by Scottish playwright David Greig follows an Israeli show being forced to close after its first performance last week because protests outside the venue disrupted other shows at the Underbelly.

A second Fringe production, by The Pola dance company from Israel, which starts on Saturday, is also threatened by planned demonstrations.

The groups are being targeted by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) because they have received money from the Israeli government.

But the two other Israeli shows at the Fringe – comedians Yisrael Campbell and Lanabati – have been left alone because they have not been state-funded.

The appeal coincides with what Greig described as the “horrible violence in Gaza”, while pro-Palestinian demonstrations were held yesterday in Glasgow and Kirkcaldy, and another is planned for Glasgow today.

Greig was among leading cultural figures who called last month for Incubator Theatre’s hip-hop show The City to be cancelled. However, he told Scotland on Sunday that “seeing a show shut down sits badly with me” and he “felt the need to do something positive”.

He aims to raise money for the Welcome to the Fringe Fund during this year’s Festival to help both Israeli and Palestinian groups come to next year’s event. There are no Palestinian shows at the 2014 Fringe.

Greig also plans to establish a network of artists and supporters to provide groups with help and access to venues and accommodation. He said: “The Edinburgh Fringe is my favourite place in the world.

“It is a place of welcome and refuge. I don’t want it to become a showplace where the regimes of the world come to whitewash violence with art.

“This initiative aims to raise an initial sum of £10,000 and then, once set up, to continue year on year raising money and support in kind to allow theatre makers from Palestine and Israel to come to Edinburgh and have their voices heard on an equal footing.

“Palestinian theatre makers have very little help or funding to get work to Edinburgh.

“If Israeli theatre makers are brave enough to reject state funding, they too will have a hard time getting here.

The SPSC described the proposal as an “interesting idea”, but feared it would just save the Israeli government money.

Secretary Mick Napier said: “We would be concerned this could inadvertently be a donation to Israel, allowing them to divert more money to weaponry.”

Incubator, which is seeking an alternative venue for its show, said it would not qualify for the fund because it received year-round funding from Israel.

Its spokesman said: “David Greig’s initiative is to be applauded – anything that reinforces the critical role Edinburgh’s festivals take in supporting the primacy of freedom of expression and debate is welcome.

“However, David’s call for a boycott of our production was primarily as a result of the annual support we receive from Israeli culture funds.

“As with artists in Scotland, most artists in Israel who work for arts organisations would perish without some degree of state funding. This neither makes Incubator Theatre a representative of the Israeli government nor a supporter of its actions.

“However broad our own particular view of the world is, David’s initiative would not support our right to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.”

A spokesman for the Fringe said it had no role in groups coming to Edinburgh. He said: “Anybody can come to the Fringe and anyone can help them come. It is an open-access festival. The only way of preventing people coming is if they are breaking the law.”