Life in Israel has always been complicated, but recently it has gotten even weirder. This afternoon was an apt example of the tensions and complexities between the blind and deaf public sphere and its fragility; exposed by a sophisticated creative “artivism” (art-activism). This paradox of living in a peaceful bubble, Tel-Aviv, while a horrible occupation is taking place just around the corner (the drive to the separation wall takes just a few minutes from the center of Tel-Aviv) was represented for ten minutes. The fragility of the phony bubble of Tel-Aviv was reflected in each and every sentence along the ten powerful minutes of the exceptional theatre event which took place near the Hebrew Book Fair at Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv. The choice of the Coalition of Women for Peace to locate Caryl Churchill’s 7 Jewish Children (loosely translated by Shimon Levy and Uri Shani) at the entrance to the legendary Hebrew Book Fair was a subversive action. For many years our proximity to books and reading was the source of pride for Jewish Israelis – we are the people of the book, a source of inspiration, and a light to all the nations. It was unexpected that Caryl Churchill’s indictment of Israel’s assault on Gaza could be located at the gate of pride of Israeli society.
The other subversive element embedded in this demonstrative-theatrical event was not in the show itself but within its absence: the director of the performance, Samieh Jabbarin, a theatre artist and a political activist. Since February Jabbarin has been a Palestinian political prisoner in a house arrest, just because he demonstrated against the war in Gaza.
According to the initiators of the production, Tamara Schreiber and Rachel Avileah, the Tel-Aviv staging of Churchill’s short play (written in record time by the highly esteemed British playwright in the midst of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza last winter) protested the two year anniversary of the Siege of Gaza and 42 years since the 1967 occupation.
Despite the fact it was sometimes hard to hear the fine and committed actresses Sarah von Schwartze, Gabby Aldor, and the actor Rami Hoyberger, we, the spectators, tightened the circle around them, and quite quickly created a sense of intimacy. The artists created a bubble within a bubble: the protective intimacy between the “stage” and the spectators increased with the aid of external obstacles: the noise of the book fair’s announcer, heavy traffic, loud music, but mostly – the Israeli apathy.
The two different worlds couldn’t meet: the “real world” with the “discount announcements on best sellers”, “two for the price of one ice-cream” and the “real world” of Caryl Churchill’s: “tell her it’s the land God gave us”, “don’t tell her religion”, “tell her we won”, “tell her her brother’s a hero”, “don’t tell her her cousin refused to serve in the army”, “tell her we’ve got new land”, “don’t tell her about the bulldozer”, “tell her, tell her they set off bombs in cafes”, “tell her we killed the babies by mistake”, “tell her she’s nothing to be ashamed of / tell her they did it to themselves”. Many people walked by, some stopped; when they understood “what it was about”, they walked away. “Don’t tell her anything she doesn’t ask”, said Churchill.
Chen Alon is a theatre activist who was sentenced to prison for refusing to serve in Gaza.
Image credit: Maxim Reider