Sunday, February 22, 2009

(Don't) Tell her

Double Bill

Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza by Caryl Churchill
Duration: 8 minutes
Place: Israel
Admission: Free (but with collection of funds for Medical Aid for Palestinians)

The Stone by Marius von Mayenburg
Duration: 1 hour
Place: Dresden (1935-1993)
Theme: 20 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall

A chilling combination that negotiates ideas about home, ownership, war, death, national identity, family ties, truth, enclosure, separation.

Don't tell her who they are
Tell her something
Tell her they are Bedouin, they travel about
Tell her about camels in the desert and dates
Tell her they live in tents
Tell her this wasn't their home
Don't tell her home, not home, tell her they're going away
Don't tell her they don't like her
Tell her to be careful
Don't tell her who used to live in this house
No but don't tell her her great grandfather used to live in this house [...]
Don't tell her they said it was a land without people
Don't tell her I wouldn't have come if I'd known
Tell her maybe we can share
Don't tell her that. (SJC, for free download )

The play has caused a heated debate and uporoar from members of the Jewish community as well as reviewers and common people. Many found it anti-semitic and one-dimensional and fiercely attacked the Royal Court, Churchill and critics who positively commented on the play. One can just visit the Guardian blog to get an idea of some of the comments circulating.

Churchill explains the urge to write the play as such: 'It came out of feeling strongly about what's happening in Gaza - it's a way of helping the people there. Israel has done lots of terrible things in the past, but what happened in Gaza seemed particularly extreme.'

The Royal Court has responded to the attacks: 'While Seven Jewish Children is undoubtedly critical of the policies of the State of Israel, there is no suggestion that this should be read as a criticism of Jewish people. It is possible to criticize the actions of Israel without being anti-Semitic. In keeping with its philosophy, the Royal Court presents a multiplicity of viewpoints.'

Although this is not exactly accurate, one cannot deny the atrocities committed by Israel fairly recently. Casting the spell of anti-semiticism nowadays is quite banal and I think we should move beyond these binaries because they never did any good. During the recent war I was (as everybody else) outraged to say the least with both Israel and the West for being incapable to act; no one can erase these war crimes not even the Jews who actually live in Israel and are not commenting from afar. On the other hand, I am still equally upset by the discourse and practices of Hamas that are doing quite the same. Yet, I find Christopher Hart's (The Sunday Times) argument equally preposterous as the one he tries to argue against; he attempts to prove that Hamas is less accurate in their bombings rather than the Israeli's: '[the Israelis] despite having directly caused the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians in Gaza recently, does not deliberately target queues of people at bus stops [Like Hamas]. [...] The enormously complex reasons for such horrors are not considered here.' So is it a matter of how you kill and not the fact that you kill Mr Hart?
Although I would have been furious if anyone staged a play that made claims that Turkey did not actually commit crimes against Greek and Armenian minorities during the 20th century, I am equally upset by propagandistic and nationalist disources circulating in Greece that want to build and extent this hate against them. But the point is to accept and not to forget history. And I am also skeptical of the fact that nobody dares to touch muslim issues but it is easier perhaps to attack Jews.
However, let us not forget the most political play of the last years, My Name is Rachel Corrie drawn from the personal diaries of the American activist who was killed by an Israeli buldoze and the resistance to stage it in the United States.
Libel or not, Seven Jewish Children certainly triggers debate and needs to be assessed with regards to the emphasis on the young generation of children who will learn to hate and be afraid.


Mia Wallace said...

Contrary to the Times, The Sunday Times fiercely criticised Churchill for being one-dimensional and propagandistic against the Jews.

'We all agree, I think, that the scenes coming from Gaza are not good. But the enormously complex reasons for such horrors are not considered here. Instead, Churchill comes across like a very minor Old Testament prophet, bewailing the Wickedness of my people Israel (Jeremiah 7:12). And the final lines, delivered by an Israeli in full rant, about how the Palestinians are “animals”, how he wants to see their children “covered in blood”, are simply outrageous.

“Tell her we killed more of them” is one suggestion earlier. Ah, yes, the idea that you can fairly judge the righteousness or wickedness of either side in this miserable conflict by looking at the casualty figures. You hear this on the BBC, too. Hamas rockets rarely kill anyone. They don’t really mean it, they’re just teasing. Not like those ruthless Israelis. In fact, Hamas would love their rockets to kill Israelis — men, women, children, whatever. The reason their rockets rarely kill anyone is that they’re really rubbish at aiming them. Israel, on the other hand, despite having directly caused the deaths of more than 1,000 civilians in Gaza recently, does not deliberately target queues of people at bus stops.

Seven Jewish Children isn’t art, it’s straitjacketed political orthodoxy. No surprises, no challenges, no risks. Only the enclosed, fetid, smug, self-congratulating and entirely irrelevant little world of contemporary political theatre. Fresh air is urgently needed. But I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, donating to Medical Aid for Palestinians seems a good idea. I just hope the supplies get through. Two weeks ago, the UN suspended all food aid to Gaza after 10 lorryloads of supplies, 3,500 blankets and 400 food boxes were stolen at gunpoint. By Hamas.

TraumGeist said...

First of all thank you. This is thorough, well-argued and a captivating read (sorry if I sound like marking an essay).

I have not seen the play, because I'm not in the vicinity, otherwise I would've definitely tried to. Now, it seems to me that the moment the theatre stops tackling 'dangerous' subjects like this is the very moment that the theatre will become like going to a restaurant: Entertainment that does not particularly aim at making you think. There are real issues to examine here, and arguments on both sides, and so on. But this is not the only play causing an uproar recently, so taking advantage of this coincidence, I'll just say this: This is a poetic, formally unconventional, imaginative play. And in its 10 mins it packs more action than (...). So, in terms of ticking boxes, the art box it definitely does tick. The rest of it could be a matter for wider debate, but at least we're debating an interesting play. Doing what I do, for me it starts there.

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