June 13, 2009

7 Jewish children performed in Hebrew in Tel Aviv

So now what are Engage, Howard Jacobson, Harry's Place and a whole load of other hasbaristas going to say about Caryl Churchill's play, 7 Jewish children: a play for Gaza? Here's Rachel Shabi in the Guardian website:
Seven Jewish Children, the controversial play written in response to Israel's assault on the Gaza

Strip, was performed for the first time in the Jewish state last night, with a couple of hundred people gathering to watch the Hebrew-language production in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.

Written by Caryl Churchill during the three-week war on Gaza in January, the play caused outrage when it was first performed at London's Royal Court theatre in February. The BBC declined to broadcast a radio production of the play, which faced accusations of being one-sided and even antisemitic. The Guardian later filmed a version of the piece, which can be seen online.

Some Jewish leaders accused the Royal Court of violating a theatrical rule: that plays critical of, and entirely populated by, characters from one community are only defensible if written by a member of that community. Others championed the play as an empathetic and nuanced work. In a four-star review, the Guardian's Michael Billington wrote: "The play solves nothing, but shows theatre's power to heighten consciousness and articulate moral outrage."

The Israeli production was staged as part of a wider campaign organised by a coalition of leftwing groups against the two-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"I love the way [Churchill] wrote it," said one of the cast, Sarah von Schwartze. "You can see she understands how Israelis came to be in this situation."

The new production was directed by Samieh Jabbarin, an Arab-Israeli theatre artist based in Jaffa. Jabbarin is currently under indefinite house arrest after being apprehended in protests against the far right at the Arab-Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm in February; he directed proceedings via phone and Skype.

"Churchill has achieved a beautiful artistic communication of a fundamental yet subversive truth: profound pain has no home," he said. "Pain is pain is pain. Pain is universally human."

The performance in Rabin Square featured a terror-stricken woman constantly rearranging a row of sacks around her baby's pram, in increasingly restrictive barricade formations. Around her, three actors debate, argue and advise on what to tell the child about the Holocaust, Israel, Palestinians and the war in Gaza.

"Political plays can be really superficial, but this one was serious and very significant," said Danielle Shworts, 27, from Tel Aviv. Another audience member from the city, George Borestein, 58, agreed. "I am really shocked," he said. "It was a fascinating performance and, to my great sorrow, there is a lot of truth to this play."

For many of last night's audience, the production was their first chance to engage with the play's content and to consider its meaning. "I really connected to the human message," said Esther Grabiner, a lecturer who lives near Jerusalem. "I got a lump in my throat watching – because it shows the absurdity of the situation, for both sides."

Engage and Howard Jacobson were quite insistent that the play is antisemitic and Harry's Place was moved to post a nazi propaganda film by way of a comparison with the Guardian posting a reading of the play. Ordinarily they would have done what Engage usually does when a post proves to be embarrassing, ie disappear the post. But they both did so many they can't delete them all without leaving a huge chunk missing from both blogs. So they could ignore the Tel Aviv production of the play they have declared to be antisemitic. Or of course they could declare themselves more Catholic than the Pope, in this instance , more Israeli than the Israelis, and accuse the Israelis of antisemitism. Or they could stoop even lower than usual and point out that the director of the play is an Arab and therefore one of the genocidaires mark II that tried to finish, in 1948, what Hitler started in 1941/2.

I know, they could publish a retraction and apology saying how sorry they are for making false allegations against people that criticise Israel. So what's it going to be?


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