Iceland snubbed for a Palestinian flag stunt at Tel Aviv’s Eurovision event, Ramadan and heat subdue weekly border protests, a small Exodus from the Gaza Strip in 2018, unreported archeology in the West Bank and more in this week’s Israel News Recap.
Israel Hosts Eurovision Bringing Entertainment and Controversy
With an estimated global television audience of more than 200 million, Israel hosted the world’s biggest singing competition this week in Tel Aviv bringing with it some of the world’s most popular entertainers and a spat of controversy.
Eurovision, an annual international song competition representing mostly European countries, was hosted by Israel this year after they won last year’s competition. This year, the prize went to the Netherlands, but much of the entertainment buzz wasn’t about the winning song but a political interruption in the contest.
The moment came when a backstage camera focused on Icelandic group Hatari as votes were counted. With the camera on them, they took the opportunity to unfurl banners reading “Palestine” and decorated with the Palestinian flag. Boos from the crowd revealed the immediate reaction, and the political fallout from the stunt may result in more punishment from the contest organizers, according to Reuters. Known as an anti-capitalist, pro-BDSM band, Hatari seems to have kept their plan secret until the right moment, though their political stance toward Israel is public on their social media. The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event that it calls non-political, made it clear that the appearance of the Palestinian flag was not sanctioned or pre-approved.
In a statement, the EBU said that they would discuss consequences. The display wasn’t the only appearance of the Palestinian flag. The Jerusalem Post reports that earlier in the event during a Madonna performance, two dancers had an Israel and a Palestinian flag on their backs sending what Madonna said was a message of peace. This, too, was called out by the EBU.
It’s not only Palestinian representation that is banned. The rules for the contest forbid any promotion of any political cause, reading in rule 2.6: All Participating Broadcasters, including the Host Broadcaster, shall ensure that no organisation, institution, political cause or other cause, company, brand, product or service shall be promoted, featured or mentioned directly or indirectly during the Event.”
Despite the bold action taken by Iceland, a statement from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel rejected the band’s support calling it a “fig-leaf gesture of solidarity,” and saying that a meaningful expression of solidarity would have been boycotting the competition in Israel altogether.
Weekly Gaza Report: Palestinian Exodus
Soaring temperatures and Ramadan calmed the weekly tensions at the Gaza border last weekend as the protest was canceled and more than 100,000 Muslims prayed peacefully at Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount.
The peaceful weekend is a respite to the usual deadly violence at the border and elsewhere, but a new report reveals that more than a year of consistent clashes between Gazans and the IDF, a mounting death toll, and an utter economic collapse under Hamas rule is creating an exodus of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip.
In 2018 alone, some 35,000 Palestinians left the Gaza Strip and didn’t return according to Israeli estimates. Ha’aretz reports that they mainly went through Egypt and were mostly young, educated, and comparatively well-off—those who had the resources to leave. Among those fleeing were 150 doctors employed at Gazan hospitals, a flight that is a sure indicator of “brain drain” that Hamas is taking new measures to prevent by barring physicians from leaving the Strip.
Youth unemployment in Gaza is at 70 percent, according to the World Bank, and the economic blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas took power has strangled the Gaza economy. One economic opportunity to the Strip was through Egypt’s Rafah crossing, which was opened in November 2017 for the first time in a decade. Along with any economic boon coming in, the crossing became a way out for thousands of Gazans.
Hamas has leveraged the suffering from the poor economic conditions to mobilize people to protest and riot at the Gaza-Israel border, even promising payouts for casualties. In the recent escalations between Israel and Gaza, the subsequent peace talks have revolved around Gaza’s economic welfare and Israeli promises to ease the blockade in exchanges for the cessation of violence.
Even the White House recently announced that the first step in this administration’s stab at a peace plan will be a conference to determine what economic development opportunities there are for the international community to revitalize the Gaza Strip.
West Bank Archeology Won’t be Public Information
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled last week that Israel has no obligation to release information about archaeological digs in the West Bank.
An unknown issue for many, the conclusion of this appeal case ties the geography’s storied history into the modern political arena—or rather, aims to keep it out of that. The court’s justification, which upholds both the state’s position and a lower court ruling, is that publishing the names of the archaeologists working on the digs could make them vulnerable to academic boycotts and undermine Israel’s position in future diplomatic negotiations, according to Ha’aretz.
Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron reasoned that “there is a clear and real concern that the publication [of their names] may cause real damage to their professional and economic interests and to the institutions to which they belong, and expose them to an academic boycott, in a way that could sabotage their research work and their academic future.”
The issue here is the location: The West Bank. The West Bank is a contested area, and archeological digs carried out in that territory, no matter how scientifically purposed, could have ramifications in modern politics including contested claims to unearthed ruins or anything of historical value.
The appeal, filed by NGOs Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh, challenged the 2016 decision of the District Court and relied on the 1954 Hague Convention that prohibits an occupying power from extracting archaeological findings from an occupied territory. The definition of an occupied territory, in this case, is hotly contested. Justice Anat Baron dissented the ruling saying that it created an inconsistency in Israeli archeological law.
“It’s impossible to apply one law within Israel, under which archaeological research and findings are available to the public, and at the same time treat archaeological digs and artifacts discovered in the West Bank as a state secret,” she said.
One of the most famous archeological sites already uncovered in the West Bank is Tel Shiloh, believed to have been the site of the biblical tabernacle.