On June 17, the Arab Museum of Contemporary Art and Heritage opened in the Israeli-Arab village of Sakhnin. As international artists are increasingly signing up to boycott the apartheid state, one wonders whether the museum’s opening reflects heightened concern about the effects of these measures in Israel.
The museum was set up by the Sakhnin municipality in a joint initiative with Israeli Jewish artists Belu-Simion Fainaro and Avital Bar-Ishay, who are the venue’s co-directors. The museum hosts over 200 works by Arab, Jewish, and international artists, such as Assad Azi, Mahmoud Badarna, Marina Abramovic and Adel Abdessemed.
In creating the museum, its founders have expressed their hope to foster and improve relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel by promoting peace and dialogue. Israel’s supporters also see the museum as a positive step toward reconciliation. Nechama Rivlin, wife of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, was quoted in Haaretz as describing the museum as “revolutionary” for incorporating works by both Jewish and Arab artists. In a public statement, she said:
It’s a museum that appeals to people to come together and meet. It’s a museum that challenges the artist who lives in a private sphere, calling on him to meet other artists from other spheres with their different associations. A new kind of unfamiliar collaboration between Jews and Arabs has been established here. It’s about time we recognized that we don’t live in parallel spheres but in a shared one, in which we must meet, not as strangers and enemies but as partners.
Of course, the reality in Israel is far worse than Mrs. Rivlin’s statement suggests. Palestinians, and Arabs more generally, continue to suffer at the hands of the Israeli apartheid state, which pursues policies that actively discriminate, subjugate, and violate their rights. In protest against this unacceptable situation, artists and cultural producers across the globe have started to support an artistic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel in droves. Since February, over 1000 UK-based artists have pledged to boycott Israeli art and cultural institutions, putting economic and political pressure on Israel to recognize Palestinian rights, and comply with international law by ending its occupation of Palestinian territories.
Increasing concerns about the boycott movement prompted an emergency debate on its effects in the Israeli Knesset, earlier this month; Pro-Israeli lobby groups in the United States, the UK, and Sweden, have also recently started promoting laws in their countries to punish those involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
While it is unclear whether the Sakhnin museum is a response to BDS, one thing is clear – hollow attempts at promoting “co-existence” between Palestinians and Jews in Israel will never satisfy the movement’s demands. As long as Israel’s apartheid state continues to oppress the Palestinians, superficial attempts at peace and reconciliation will be in vain.