The pro-Palestine activists shaking up the pro-Israel Czech Republic's art and film scene

5 min read
17 April, 2024

If there was one thing that the pro-Israel political establishment in the Czech Republic would have never wanted to see, it was the sudden disruption by a group protesting Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza on stage at the season-opening of Prague’s National Gallery.

Their brief scuffle with guards followed by leaflets being dropped from the upper floors and chants of ‘Ceasefire Now’ spontaneously joined by the hundreds of attendees became the unexpected highlight of the event.

Stop genocide v Gaze NG-Michal Blecha
Stop Genocide v Gaze activists at Prague’s National Gallery [Michal Blecha]
Kajetán Adler Jablonský
Pro-Palestinian activists drop leaflets at Prague’s National Gallery [Kajetán Adler Jablonský]

Clearly, it was a successful disruption. 

The group behind the protest is a 15-member collective of Prague-based artists: Stop genocidě v Gaze.

"We are forced to opt for this activism because nothing else is working here... This is why we have opted for Guerrilla activism, where we make interventions so that our voices are heard”

Confrontational in nature, saying the word 'genocide' aloud without hesitation, condemning the Czech Republic's support to Israel, and announcing more such disruption in the future, all this marks the start of an assertive and passionate pro-Palestine activism in the Czech Republic — a country that proudly calls itself the "voice of Israel in Europe."

“We are forced to opt for this activism because nothing else is working here,” said Prague-based designer Yara Abu Aataya, a member of the collective.

“Interviews on Czech media screened Palestinian movies and dialogue sessions — all done so that the state can start humanising Palestine, but nothing appears to work. This is why we have opted for Guerrilla activism, where we make interventions so that our voices are heard.”

Yara said that while a significant number of the people in the Czech art community do not stand with the official pro-Israel state policy on the ongoing war in Gaza, they are not expressing it in public because of the fear of being confronted.

“They want to live a comfortable life. If they raise their voices for Palestine, not only would they have to explain why they did it but they also fear losing their jobs. This is unfortunately still a very taboo subject.”

Dr Yasar Abu Ghosh, the Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Charles University in Prague, observed that the disruption certainly had an impact on Czech society but immediately added that its influence is limited to a certain social bubble.

“Confrontational activism isn’t necessarily meant to be aggressive, it is disruptive in its nature, for sure, against the status quo,” Dr Yasar told The New Arab.

“But only through that, one can create a space for an alternative perspective. It becomes necessary at a point where the ambition is to broaden the reach of the message of the cause.”

And as Stop Genocidě v Gaze pursues 'disruptive' activism in the ostensibly hostile Czech Republic, another collective, Kino Palestine, is leading their protests through film. 

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Five young filmmakers have been amplifying Palestine's cause by presenting images of life and resistance in Gaza, the West Bank, and the Palestinian diaspora through screening films and documentaries in different galleries and cultural centres.

So far, Kino Palestine has organised 10 screenings showing at least 20 feature and short films.

“The idea behind Kino Palestine is to give space to Palestinian artists who have been shut out from most of Czech's cultural spaces that, ironically, claim to defend freedom of speech. Yet they have been complicit in contributing to censorship,” said Zaher Jureidini, the lead curator of Kino Palestine.

Zaher tells The New Arab that the film screenings, though relatively small in reach, are introducing the people of the Czech Republic to the people of Palestine.

He believes that Czech institutions have "deliberately kept Palestinian identity away" from the general public as a means to dehumanise them and label them as terrorists.

“At least now, the people of Czech can get a better view of what it is to be Palestinian. Films can change these imposed stereotypical perceptions,” Zaher added. 

Farid Sabri, a cultural journalist specialising in the intersection of art and peace activism, said that Stop Genocidě v Gaze and Kino Palestine are putting into action two distinctively different forms of activism in Prague art space.

“One is through a disruptive form to bring the ongoing conflict into focus, while the other is giving agency to the voices who are suffering from that very conflict. However, they maintain the consensus that the Czech cultural institutions are failing to stand for Palestine for the values they claim."

Both Yara and Zaher agree with his analysis.

“Similarly to other European institutes, the failure of Czech art institutes to take a stand for Palestine results from the fact that majority of them are state-backed and hence they have to toe the state-sanctioned positions,” Zaher said. 

Farid noted how the bigwigs of the Czech art community have maintained an eerie silence on Palestine, while the younger community have taken a more brave stance, "Perhaps because of the fact that they are not engaged in a transactional relationship with the state that calls itself the voice of Israel in Europe," the journalist added. 

Despite structural challenges, both collectives are working for a united cause in hopes of bringing the injustice in Gaza to the forefront. Their voices may be being ignored as if they do not exist, yet they continue.

But is it working? 

The answer to this question may be found in the words of artist Sabina Soboloviċ, who in response to the disruption at the National Gallery, surprisingly decided to omit her speech, instead stating these words: "There is no solidarity in today's world without solidarity with Gaza."

Ebad Ahmed is a freelance journalist, human rights activist, and graduate student based in Prague, Czech Republic

Follow him on X: @ebadahmed