Brandeis Censors Palestinian Kids' Art Exhibit
- Brandeis pulls artwork by Palestinian youths
School says show was one-sided
By Michael Levenson
May 3, 2006
Samah al-Azza, 13, created this painting for an exhibit at Brandeis
that was later removed. (Globe Photo)
[you can view some of the art online at
A bulldozer menaces a girl with ebony pigtails, who lies in a pool of
blood. A boy with an amputated leg balances on a crutch, in a tent
city with a Palestinian flag. A dove, dripping blood, perches against
blue barbed wire.
Palestinian teenagers painted those images at the request of an
Israeli Jewish student at Brandeis University, who said she wanted to
use the art to bring the Palestinian viewpoint to campus. But
university officials removed the paintings four days into a two-week
exhibition in the Brandeis library.
University officials said the paintings depicted only one side of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lior Halperin, the student who
organized the exhibit, said the university censored an alternative
Now, Brandeis is embroiled in a debate about how to portray
Palestinian perspectives on a campus where 50 percent of the students
are Jewish and where passions about the Middle East run deep. Six to
a dozen students at the Waltham university complained about the
paintings, which were hung on Wednesday and removed Saturday.
The controversy occurs at a sensitive time for the campus, which has
angered some students and Jewish groups with the appointment of a
prominent Palestinian scholar and with a partnership with Al-Quds
University, an Arab institution.
''This is outrageous," Halperin said yesterday. ''This an educational
institution that is supposed to promote debate and dialogue. Let's
talk about what it is: 12-year-olds from a Palestinian refugee camp.
Obviously it's not going to be about flowers and balloons."
Halperin said she is working with an Arab student organization at MIT
to display the 17 paintings there, as early as tomorrow.
Brandeis officials said they wanted to make sure the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict is presented in a balanced manner.
''It was completely from one side in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, and we can only go based on the complaints we received,"
said Dennis Nealon, a Brandeis spokesman. ''People were saying: (a)
what is this; (b) what is it trying to say; and (c) should there be
some sort of balancing perspective here?" Nealon said that the
university would consider displaying the artwork again in the fall,
alongside pieces showing the Israeli point of view.
Brandeis, a nonsectarian institution, was founded in 1948, by
American Jews seeking to establish a university free from the quotas
that Jews faced at elite colleges.
Halperin created the exhibit as her final project for a class
called ''The Arts of Building Peace," which explores how music,
painting, and poetry can help resolve conflicts. She contacted a
friend who works in a refugee camp in Bethlehem and asked her to
invite teenagers there to paint images of Palestinian life.
Halperin, 27, an Israeli Army veteran, received images of planes
dropping bombs, snakes, and a famous scene of a father and child
cowering from gunfire near Gaza City in September 2000. In
her ''Voices from Palestine" exhibit, she hung the paintings near the
names and photos of the young artists and synopses of their hopes and
dreams. A Palestinian psychologist and a child-care worker spoke at
an opening reception.
''This was, for me, an opportunity to bring to Brandeis the
Palestinian voice that is not spoken or heard through an Israeli or
an American Jew, but directly delivered from Palestinians," Halperin
said. ''Obviously, that was just too much for Brandeis."
Within days, students complained to the university that the exhibit
was jarring and lacked context and reference to the Israeli point of
Dmitry B. Vilner, 19, a sophomore, said he found it ''utterly
ludicrous to find these hung up with no explanation." Vilner
said, ''I was very surprised that it would appear at Brandeis,
because Brandeis is a traditionally Jewish, pro-Israel campus."
Vilner and his roommate, Alan D. Meyerson, 19, e-mailed an
administrator to ask why the exhibit was on display. ''There's a
certain line that's crossed when it no longer becomes a fair debate,
but it becomes a one-sided attack against a nation and a people,"
Meyerson said, ''and that was very much the case with these images."
Last weekend, administrators in charge of student affairs decided
that the paintings should come down, with the support of Daniel
Terris, director of the university's International Center for Ethics,
Justice, and Public Life. The center sponsored Halperin's class. ''If
students are reacting in a strong and negative way, with no context
and no structure to have a meaningful conversation . . . you can do
more harm than good," said Terris, who said he asked Halperin to
voluntarily take the paintings down. ''I advised her that I thought
it was undermining the long-term goal of making more space for
Palestinian voices on campus."
On Saturday evening, after Halperin refused to stop the exhibit,
administrators removed the artwork, provoking an immediate response.
Students said they circulated e-mails debating whether the decision
was about censorship, sensitivity, fairness, or cowardice.
''I would like to think of my university as a place that is open to
discussion, and I see art as one of the purest forms of discussion we
can have," said Aaron Voldman, 19, a freshman who is Jewish and
active in a student peace group. ''As we are members of a Jewish
institution, where the Israeli support is very strong, the
conversation is not quite as open as it possibly could be."
Ralph Ranalli of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Michael
Levenson can be reached at mlevenson @ globe.com.
MIT Hosts Exhibit after it was censored by Brandeis University
Voices from Palestine Art Exhibit
The MIT Muslim Students Organization and
The MIT Arab Students Organization
In Conjunction with MIT Palestine Awareness Week 2006
Voices from Palestine
Aida Refugee Camp Children Speak Out
Exhibit open to the public May 4th thru May 11th
Stata Center, Building No. 32, first floor TSMC lobby
For directions, see map at:
"I hope that you like my drawing, because it means a lot for the
Palestinian people. And I would like to thank you for giving us the
opportunity to express ourselves as Palestinian children. Thank you
very much and hope to see you all." ~Ola Allan, 13, Aida refugee camp
"I want to tell the world about Palestine, and I ask them to search
the reality about our case, and I am full of hope." ~Hussam Al-Azza,
16, Beit Jibrin refugee camp
[you can view some of the art online at
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