Asil, a 10-year-old girl from Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, painted a picture of herself in jail, with Arabic phrases in the spaces between the bars: "I have a right to live in peace," "I have a right to live this life," and "I have a right to play."
She believes there are allies in this world who care about her and her rights; people who are willing to create the space for her to express her feelings through art. Asil believed that her drawing, which was smuggled out of the besieged Gaza Strip, would reach the outside world. But she didn't think that Israel's powerful U.S. supporters would stretch the siege from Gaza to Oakland by shutting down the exhibition that included her artwork.
The Middle East Children's Alliance worked for more than six months to organize "A Child's View from Gaza," and we were extremely disappointed by the decision of the MOCHA Board of Directors to cancel the exhibit.
We understand the enormous pressure the museum faced -- including funding threats. But the decision is a violation of MOCHA's own mission to give a platform to children's expression from around the world.
Shamefully, pro-Israel groups have long strategized to silence Palestinian voices and those in solidarity. For 23 years, MECA has challenged such censorship and fought to raise the voices of Palestine, especially those of children.
In 1991, when we invited Professor Noam Chomsky for a speaking engagement, 19 professors from UC Berkeley signed a letter to bookstores selling tickets to the event. The professors threatened to picket their stores, but the owners refused to be censored.
In December 2005, MECA, in collaboration with Alliance Graphics and the Berkeley Arts Center, presented Justice Matters: Artists Consider Palestine, an exhibit displaying the artwork of 14 Palestinian and North American artists. Fourteen rabbis visited Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley demanding that he cancel the show. They further insisted that the city withdraw funding to the Berkeley Arts Center and to be given the right to inspect any future art exhibit. Despite the rabbis' objections to the art, the mayor rejected censorship and the show opened to a huge crowd of supporters.
MECA has always respected and loved MOCHA, and continues to support the museum and those who work there. Our support for the museum has not ceased -- rather, our anger and our frustration is directed at the board of directors for lacking the courage to withstand bullying and intimidation.
What is so frightening to these pro-Israel forces that they are willing to put millions of dollars into a campaign to shut down protests on campuses, muzzle speakers who advocate for human rights for all, and even silence the voices of children by censoring their art?
The children in Gaza are just like children anywhere else -- they love to dance, they love to sing and they love to express themselves. They are also struggling for freedom and justice.
MECA has received an outpouring of support, both locally and nationally, from people willing to host the exhibit in their homes, community centers and schools.
We at MECA promised the children artists that we would show their art and are excited to have opened the exhibit last Saturday to a wonderful crowd of more than 500 supporters. We have secured an alternate venue for the next two months, located on 917 Washington St. in Oakland (a one-minute walk from MOCHA), so that Asil can share her art and viewpoint with Bay Area residents.
Barbara Lubin is the executive director and Ziad Abbas is the associate director of the Middle East Children's Alliance.