Boycott of Theater in Israeli Settlement GrowsBy ROBERT MACKEY
Updated | Sunday | 10:48 p.m. Dozens of Israel theater professionals have signed a letter protesting plans, announced this week, for Israeli theater companies to perform in a new cultural center nearing completion in Ariel, a West Bank settlement built on a site chosen by Ariel Sharon, Israel’s former leader.*
As The Lede explained on Thursday, soon after a slate of performances was announced this week, two actors with Israel’s national theater company announced that they would refuse to work in the Israeli settlement.
On Friday, the Israeli newspaper Web site Ynet News reported that dozens of Israel’s leading actors, directors, composers and playwrights had signed a letter sent to the managers of four theater companies that agreed to stage plays in the settlement, in which they said:
We wish to express our disgust with the theater’s board’s plans to perform in the new auditorium in Ariel. The actors among us hereby declare that we will refuse to perform in Ariel, as well as in any other settlement. We urge the boards to hold their activity within the sovereign borders of the State of Israel within the Green Line.
One of the most prominent signatories is Yehoshua Sobol, the celebrated Israeli author of the Holocaust drama “Ghetto.”
Vardit Shalfi, a dramaturg who who helped put the letter together, told Ynet:
Ariel is not a legitimate community, and as such, is against international law and international treaties that the State of Israel has signed. This means anyone performing there would be considered a criminal according to international law. The theater’s boards should inform their actors that there are apartheid roads for Jews only that lead into the settlement of Ariel. The moment we perform there, we are giving legitimization to this settlement’s existence.
Ynet added that Israel’s national theater said that the question of whether it should perform in a settlement built on Palestinian land first occupied by Israel in 1967 “calls for an in-depth examination of all the issues it includes…. We are looking into the matter.”
The newspaper also reported that an umbrella organization representing Israeli settlers on the West Bank denounced the calls for a boycott:
Our response to the letter signed by a bunch of anti-Zionist leftists and refusniks will be very harsh. This vile letter, which speaks out against the best of the State’s sons who defend them while they are acting on stage, requires a direct, poignant and clear response from the theaters’ boards, and this is what we expect. We will announce our future steps in the coming days.
Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger, commented, “This is a major development, especially since under the new boycott bill, which stands a good chance of becoming a law in the one of the next Knesset session, any call to boycott Israel or the settlements could result in a fine of up to 30,000 shekels ($9,000), without proof of damages.”
As The Lede noted o
n Thursday, one of the first plays scheduled to be performed in the new cultural center in Ariel, Bertolt Brecht’s “Caucasian Chalk Circle,” deals explicitly with a dispute over which of two groups should have the right to live and work on a contested piece of land.
Update: In response to the boycott call, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday: “Israel is the target of an international delegitimization campaign – the last thing the state needs to do is fund bodies that are promoting boycotts from within,” Haaretz reported.
In an opinion column encouraging more members of the drama community to join the boycott, Gideon Levy wrote that the fight over the theater is a stark reminder that Israel’s internationally-recognized border — known as the Green Line — does not include any of the settlements built in the West Bank since it was occupied in 1967:
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.
*An earlier version of this post referred imprecisely to the name of the settlement. In 2009, the town, which was already named Ariel, was rededicated in honor of Ariel Sharon. Arutz Sheva, a West Bank news organization, reported at the time: “Ron Nachman, the mayor of the Samaria town of Ariel, announced Monday that the city he leads will now be named after former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The city will keep its current name, but the explanation behind the name will change.”