Palestinian Kids' Art Deemed Unsuitable For Children

An exhibit of children's art from Palestine was supposed to open Saturday at the Oakland Museum of Children's Art, but the show was canceled. Museum officials say community members raised concerns about whether the art, depicting scenes of Israeli-Palestinian violence, was appropriate for children.

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There's going to be usual art exhibit this afternoon in Oakland, California. Unusual because it features art made by Palestinian children living in the Gaza Strip, and also because the art exhibit will not be shown inside the museum that had originally scheduled the show.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: The exhibit of drawings and paintings was created by Palestinian children who had witnessed the fighting during the Gaza conflict between 2008 and 2009. One picture depicts an Israeli tank, identified with a Star of David, rolling through a burning village. In another corner of the picture, an ambulance picks up the dead or wounded.

BARBARA LUBIN: These are Palestinian ambulances and here's a mother and father crying. You see their tears...

GONZALES: Barbara Lubin runs a non-profit group called the Middle East Children's Alliance which organized the exhibition.

LUBIN: ...and they're holding a dead child. And over here there are babies that I assume are injured because you see all this red, there's the blood there.

GONZALES: Another picture shows a Palestinian man shooting a rocket at Israeli forces. In another, a girl with a bandaged head stares forlornly from behind prison bars.

There are 50 drawings in all. Lubin says her group worked for six months to bring the pictures to the United States and arrange their showing at the Museum of Children's Art, or MOCHA, in Oakland. The exhibit is called "A Child's View of Gaza."

LUBIN: Kids were encouraged to draw their feelings and what they had witnessed. And, you know, a lot of the pictures are very painful and very graphic because what they lived through was painful and graphic.

GONZALES: But what is art to some is propaganda to others.

DOUGLAS KAHN: First of all, we believe that the content of the exhibit, which is intended for children was extreme, was violent and it defamed an entire ethnic and religious group - both Israelis and Jews.

GONZALES: That's Rabbi Douglas Kahn, executive director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council. As Kahn speaks, he points to a photo of the one of the pictures. It shows the boot of an Israeli soldier, draped with the Israeli flag stomping on a Palestinian flag.

KAHN: There's no attempt to provide a picture of the suffering on both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side in the conflict. This is a biased, one-sided perspective that was being organized by an advocacy organization; that really was trying to take advantage of the goodwill of this children's Museum.

GONZALES: Kahn and other Jewish leaders registered their concerns with museum officials who apparently agreed. Two weeks ago, Barbara Lubin got a phone call from museum officials saying the show, which had been approved and was scheduled to open today, would in fact be cancelled.

LUBIN: We were really, really shocked.

GONZALES: Shocked, in part, says Lubin, because seven years ago the museum showed a similar exhibit of art from Iraqi children. MOCHA officials were unavailable for an interview. The museum has been caught off guard by the controversy. It is typically a place where parents can leave their kids to finger-paint and enjoy arts education classes.

MOCHA B: Parents, caregivers and educators did not wish for their children to encounter graphically violent and sensitive works during their use of our facility. And Sorey said the decision to cancel the Palestinian kids' art exhibit was not a judgment of the art itself or related to any political opinions.

But Late Friday another board member, Randolph Belle, issued a more conciliatory statement, saying the museum would work with the sponsors of the Palestinian kids' art exhibit to re-schedule the show.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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