A display of artwork by Palestinian children at Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London has been removed after a complaint by a pro-Israel organisation, which said it made Jewish patients feel “vulnerable, harassed and victimised”.
The display of decorated plates, designed by children at two United Nations schools in Gaza and accompanied by brief explanations, was on show at the entrance to the children’s outpatients department.
One plate showed the Dome of the Rock, a site in Jerusalem of religious significance to Muslims and Jews, with a Palestinian flag. Another, featuring the Palestinian fishing industry, was accompanied by a text referring to the shoreline of Palestine running from Gaza’s border with Egypt to Israel’s border with Lebanon. Since 1948, most of the shoreline has been in the state of Israel.
Earlier this month, UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) wrote to Lesley Watts, the chief executive of the Chelsea and Westminster hospital NHS foundation trust, asking for the display, called Crossing Borders – a Festival of Plates, to be removed.
“Jewish patients have approached UKLFI for help, saying that they feel vulnerable, harassed and victimised by this display,” according to UKLFI’s website.
The display was removed a few days later.
The origins of the display were in a collaborative art project between schoolchildren in Gaza and members of the Chelsea community hospital school, which provides education for children in hospital or undergoing medical treatment.
Janette Steel, the school’s principal, said project was “a wonderful example of how art can bring children together to help them cope with challenges in life”. The school had links with schools “all over the world – bringing children together to share their experience of life”.
Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian mission to the UK, said: “This is another step in a campaign by pressure groups like UKLFI that dehumanises the Palestinian people and seeks to divert attention from our legitimate rights and aspirations. We regret that a healthcare provider caved to such racist bullying.”
Zomlot wrote to the trust at the weekend to ask for the exhibition be reinstated.
A spokesperson for the Chelsea and Westminster hospital trust said: “We are sorry that the removal of this artwork has offended some communities and that its contents offended other communities. We will be working with the relevant parties on the next steps for the artwork.”
Jonathan Turner, the chief executive of UKLFI, said: “We asked for the artwork to be removed because of the propaganda, not because it was by children from Gaza … We are pleased that it was taken down: Jewish patients should not have to face a wall of anti-Israel propaganda when they go to hospital.”
In 2021, the Whitworth gallery in Manchester removed a statement of solidarity with Palestine from an exhibition by Forensic Architecture after pressure from UKLFI. The organisation also demanded the educational publisher Pearson withdraw school textbooks on Middle Eastern history that it said were biased against Israel.
Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s crisis response manager, said: “Anything that humanises Palestinians, especially children from Gaza, threatens Israel’s racist system of apartheid and ongoing occupation … hence [UKLFI’s] draconian and ill-judged approach to this children’s art exhibition.”