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Israeli actors boycott performance in West Bank settlement

Actors refuse to perform in theatre in West Bank Jewish settlement, as domestic movement against Israel’s settlement policies strengthens.

JERUSALEM // A trio of Israeli actors is refusing to perform in a theatre in a West Bank Jewish settlement, part of a growing domestic movement against the government’s settlement policies.

The protest mirrors a global movement against the settlements that has put Israel’s government in an increasingly difficult situation as peace talks with the Palestinians continue.

The international community, including the United States, has long considered Israeli construction of homes for Jews in the West Bank, captured territory claimed by the Palestinians, as an obstacle to peace.

This sentiment, long held also by Israel’s dovish left, now appears to be gaining steam at home following a string of harsh global condemnations of settlement construction in recent months. Some on Israel’s left fear the scale of the settlements soon will pass the tipping point where a pullout may become too difficult, and Israel will be forced to essentially absorb the West Bank and its millions of Palestinians.

A statement from the Cameri and Beit Lessin theatres said that three cast members in their production of Best Friends had asked to be excused from performing at the cultural centre in Ariel, a settlement deep inside the West Bank. It said they were granted exemptions and would be replaced.

One of the actors, Sarit Vino-Elad, said she could not bring herself to step foot in a theatre built on occupied land and which posed an obstacle to peace with Palestinians.

“This is not a boycott. It’s my own little protest against a government policy that continues to build settlements,” she said. “They are trying to make Ariel part of the consensus, but as far as I am concerned it is not legitimate.”

Israel is particularly sensitive to such sentiments as it is constantly battling international efforts to impose economic, cultural and academic boycotts over the settlements. Defenders of Israel say it is a victim of orchestrated campaigns to delegitimise it and hold it to a double standard over its policies.

But such arguments seem to be facing an uphill struggle. Last week, the American Studies Association, a 3,800-member group of American scholars, endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities.

Previously, the Dutch water company Vitens, the largest supplier of drinking water in the Netherlands, decided to cut ties with Israel’s national water carrier over its operations in West Bank settlements. The European Union recently forced Israel to make guarantees that special European research funds would not be spent in the settlements. The EU is also considering measures to clearly label products made in the settlements, a move that could harm sales.

Lately, Israeli settlements are also coming under increasing scrutiny at home.

Israelis who once considered the West Bank inseparable from the rest of the country, or at least shrugged off the settlements as insignificant, have begun to protest against the large government budgets promoting West Bank construction instead of solving a dire housing crisis plaguing the rest of the country. Others refuse to purchase settlement goods or perform reserve military guard duty in the West Bank.

For years, the Palestinians refused to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continued, saying it was a sign of bad faith. Under heavy US pressure, the Palestinians reluctantly resumed statehood negotiations in July, under US mediation, with an April target date for agreement.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, all captured by Israel in 1967, for their state. Israel pulled troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005 and it is now ruled by the Islamic militant Hamas. East Jerusalem, with its sites holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews, has been annexed by Israel. The West Bank, despite the fact that Israel builds towns there, has not.

More than 550,000 Israelis now live in areas captured in 1967, amid roughly 2.5 million Palestinians. The Palestinians complain that the growing settler population makes it ever more difficult to partition the land.

The settlement of Ariel is a particular stumbling block. The enclave of nearly 20,000 people is one of the largest settlements, and its defenders say most Israelis want the settlement to be annexed to Israel in any future peace deal. But it is located well inside the West Bank, meaning no minor border adjustment as part of a peace deal could leave it on the Israeli side.

* Associated Press

Updated: December 26, 2013 04:00 AM