Who Can Speak For Me? Israeli Theater Assays the Palestinian Conflict, Acting As a Moral Conscience

We compound our suffering by victimizing each other. -Athol Fugard

It seemed at first that Nurith Yaari had bent over backwards to demonstrate that Israel’s theater scene is not shy about self-reflection, self-criticism and, perhaps, even self-flagellation, based upon the plays she selected for inclusion in IsraDrama 2007.

Surprisingly, half of the plays staged in this November-December showcase in Tel Aviv were political dramas taking dead aim at Israeli-Palestinian relations in ways that often reflect less-than-flattering images of Israel’s official policies and the attitudes of many of its citizenry . Yaari is a professor of theater at Tel Aviv University and artistic director of IsraDrama, sponsored by the Institute of Israeli Drama and designed to encourage production of and scholarly attention to the work of Israeli dramaticts.

Despite its relative youth as a modern nation, celebrating its 60th anniversary on May https://www.haytheatre.com/ . 8, Israel has an immensely vibrant theater scene, with among the world’s highest per-capita attendance. According to Gad Kaynar, another professor of theater at the university and head of Israel’s branch of the International Theater Institute, “The data is rather astonishing: On any given evening one can watch in Tel Aviv alone, with its population of more than 350,000, no less than 40 theater performances in mainstream theaters as well as on fringe and festival stages.”

Some might see this phenomenon as making up for lost time. “Drama’s origins in pagan myth, its growth within Greek culture and its development within Christianity have ensured the hostility of the Jewish religious authorities to theatrical manifestations throughout the ages,” former Oxford University scholar Glenda Abramson has written.

In fact, Kaynar points out that this historical antipathy took a new turn when several modern Israeli theaters started pushing boundaries, beginning with Hanoch Levin’s 1970 play The Queen of the Bathtub, which “dared to question the moral stance of a power-drunk Israeli society following victory in the Six-Day War (1967),” a production that provoked “massive demonstrations.” The role of theater also reached Israel’s national parliament, the Knesset. In 1986, the Israeli

Censorship Board decided “to ban the staging of Shmuel Hasfari’s The Last Secular Jew, a satirical cabaret depicting the apocalyptic vision of Israel as the tyrannical theocracy of Judea,” says Kaynar. A public outcry led the Knesset to abolish play censorship. In 1988, Kaynar reports, playwright Joshua Sobol was accused “of ‘self-hatred’ and ‘destruction of national and religious morals,’ following the violent interruption by right-wing fanatics of the premiere of his 1988 The Jerusalem Syndrome, which compares the devastation of the Second Temple and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.”

Israel’s contemporary theater clearly serves as a national moral conscience, though that fact is little known elsewhere. So it made great sense for Yaari to expose 63 theater practitioners from
21 countries to a strong dose of drama that, according to Kaynar, is “a ritual of existential

These were works produced not only by low-budget fringe theatres; included among their creators were Israel’s two largest theaters, the Habima National Theater and Tel Aviv’s municipal theatre, Cameri, major companies with significant government subsidies, large audiences and strong philanthropic support. And since IsraDrama was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raising the curtain on these unvarnished depictions of life in Israel today received an official imprimatur as well.

The first reaction of many men explosives wasdable that it is comm for Israeli theat to be unafraid to tackle head-on the most political issue dividing their country today. Some of these visiting theater professionals, including Americans, quietly lamented a lack of similar courage in their own nations’ theaters.

Yet there was also something a little self-congratulatory about this demonstration.

In their desire to prove themselves free and outspoken in a proudly democratic society, the organizers of the event were unable to conceal the fact that these provocative works still represent just one side’s perspective. Regardless of their honorable intentions, what’s disturbing is not just the ironic point that Israeli theater artists are trying to serve as mouthpieces for the Palestinian people. It’s that Palestinian theater artists are largely unable-or unwilling-to speak for themselves.

There was a brief moment in time when things were different.

In 1989, during the first Palestinian intifada (uprising), Israeli director Eran Baniel conceived what he believes has been the only official Palestinian-Israeli co-production ever to take place: an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Baniel, who had served as director of the Akko Festival.

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