Ottawa's 'violent, ugly' and politically charged art exhibit

The artist says her film shows assassinated Palestinian figures. Israel’s embassy in Canada says it 'reflects a culture of hate.'

A film that makes up part of a multimedia art exhibit at Ottawa’s City Hall showcases portraits of what the official publicity material describes as “assassinated Palestinian figures… lost artists, writers and leaders,” but several of the individuals were members of armed Palestinian groups implicated in deadly atrocities against civilians.

Israel’s embassy in Canada released a statement that says the exhibit “reflects a culture of hate and incitement that contradicts the values of Canada as a guardian of peace and champion against terror.” Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rafael Barak met yesterday with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to discuss the exhibit.

“What shocked me was that a political representative of a foreign country interfered in art,” says Rehab Nazzal, the Palestinian-Canadian artist who created the exhibition.

“All this was imposed. It’s violent, it’s ugly, definitely,” she says, speaking of the murders carried out by some of the Palestinians shown in Target.

“Those people are in the memories of the Palestinian people, whether we like it or not. And if it’s about killing, well, for each Israeli there are several thousand Palestinians killed.

“I’m against war. I’m against killing. I’m foremost against military occupation. These generations born under this, God knows what they can do.”

The dead appear for only a fraction of a second in the film, disappearing almost before their faces and brief biographical notes about when and how they were killed can be absorbed.

Among those portrayed is Dalal Mughrabi, who died during a 1978 shootout with Israeli security forces after her team of Palestinian and Lebanese militants hijacked a bus in an attack that left 38 civilians dead, at least 10 of whom were children.

Khaled Nazzal, the artist’s brother, was a leading member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which carried out the 1974 Ma’alot Massacre in which 28 civilians died — mostly teenagers held hostage at a school for two days before they were murdered during an attempted Israeli rescue. Israeli agents killed Nazzal in Athens in 1986. A recent tribute on Palestinian television said Nazzal was among those who “died as martyrs while raising their weapons against the occupation.”

There was at least one artist among those portrayed in the film. Naji al-Ali, a cartoonist who criticized both Israeli and Arab leaders, was murdered in London in 1987. But his attackers are alleged to have been Palestinians. (Israel reportedly had advance knowledge of the hit because of double agents working inside the Palestinian Liberation Organization but did not warn Britain in advance, which caused a diplomatic rift between the two countries.)

The exhibition, showing at the Karsh-Masson Gallery, is sponsored by the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Arts Council. A note affixed to the door of the gallery says that all exhibits are selected by an “independent, professional arts jury” and do not represent the City of Ottawa.

Update, May 23, 21:00: The Palestinian General Delegation to Canada has released a statement condemning “Israel’s assault on Canadian free speech by attempting to censor a local art exhibit by a Canadian artist depicting the brutal treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.” (Other instalments in the exhibition focused on the treatment of jailed Palestinians.)

The statement continues: “The Palestinian General Delegation applauds the brave decision by Ottawa City Hall to reject Israeli censorship and uphold Canada’ free speech laws.”


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