An experience I had at Shakespeares' Globe Theatre in London which showed me that freedom of expression is not always guarenteed in England.
On Tuesday, 29th
May 2012 I attended Habima’s 19:30
performance of The Merchant of Venice. If I’d known that Habima
performed in the occupied territories, I wouldn’t have gone. However I didn’t
know that when I booked my non-refundable ticket and as someone half-Jewish in
origins I thought it’d be very interesting to see a play which has been used by
anti-Semites over the years being performed in Hebrew. I was indeed moved by
seeing Shylock – the classic anti-Jewish hate figure - speaking his famous
lines in Hebrew and it was a good production.
However my enjoyment was greatly spoilt by the bully boy
tactics both of the police and of the security services.
I wore my peace t-shirt which has both the Israeli and the
Palestinian flags on it and the words “Salaam” and “Shalom”. Bearing in mind
(a) I’d already been through all the security checks, (b) I had a ticket and
(c) the t-shirt had BOTH flags on it and not just one (and was about peace, not
violence), imagine my surprise when a security man stopped me. “Excuse me, I
can see your t-shirt has both flags on it but I can’t read it – what does it
say?” he asked. I politely told him it was “Peace… Peace”. He explained that
this was a fun evening, not a political evening, and asked me if I had nothing
else to wear. I told him I hadn't. He took me through a barrier and down some
steps and told me to take my t-shirt off and reverse it. I obediently did so.
I left when he said I could and was on my way to my seat
when a police officer stopped me. “Excuse me, sir,” he said, “it’s been brought
to my attention that you’re wearing your t-shirt inside out. Do you want to
tell me why?”
“Certainly,” I said. “The security man over there told me
“I see. It’s also been brought to my attention that you’ve
got the Palestinian flag on – I can see it on the inside. Do you want to tell
“Sure. It has both the Israeli and the Palestinian flags and
the word for “peace” in both their languages,” I said patiently.
“Well, this is a fun night, not a political night. Haven’t
you got anything else you can wear?” he asked.
“No,” I said. For the first time in my life (I’m a very
law-abiding person), I walked away from a police officer. I felt our
conversation had ended. I wasn’t a protester – I was a theatre-goer and I
hadn’t paid all that money to be harassed in my own country about which
national flags I had on my t-shirt. When I got to my box, there was a lady in
front of me with a massive Israeli flag. No-one had stopped her. When a
peaceful protester called out at one point that Palestinians were human beings,
she shouted back, “No they’re not”. She held her massive flag aloft at the end
and did a sort of dance with it. I think it was a political evening but
clearly not for people who wanted to be even-handed about the two nations.
There was someone patrolling behind the box where I was sitting the whole
night, which was disquieting.
Is it legal to discriminate against one flag like that, I
I was sad that this amazing idea for a play, a play dealing
with intolerance (particularly in their very interesting interpretation of it)
had somehow missed the point that there are many forms of intolerance.
Despite enjoying the play, I don’t feel inclined to go to
any performance by Habima again or, indeed, to the Globe Theatre. It wasn’t
until I was off their premises and in a good old English pub that I felt I was
back in my own free country and able to wear any t-shirt I liked the right way
round whilst sinking a pint without being hassled by anyone.