Street Protest-Performance – Rabin Square, Tel Aviv

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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

7 COMMENTS

  1. I am sorry I was out of the country and could not come to Rabbin square to watch the play and to be there. It is important to do things and be there as much as possible if this evil called fear from the other or the virus called the psychological checkpoints be treated so that there will be room in our minds and soul to ride the new wave generated by Obama. If we lose the momentum and fail riding the wave, we may all go down under the sea of darkness…

  2. Andrew, certainly, there is a great political power to the quiet sharing that can happen in the theatre. But – this wasn’t in the theatre. This was done in Rabin Square, presumably in order to get the attention and interest of people who did not expect to be theatrical audiences that day. I went to a performance of Seven Jewish Children for an audience that came to a conventional theatre and expected this play – as you’d imagine, it was a fairly self-selecting group. The power and importance of this production comes from its public setting. And when that public is sealed on the other side of a bubble, much of the political power of this art-activism is sealed off with it.

  3. @Josh, is it not possible that the contrary may also be true? That political impact can be achieved through small, intimate gatherings?

    To me, concrete political engagement begins with individual awareness/consciousness. When the theatre screams at the world, it risks becoming a sermon – a monologue rather than a dialogue; whereas when the theatre whispers, audiences make a conscious effort to come closer but also to react.

    Of course you have to be sure that the message is ethical and the arguments are contrasted and well researched, otherwise it is mere propaganda. I’d like to know whether the audience at this Tel Aviv production stayed around after the show, whether discussion ensued, whether connections were made?

  4. To me, there’s something deeply sad about the bubble within a bubble – spectators forming a circle to hear the play and keep the noisy, intimacy-threatening world out. I don’t know how it can be done, but isn’t the point of political theatre to *engage* with and interrogate that world, not to protect against it as an “external obstacle”? That’s an extraordinary challenge, but it’s the one this group has set for itself.

    Particularly in light of the literally hundreds of performances of Churchill’s play abroad, this may have been the play’s one chance to engage with the people it claims to portray. We have to find a way to let the noise in.

  5. This was an interesting read. I’m intrigued by your notion of ‘bubble’ and ‘bubble within a bubble’ – is this specific to Tel Aviv or are there other places that feel this way?

    I’m sorry to hear about your prison sentence. Have you already served time in prison? Also why do you choose to include the statement at the end of the article?

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