Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Gideon Levy: Puppet theater

29 August 2010

By Gideon Levy, Haaretz – 29 Aug 2010

The decision by our theater establishment to stage dramas in the new culture auditorium in the settlement of Ariel presents the performing public with a real test, the likes of which it has probably never seen.

Gideon Levy

Gideon Levy

We will know the answer in the coming weeks: Is there genuine theater in Israel, or is it just puppet theater? Are our theater artists really actors, playwrights and directors, or are they marionettes? Israeli theater presents “Moral Blindness” – a play with infinite acts.

The decision by our theater establishment to stage dramas in the new culture auditorium in the settlement of Ariel presents the performing public with a real test, the likes of which it has probably never seen. The challenge now facing our theater world has huge importance. The decision of the weeks ahead will refashion all our theater professionals. After years of theater that staged prudent commercial dramas alongside quite a few courageous political plays confronting deep moral questions, our actors now face the drama of their lives.

Actually, what is at stake is not a play, but rather life itself. Should they stage their productions at the Ariel facility, we will know that the actors standing there are mere recitation automatons, and their entire theatrical enterprise will be a living prison. Should Israel’s actors, directors and playwrights decide to take part in the most appalling drama of all, they will deserve at the end of their productions jeers of derision, the likes of which they have never heard.

The drama at Ariel will be the worst theatrical show ever performed here; nobody will need the verdict of theater critics to draw this conclusion. Seeing that a Cameri production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” may be staged as one of the premier plays at Ariel’s hall of shame, Bertolt Brecht, no doubt, will be rolling in his grave.

Not much has remained of the Green Line. At a time when the Tate Modern in London is presenting the impressive video work of Francis Alys, an artist who walked with a bucket of paint to draw the Green Line anew, Israel is doing its utmost to blur it. Now theater has mobilized on behalf of this campaign of obfuscation and darkness. Yes, there is a difference between legitimate, sovereign Israel and the areas of its occupation. Yes, there is a moral difference between appearing here and appearing there, in the heart of an illegal settlement (illegal, like all of its settlement siblings ) built on a plot of stolen land, in a performance designed to help settlers pass their time pleasantly, while surrounded by people who have been deprived of all their rights.

Is there really a need to mention all this, especially to artists and creators? It turns out there is. Theater managers have raced to escape culpability. “Settlers also deserve culture,” said Tzipi Pines, a Beit Lessin director, in pathetic futility. Others talk about state budget allocations upon which their theaters depend. Does money buy everything?

That is the question. It’s a question that needs to be put to all our new Faustians. Does state financing provide a warrant for any theatrical abomination? Of course, the settlers’ board, the Yesha Council, quickly designated the new patrons of the Ariel theater “the state’s finest sons, who defend the state while actors stage their works.” The state’s finest sons? Defenders of the state? They are our worst sons, and they endanger the state’s future more than any other group in society.

Theater is not an army, actors are not soldiers, and artists who boycott performances are not draft dodgers. The few dozen theater figures who have signed the statement saying they will boycott Ariel are people of conscience who deserve praise. Should more be added to this list, the show won’t go on at Ariel. It’s not easy to rebel against the one who gives you bread; it’s not easy to disobey in your workplace.

But this is a real test. After the Habima and Cameri theaters perform at Ariel, they shouldn’t be surprised to find performance halls around the world locking their doors to them. In contrast to theater managements here, the world knows how to distinguish between Israel and Ariel. The world knows that a boycott is a just weapon in a struggle against immoral theater. Thus, before the curtain goes up at Ariel, the call must go out to Israel’s artists: Don’t lend a hand to this theater of the absurd. Be actors (and real people ), not puppets.

Netanyahu criticizes theater figures’ West Bank boycott
53 Israeli theater figures vow not to perform in settlements

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