Brecht in the West Bank: Israel’s major theaters going to the settlements

Posted: August 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: culture, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The first major theater hall in a West Bank settlement will open on November 8th. The Ariel Culture Hall, located in the settlement of Ariel (south of Nablus) will host major productions of leading Israeli theaters, including Habima, Israel’s national theater, and Tel Aviv’s city theater, The Cameri.

According to Haaretz, The Ariel Culture Hall will have 540 seats, and 40 million NIS (11 million USD) were spent on its construction. The Hall will open with the Israeli adaptation of Piaf, a play by British Pem Gems on the life of the famous singer, performed by the Beersheba theatre. Later this year, Ariel will host Tel Aviv’s Cameri theatre’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht

Some Israelis noticed a cruel irony in hosting a play dealing with concept of justice and fair trial in a place where the majority of the population have no rights, and is tried in military courts, without due process. Arab-Israeli actor Yousef Sweid, who plays in “A railroad to Damascus”, also scheduled to show in Ariel, told Haaretz that “I’m opposed to it, but this is the first I heard about it and I’d like to investigate the matter further.”

Israeli journalist and blogger Ofri Ilani wrote in the leftwing group blog Eretz Haemori that this marks a new record in the whitewashing of the occupation’s crimes:

To what level of ridicule will the heads of the culture scene degrade (…) we had murders who talk about spiritualism, Arms dealers who play the piano and Military radio stations that play protest songs (…) but to recruit Brecht to legitimize the colonial project of [Ariel's mayor] Ron Nachman?

But those voices are an exception. Most Israelis are blind to the occupation, and Ariel – which sits literally in the heart of the West bank – is by now an ordinary Israeli town, with a secular population, not that different from the Israelis living in Tel Aviv’s suburbs. The entire idea that one can separate “good” Israel west of the Green Line from “bad” Israel lying to its east is ridiculous. Every aspect of Israeli civilian life, from the economy through real estate to culture, has something to do with the occupation.

It seems that the heads of the major theaters in Israel were even surprised somebody made a deal out of their recent bookings. A Habima spokeswoman told Haaretz: “Habima is a national theater, and its repertoire is supposed to suit the entire population.” Chairman of Jerusalem’s Chan theater said that “Everybody is invited to watch the shows. We don’t take side in the political question.”

Bertolt Brecht, I think, would have loved this last one.

2 Comments on “Brecht in the West Bank: Israel’s major theaters going to the settlements”

  1. 1 rick said at 1:02 am on August 26th, 2010:

    injustice often gains legal character simple by common ocure. Bert Brecht

  2. 2 corey fischer said at 6:57 pm on August 26th, 2010:

    in 1982, the theatre I co-founded, Traveling Jewish Theatre (now called The Jewish Theatre San Francisco) was on a tour in Europe, heading to Israel for the first time, for the first (and last?) festival of international contemporary Jewish Theatre at the U. of Tel Aviv, organized by Dani Horowitz, playwright and teacher. While performing at the Copenhagen Theatre Festival, we saw the headlines about the invasion of Lebanon and heard than many companies from Europe were deciding to boycott the Tel Aviv Festival as a protest of the invasion. Though we were opposed to the war in Lebanon, we knew that that many Israelis, including the organizers of the Festival, were also protesting the war. So we decided to go in order to support our fellow artists, Jewish and Arab in Israel. Once there, we participated in what was, at that time, the largest anti-war protest in Israel’s history (we were told) and were both praised and attacked for having the chutzpah (as American Jews) to particpate.
    I was back in 2001, invited by the Foreign Ministry to a festival of plays by Henokh Levine, once censored by the government, now on display for “export” and translation (his plays are fairly untranslatable). I used the visit to write about the Israeli Theatre’s response to the Second Intifada, which, as I discovered, hardly existed, except in some sadly under-supported fringe-like contexts. The “major” theatres were doing very skillful productions of plays that had as little to do with daily life in Israel as possible. Given the proud and radical history of the Habima and outlaw/experimental/elements of the Yiddish theatre, I was saddened, but not nearly as much as by this latest news of such an obscene amount of money spent on a culture palace for Israeli theatre royalty in the middle of the (say it isn’t so!) endless occupation.