Dozens of prominent artists in the Israeli theatre community – including actors, playwrights and directors — have signed a pledge that they will not perform in a newly-constructed cultural center in the Israeli settlement of Ariel. The pledge could cause the artists to be booted from the government-funded guild for theatre professionals, but they argue that this act of conscience is more important than their salaries.Signatories include some of Israel’s most prominent actors like Yousef Sweid and Rami Heuberger, as well as playwright Joseph Sobol, famous for a play he wrote about the Holocaust called ‘Ghetto’. Some of those who signed the boycott pledge say that it is ironic that the new cultural center in Ariel settlement will be inaugurated with performances of the plays of Bertolt Brecht, who stood for justice for the oppressed – they say he would be turning in his grave if he knew his plays were being used as a tool of political oppression.
While the Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat argued that there is no difference between performing inside Green-line (1967 armistice borders) Israel and settlements, saying, “I call for the scheduled performances to be carried out as scheduled in Ariel and all over the country, as each citizen has the right to consume culture anywhere he chooses”, others disagree with the Minister, saying that performing in settlements constructed across the Green Line in violation of international law constitutes an inherently political act.
Analyst Gideon Levy wrote in his column in Ha’aretz, “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.”
The Yesha Council of Settlements responded to the boycott with a statement saying, “Our response to the letter signed by the army evaders and anti-Zionist left-wing activists will be very harsh.” They called on the theatre managers to fire all of those who signed the petition. The mayor of Ariel settlement told reporters that the artists in question cannot both receive government salaries and have a conscience.
Analyst Gideon Levy responded with, “Theater is not an army, actors are not soldiers, and artists who boycott performances are not draft dodgers. The few dozen theater figures who have signed the statement saying they will boycott Ariel are people of conscience who deserve praise. Should more be added to this list, the show won’t go on at Ariel.”