Palestine group charged after disrupting concert by Israelis

PROTESTERS were dragged from the Queens Hall and charged with breach of the peace after disrupting a performance by an Israeli string quartet.

The protesters, members of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Movement, shouted slogans from the audience during yesterday morning's recital.

Four were arrested and charged, and were later released from St Leonards police station pending a court appearance.

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The protesters claimed the musicians of the Jerusalem Quartet are affiliated to the Israeli Army and said they wanted to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians.

University lecturer Mick Napier, 61, was one of those who shouted from the audience.

He said: "All of us bar one have been to Palestine and seen with our own eyes terrible crimes there. We felt that many of the audience were ill-informed and don't really know what happens but we were absolutely gratified by the significant number of the audience who indicated their support."

He described the protest: "I kicked off after five minutes and other people started in 15-minute intervals. We shouted 'These men are Israeli Army musicians' and 'End the siege of Gaza' and one woman shouted 'End Israeli war crimes'."

Around 35 protesters also picketed the performance from the pavement outside, waving a banner and handing leaflets to concert-goers as they arrived at the venue.

The Quartet released a statement after the incident, saying: "This was quite a difficult concert for us. It was sometimes hard to focus on the music.

"What kept us going was the support of the audience who were there simply to enjoy music making."

Members of the protest group had appealed to the Edinburgh International Festival to cancel the performance. A festival spokeswoman said: "Festival 08 has the theme of Artists Without Borders and we are pleased to present work and artists from many areas of the world, including from both Jewish and Arabic cultures, from the Jerusalem Quartet to the Palestinian National Theatre, to the Bazi Theatre Company from Iran and many others.

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"This festival was founded in the belief that bringing artists and audiences together was an important way to promote cultural understanding between people. This remains a guiding principle."

Queens Hall chief executive, Adrian Harris, said the venue had supported the Festival's decision to put on the concert. He added: "Obviously, we absolutely recognise the right of the protesters to protest in a lawful way, which they were doing outside the building today. It was just unfortunate that some of their members chose to protest inside the hall and disrupt the performance for a thousand concert-goers."

Asked about the quartet's connections to the Israeli army, he added: "My understanding is that is not the case. My understanding is that all Israeli citizens do national service and I believe these guys have done national service.

"I think to say they're affiliated to the Israeli Army is stretching a point."

He added that the musicians had worked with a renowned project set up to build bridges between Israel and Palestine: "It is worth noting that I believe three out of the four members of the quartet play in Daniel Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan orchestra, which is made up of Israeli and Palestinian musicians."

A police spokesman confirmed four people had been arrested and had been released.