Israel & Palestine

Author: Einat Weizman

I do not represent my country, Israel. In fact, in this passing year, one of my plays was banned by the state, another was censored by a theatre in an act of self-censorship, and the state is threatening to cut funding for a theatre in which I produced and directed two theatrical events. I am acutely aware that I belong to a privileged group in the self-defined Jewish State and am using my privileges to do theatre as a revolutionary tool. If I were a Palestinian trying to produce a play on the political prisoners as I was trying to do this year, I would probably already be in prison, like many Palestinian bloggers, journalists and artists who has been sanctioned for expressing their opinions. The theatres in Israel are becoming a tool of the state used to normalize the abnormal reality of apartheid and occupation by eliminating the narrative of the Palestinian people. Theatres in Israel which regularly perform on stolen land in the occupied Palestinian territory, are at the same time exporting to the world the so-called liberal face of Israel. In the process, they are whitewashing Israel’s crimes. AlMidanTheatre, a Palestinian theatre company, is being politically persecuted and has been closed for two years because of government opposition to a political play they staged. The Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour has been under house arrest for more than two years because of a poem she published on Facebook. This is the cultural atmosphere in which our theatre is operating.

This state of affairs, this political persecution, highlights the need to take a clear stand, not to surrender to external censorship, nor, as many of my colleagues are sadly doing, to resort to self-censorship. The theatre, in my opinion, is intended to expand freedom of expression and should not have a hand in limiting it.

Theatre should not just be about entertainment and performances that affirm the status quo. For me it is self-evident that the theatre should provide a platform for diverse voices including those that are outside of the consensus and which challenge conventional thinking.

As I see it, theatre is a platform for representing ideas and subjects that have not yet entered the mainstream discourse (or which have been actively pushed out of it), a tool to speak about the unspoken. In other words, the stage can give voice to that which cannot otherwise be heard sometimes simply because they have no stage. It works on three levels:

  1. Representation of subjects that are outside the mainstream discourse­­­­
  2. Direct interaction with the political system, to uncover governmental and political mechanisms that respond to the new representation
  3. Production of a bi-national action community. Theatrical act is always a collaborative act that produces a kind of action community.

The Palestinian tragedy is not acknowledged by Israel. It is not taught in schools, it is not spoken about in the media and if it comes up, it is denied and is supressed by the Zionist narrative, which engulfs it all. In recent years a new law has been passed – The Nakba Law – which instates that public funding will be denied from institutions that recognize/commemorate the Nakba Day as a day of mourning. The Nakba day, meaning the “day of the catastrophe”, is the day on which Palestinians commemorate their mass displacement and the loss of their homeland with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The new law seeks therefore to block any acknowledgement of the Palestinian tragedy, to erase it from memory. All of this drove me to write a play “Palestine, Year Zero” about the ongoing Nakba, I felt it important to discuss that which it is forbidden to discuss.

The play is very much rooted in the particular reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but even while the specific history and modes of oppression might be unique to that context, I believe audiences in India and elsewhere will nevertheless be able to relate to it. Everyone can connect to the home – both private and national – that the play explores and through that also to the painful reality that the play seeks to narrate. Unfortunately, relations of domination and oppression are a recurring theme in relations between nations and individual people and in this sense I expect there is a universal aspect to the play.

Staging the play around the world is important for my partners and me as a form of resistance – we have been prevented from performing in Israel because the authorities did not want our message to be heard, so now instead of being silent we want to be heard across the globe. We want people in India and all over the world to hear about the things that Israel is trying to hide.